Sagaing, The Ancient Capital by U Thaw Kaung
The Sagaing Hills provide a picturesque backdrop to a big gradual bend of the Ayeyarwady River, a little to the south of Mandalay. Every hilltop is crowned with a white or a golden pagoda, and the wooded nooks and crannies which dot the hillsides are peaceful, quiet retreats for Buddhist monks, nuns, and hermits. The wide slowly winding river as it turns the bend reflects the lovely scenery in the mirror of its waters.
Sagaing town itself nestles close to the river and goes right up to the edge of the hills. For two brief periods, Sagaing was the capital of the whole country. After the break-up of the Bagan Kingdom, the youngest of the three Shan brothers, named A thin Khaya Sawyun founded Sagaing as his capital in 1315 A.D, and it lasted for 50 years. Again in 1760-1764 Naung-dawgyi, the eldest son of King Alaungphaya, the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, made Sagaing his capital city for a short period of four years until he died, and his successor shifted back the capital to Innwa. Most of the capitals of Myanmar are on the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River, and only Sagaing is on the west bank (and of course Shwebo further away from the river).
Today Sagaing is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the country who come to venerate the pagodas, or to meditate in numerous gyaungs, the shady retreats in the folds of the hills.
“The Irrawaddy touches the town of Sagaing, east, south, and west, giving it a peninsular configuration. And if one looks at the scene from the top of one of the hills, before one’s eyes is a striking panorama of indescribable grandeur, each cliff and hill, slope and peak, adorned with a rich profusion of white glistening pagodas, hundreds and hundreds of huge tamarind and other trees, luxuriant tropical vegetation springing up from the alluvial soil, constantly enriched by fresh deposits from the river, and the great river itself wending its way with primeval dignity”.
How to Get There
Sagaing is on the main tourist route and is easy to reach by plane (via Mandalay), train, steamer, taxi, private car, and bus. It is only 13 miles southwest of Mandalay.
The new, big International Airport built near Innwa is close to some of the old cities like Innwa, Amarapura, Mandalay, and Sagaing across the river.
It is a pleasant drive from Mandalay crossing the mile-long Innwa bridge which was built in 1934. Only eight years later two spans were destroyed by the British, but it was rebuilt in 1953 and completed in 1954. It is a railroad footpath bridge. There are lovely views of Sagaing from near the east side of the bridge.
The greatest and the most renowned pagoda of Sagaing lies about six miles to the northwest of the town. It was built in 1636 by King Thalun, grandson of the great King Bayinnaung. This pagoda, therefore, belongs to the Innwa period when Innwa was the capital and not to the period when Sagaing itself was the capital of the country.
This pagoda is shaped like a gigantic dome, a huge, white, glistening hemispherical pagoda of a type not usually seen in Myanmar. The three circular terraces rise from a base circumference of 400 feet to a height of 151 feet.
There are connections with Sri Lanka, the circular domed shape is modeled on the Maha Ceti Pagoda of Sri Lanka. It enshrines a tooth relic of Buddha first given to King Bayinnaung in 1576 by the King of Colombo and originally enshrined in the Mahazedi at Bago. King Thalun brought the sacred tooth to re-enshrine in the Rajamanicula, the Pali name for the Kaunghmudaw, “the great work of merit”. There is an 8.5-foot marble inscription, still well-preserved, on the pagoda platform, which records the details of the building of the pagoda.
Soon U Ponnyashin
There is now a good road which goes up the ridge of hills next to the town. Near the top of this ridge is the Soon U Ponnyashin pagoda. There are superb views of the whole area from there with the majestic Ayeyarwady River, Sagaing Town, and Innwa across the waters, right up to the Shan hills.
Legend says that a gold betel tox of King Anawrahta of Bagan was made into seven Buddha Images by King Thihathu, founder of the Pinya Dynasty. Two of these images were handed over to U Ponnya, a high ranking minister, and he enshrined them in this pagoda in 1312 A.D.
Other noteworthy pagodas include the Oo Min Thonze (30 Caves) pagoda where 42 Buddha images can be seen, seated in a crescent-shaped colonnade on the side of the hills.
The Htupayon was built by King Narapatigyi (1443-69) of Innwa. This king constructed a temporary wooden bridge across the wide expanse of the Ayeyarwady River to Sagaing to enable his people to cross over for the hti-hoisting ceremony. There are many old inscriptions of the 15the century preserved in sheds near this pagoda.
The Hsinmyashin (Owner of Many Elephants) pagoda is also notable with over one hundred brick elephants. It was built in 1429 A.D by King Monhyin of Innwa. Its real name is Tatana Cedi, and it can be seen next to the road to Kaunghmudaw pagoda.
A few years ago a big Buddhist museum was completed and visitors to Sagaing should visit it to see the wealth of cultural heritage of the area that is well preserved there.
Near Sagaing is a village named Ywataung which is the center of silversmith craftsmen. They are well known for their engravings of beautiful figures and scenes and their silversmith skills.
Sagaing with its hills and pagodas is well worth visiting to see both the beauty of nature and human religious endeavors.