probably reflect lingering 15th century Mon traditions which centreon Gavampati bringing a single tooth to Thaton that multipliedthirty-three times. The Buddha’s instructions and the relics of theprevious Buddhas relate directly to the themes of the Shwedagonlegend.The original shape of the Shwesayan is difficult to determine,but it may have once have resembled the terraced Thagya Pagodaand another stupa on the platform usually called the Pitaka-taik;all of these examples used laterite extensively, probably excavatedfrom a huge laterite-lined tank in one corner of the compound(Oertel: 22).Three of the four worship halls have been refurbished but theprincipal one on the east is nearly pristine, from the early part of the20th century. Most of the sculpture is plaster, formed around thin wire, which has been gilded or painted. It is rare to find old plaster work in such fine condition.The eclectic pagoda museum displays objects donated over thelast hundred years or so, plus terracotta votive tablets from variousperiods recovered in the area. Panels depicting the history of theShwesayan and its relics are painted on the walls. A storeroombehind the museum holds ancient stone inscriptions, includingthe famous
epigraphs, and sculptures. The
inscription lists all twenty-eight Buddhas, probably the earliestreference of this concept in Burma (Luce 1974: 133).The modest Thagya Pagoda once boasted 64 terracotta panelsdepicting the last ten
, the revered
(Pali). If there were 64 plaques, then each of the ten tales would have been givenabout six tiles. In the late 19th century the pagoda was in ‘a state of great decay…and many of the tablets have fallen out, while othersare much injured and likely to disappear also’ (Temple 1893a: 240).Twelve were described in the 1880s and fifteen panels survived
by the 1930s. The pagoda was repaired around 1896 whichbegan a series of white-washings that has virtually obliterated the
THATON: THE BUDDHA AND SUVANNABHUMI· 171
with Thaton is also tied to Buddhaghosa, a renowned 5th centurycommentator whose home was often identified as Thaton inBurmese sources. He traveled to Sri Lanka and returned to LowerBurma with the scriptures that were centuries later conveyed toPagan in Upper Burma (
: 116). Buddhaghosa becameincluded in the national mythology, together with an embellishedlife history (
Glass Palace Chronicle
Early explorations at Thaton revealed a large rectangular walledenclosure. Finger-marked bricks beneath the walls and at nearbysites suggest a first-millennium settlement (Moore & San Win 2007:215). The major pagoda complex, now dominating the centre of town, occupies only a small portion of this ancient enclosure.Buddhism was known in the Thaton area from around themiddle of the first millennium, as witnessed by the nearby brickmonastic sites of Kyaikkatha, Winka and a stupa base at Zothoke.Three Hindu stone sculptures were also discovered in Thatonshortly before 1900 but their find-spots are unrecorded; and thereare no surviving Hindu temples in Thaton. All three sculptures weredestroyed during World War II when on display in the library at theUniversity of Rangoon. They probably date to between the 8th and10th centuries. Two of the sculptures relate closely to a sculpture inthe Kawgun Cave, near Pa-an. The iconography, with three godsemerging from Vishnu’s navel, is virtually unique to Burma. Twosimilar depictions of Vishnu occur at Pagan, further evidence of Mon influence from Lower Burma at Pagan (Stadtner 2005: 144).
The Shwesayan Pagoda
The principal stupa is inside a vast walled compound facing themain street. Its real history is unknown but the most recent pagodachronicle, or
, probably reflects traditions current in the19th century, if not much earlier. The story begins with the Buddhavisiting Thaton and converting its first king, called Thuri-sanda, orSurya-chandra. The king offered the Buddha his crown and theBuddha then presented his four teeth which were miraculouslyreplaced in his mouth. The Buddha pointed to a hill where he wished the teeth to be enshrined. The king then discovered on thespot an old ruinous stupa containing relics belonging to the threeBuddhas preceding Gotama (hair-relics of Kakusandha, the walkingstick of Konagamana, and the emerald bowl of Kassapa). The fourteeth were enshrined with these other relics and the stupa rebuilt.Another local chronicle claims that Anawrahta from Pagan removedfour tooth-relics from the pagoda placed there by the first Thatonking, according to the
Shwesayan Hpayagyi Thamaing
: xxi). The spirits became so enraged at this sacrilege thatthey caused the king to go mad and slip on the skirt of his queen,perhaps modeled on a similar episode in a Sri Lankan chronicle(
: XXIV. 6). References to tooth-relics at Thaton
The Thaton king, right, supervisingthe enshrinement of tooth-relics inthe Shwesayan stupa. The newrelics, on the left, are conveyed to the pagoda by Brahma and Thagyamin. The 15th centuryThaton tooth-relic legend makesno mention of relics belongingto previous Buddhas. Mural. By Than Maung. ShwesayanPagoda museum. A terracotta votive tablet commonto the Thaton region, such as at Winka, c. 500. Private Collection,Yangon.Vishnu reclining on his serpent,with Brahma (left), Vishnu (centre)and Shiva (right) seated on lotusesabove. This distinctive iconographyis also found at Pagan, suggesting Mon inﬂuence. Displayed in theuniversity library in Yangon, it wasdestroyed in World War II. After
Temple 1893a: pl. XIV.
Detail of an intricate plaster sculpture created on a wirearmature, early 20th century. The Buddha cuts his hair after leavingthe palace, the god Sakka waitingabove to collect it. East entrancehall, Shwesayan Pagoda.
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