Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Political Significance of
- Although primarily a religious site, the Shwe Dagon Pagoda has functioned as a contested public space of great importance during the colonial and postcolonial periods. It was occupied by British troops during the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-1826, and again in 1852 following the annexation of Rangoon (Yangon) and Lower Burma during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. Because of its strategic location, part of the pagoda platform, including the western staircase, was occupied by British troops between 1852 and 1929. Although maintenance of the pagoda remained in Burmese Buddhist hands and a Board of Trustees for this purpose was established in 1885, the remains of British soldiers were buried at the site (later removed), and part of the grounds was at one time used as an ammunition dump. The British also attempted to tunnel into the base of the pagoda. By the second decade of the 20th century, this continuing desecration, together with the unwillingness of Western visitors to the pagoda (and other Buddhist sites) to doff their shoes, had become political issues, taken up by the Young Men's Buddhist Association and the General Council of Buddhist Associations (later the General Council of Burmese Associations), which saw defense of the Buddhist religion as part of their nationalist program.Participants in the students' strike against the act that established Rangoon (Yangon) University gathered at the Shwe Dagon on December 3, 1920, and a monument at the southwest corner of the pagoda platform commemorates this event. Subsequent student strikes, in 1936 and 1938-1939, used the pagoda and its environs as bases of operation, and it was an objective of a massive march undertaken in support of the 1938 Oil Field Workers' Strike. After World War II, Bogyoke Aung San made political speeches from the pagoda hill. On August 26, 1988, his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi made a speech in the public grounds adjoining the pagoda, attended by huge crowds, which marked the beginning of her leadership of the prodemocracy movement.The military regime established on September 18, 1988, has sought to "occupy" the pagoda both physically and ideologically. In 1999, the State Peace and Development Council sponsored largescale renovation, including replacement of the bejewelled hti (umbrella) at its apex, which had been donated by King Mindon in 1871. Official photographs show Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt and other high SPDC officers at the apex of the pagoda, presiding over installation of the new hti, images that advertise their spiritual worthiness and high status.
Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Donald M. Seekins . 2014.
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Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Architecture and Layout — The Shwe Dagon Pagoda is dense with religious and symbolic meaning. In physical terms, it can be understood in terms of three components: the 99 meter (326 foot) high stupa, said to contain the relics of the four Buddhas of the present era,… … Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar)
Dagon — Also Lagon or Lagun, a Mon settlement established around the end of the first millennium CE at Singuttara Hill, site of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda (known in the Mon language as the Kyaik Lagun). Never a Mon royal city, its significance was… … Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar)
Shoe Question — As in other Asian countries, it is the custom in Burma for people to doff their shoes before entering a house; on pagoda platforms and other sites associated with Buddhism, neither footwear nor stockings may be worn. These customs became… … Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar)
Hti — Umbrella in Burmese, referring to parasols and rain umbrellas. The town of Bassein (Pathein) is famous for umbrellas, including waterproofed saffron colored ones used by Buddhist monks. In precolonial Burma, umbrellas were also a sign of… … Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar)
Introduction — When Burma (Myanmar) achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1948, many observers viewed it with its high standards of education and abundant natural resources as one of the Asian countries most likely to achieve economic… … Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar)