Astructure, usually built of bricks or stone, that houses holy relics or other items associated with Buddhism. "Pagoda" is derived from Sanskrit, meaning a relic shrine. In Burmese, the word zedi (chedi), derived from Pali, or paya is used. Pagodas of all sizes are found throughout the country and are one of the most distinct features of the landscape. Stupa, also derived from Sanskrit, is a generally synonymous term for pagoda used in English.
   With some exceptions, such as the Botataung and the Maha Vizaya Pagoda in Rangoon (Yangon), pagodas in Burma are solid structures. Temples containing an inner chamber or chambers where devotees enter are commonly known in Burmese as pahto and are often likened to holy caves. Both pagodas and pahto are found in large numbers at Pagan (Bagan).
   Pagodas contain a sealed relic chamber, where items associated with Gotama Buddha's person, such as his hair, teeth, or bones, or his personal possessions, are stored. The Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon and the Shwemawdaw in Pegu (Bago) both are said to contain hairs of the Buddha, and the Shwe Dagon also is said to contain the possessions of three earlier Buddhas; thus, it is known as the "four relic pagoda." Buddhist scriptures, Buddha images, or replicas of holy relics may be substituted for authenticated relics, usually the case when ordinary villagers or merit-seeking individuals build their own paya. The patron or builder of a pagoda, known as a paya-taga, earns a great deal of merit (Burmese, kutho) from the enterprise, while those who restore an old pagoda or donate jewels or other treasure earn lesser amounts of merit.
   The prototype for the pagoda is the stupa built at Sanchi in India in the third century BCE, which is said to resemble an inverted alms bowl. The bell-shaped pagoda form, most recognizable in stupas, such as the Shwe Dagon, Shwemawdaw, and Shwesandaw in Prome (Pyay), is traced to early Sri Lanka and some of the stupas found at Pagan, such as the Shwezigon, built in the 11th and 12th centuries CE. Buddhist pagodas are not the dwelling places of gods, and thus the devotee does not worship there or address prayers to deities. But an elaborate "pagoda religion" has emerged within Buddhism that stresses the importance of venerating or paying respect to religious sites and Buddha relics. Many pagodas, however, have nat shrines on their premises, where people pray to supernatural beings for good fortune or protection.
   See also Architecture, Religious.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.


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