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Ananda Hpaya

In Bagan, there is a popular saying which links three religious structures. In Bagan, the most beautiful temple is Ananda, the tallest is Thatbyinnyu, and the largest is Dhammayangyi. Ananda dates to the 11th and 12th centuries, and is believed to have been constructed during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1113) (see Burmese chronicles such as the Mahayazawingyi by U Kala and Hmannan Yazawindawgyi). There is, however, no conclusive evidence, such as inscriptions which suggest that the king was responsible for the building of the structure. In terms of its basic architectural elements and layout, the structure appears to fit in with a number of contemporaneous late 11th- and 12th-century buildings, in terms of its basic cruciform plan and a central solid column core with four Buddhas facing the four cardinal directions.

Ananda, however, possesses a great number of architectural and decorative features which gives it the coveted title of being the “most beautiful” in Bagan. The layout of the temple is in perfect symmetry, with four entrance halls of equal sizes. Four huge gilded wooden Buddha statues faces the four directions flanked by medium-relief plaques featuring scenes from the Buddha’s life and these are placed within 16 niches found in each entrance hall. Painted murals used to decorate the walls of the entrance halls, but most of these were white-washed; within the last half a decade, a series of painted murals were uncovered in the north entrance hall, the subject of which has not been identified (see Stadtner 2005: 104).

On the exterior of the temple, on the upper-stories, are rows of glazed plaques depicting scenes derived from the attack of Mara’s army, Jatakas, and numerous deities. These glazed plaques are largely obscured from easy viewing, but would have been accessible in the past to perhaps a select group of viewers. Access to the upper stories of the Ananda is now forbidden, like most multi-storied structures in the Bagan plains. The reasons are dual: 1) to preserve the stability of the building and prevent further damages to the structure directly caused by hordes of visitors clambering up the stairs, and 2) safety. A unique architectural element in the Ananda construction is the insertion of numerous windows which allow the interiors of the temple to be lit by natural light. In the early 20th century, modern corridors were added to the temple on the outside, and these were decorated by stone sculptures portraying scenes from the historic Buddha’s life.

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