It is said that every Myanmar should visit Bagan and without visiting Ananda you cannot be said to have visited Bagan.
Ananda Temple is like a museum. You can study all kinds of Myanmar arts here — architecture, stone sculpture, stucco, glazed plaques, terra cotta, wood carving, artwork of blacksmith etc.
There are three different versions regarding the name of this temple.
1. When King Kyansittha asked eight Arahats (Saints) to provide him with a design for the religious monument he was about to build, they created the image of Nanda Mula Cave Hall held to be in the Himalayas. So the temple was constructed on the model of that image and it came to be known as "Nandamu" which in course of time corrupted to sound "Ananda.
2. The Sanscrit word "Anand” means "very beautiful." The name "Ananda" must have been derived from this Sanscrit word. The Temple is extremely beautiful.
3. There is a Pali word " Ananta Panna" which means " the endless wisdom of the Buddha." The temple sym¬bolizes this attribute of the Buddha. Hence it is called "Ananta Temple."
It cannot be said for certain which version is correct because the original stone inscription was silent about its name. But "Ananda" is the traditional name known to the Myanmar people for generations.
Ananda Temple was constructed in Koza Sakarit 452 M. E (A. D. 1091) by King Kyansittha. He was also known as Hti Hlaing Shin. His regnal title was " Sri Tribuvanaditya Dhamma Yaza" meaning "the King of Justice who shines like the sun over three auspicious worlds."
According to modern archeologists, the ground plan of Ananda Temple is similar to Paha Pu Zedi in Bangladesh and Nakhonpahton Zedi near the ancient city of Dwaravati in the west of Bangkok, Thailand.
The ground plan is in the form of a cross with four devotional halls, each on one side, facing four cardinal direc-tions, and the main structure in the center. In Bagan there are' only two Temples with such ground plan. The other Temple of this type is Dhammayan Gyi which was built by King Kyansittha's grandson, King Narathu. It seemed that the grandson copied the ground plan of his grandfather's Temple. But it was found that for some unknown reasons the inner circumambulatory corridor of Dhammayan Gyi was blocked.
The cross section of Ananda Temple
The horizontal section of Ananda Temple
The size of Ananda Temple is 289 feet from one end to the other and 168 feet in height from the base to that portion atop, which was decorated with plaster mouldings of down-turned and up-turned lotus petal motifs. The fencing wall measures 596 feet from East to West and 592 feet from North to South.
It is said that there are 10000 surrounding Zedis, 1000 niches, and three vaulted corridors. 10000 surrounding Zedis include zedis on the fencing walls, those on the walls of the vaulted corridors and those around the main stupa. 1000 niches include niches on four sides of the Sikhara (pyramidal spire) those niches on the walls of the vaulted corridors and those niches on the inner walls of the four devotional halls, totalling over one thousand. These niches were installed probably to reduce the echo. Regarding the three vaulted corridors, the inner most one was meant for the monks to walk around and worship the shrine, the middle vaulted corridor for the princes, royal sons and nephews and the outer vaulted corridor that passes through the devotional halls was meant for the com-moners.
One architectural wonder of Ananda Temple is the natural ventilation system by means of windows built inside the thickness of the walls. There are light wells in the very high ceiling through which beams of light fall directly on the faces of the four, gigantic statues of Buddha in standing posture facing four cardinal points. On each side of the structure are eight light wells through which light comes, passing through the three tiers of wall for a distance of 108 feet and falls directly on the Buddha images inside the niches. These light wells also serve as ventilator since fresh air constantly enters through them into the whole structure.
On four sides of the Sikhara are niches, five on each side. The roof of the structure is not flat but dome-like and sloping, thus indicating the architectural style of the early period of Bagan.
Ananda Temple is the best architectural accomplishment in Bagan. The earthquake of 1975 damaged only the finial and top zedi above the Sikhara, and surrounding slim and small zedis. No crack was caused to the main structure.
As a result of that earthquake one architectural secret was brought to light. Due to the quake, some cements were pealed off revealing the system of brick laying, with stone bricks wedged in between them. The arch span was formed by laying the baked bricks in a radiating pattern and placing stone bricks as wedges between them. These places where cement fell off were left unplastered so that the visitors can see and appreciate the architectural technique of Bagan time. Similarly key stones cut with precision were used in the corners of the wall. They were wedged in at an interval of 4 or 5 feet. This technique was a kind of strengthening the whole structure for longer durability.
To strengthen the corners of the ceilings above the vaulted corridors, there are two vaulted arches at/each corner joining the inner and outer walls and also buttressing the upper vaulted arches.
- Among the monuments in Bagan which have glazed works, Ananda Temple has the best. Thanks to the special cart* taken by successive Pagoda Trustees and public co-operation in maintenance, almost all glazed works at this Temple are in good condition. Originally there was no stairway going up to the top. So artworks were secured from vandalism. But those at the base of the structure are effected by human hands, Glazed layers have been pealed off due to years of touching.
All kinds of glazed works are found at Ananda Tomple. In the glazed plaques which adorned the base of the structure from the southern to the western entrances are depleted the hordes of Mara's warriors marching out to attack the Lord Buddha, and in those glazed plaques that adorned the liana from the western to the northern entrances, are seen the warriors being defeated by the great miracle of the Lord Buddha. They were fleeing in fright. There are captions below the plaques describing the events presented.
Mara's commanders rode several kinds of animals such as elephant, tiger, horse, lion, camel, makara (sea monster), Byala, antlered deer, rusa, bird and so on. Although camel is not Myanmar's native animal, camel figure is found in five glazed plaques.
Along the base of the structure from the northern to the eastern entrances and from the southern to the eastern entrances are glazed plaques in which pilgrims from other worlds are depicted. They are Yakkhas the commanders, Asuyas, Garudas, Nagas, gods, godesses, Brahmas, Sakkas, holding flags, penons, Kalatha pots, door post, two fishes, auspicious symbols, mirror, yaktail fly whisk, plates of meal and several other objects.
Rows of plain coloured glazed tiles above and below are meant to produce reflection of the sunlight on the structure.
At the terraces above are also glazed plaques depicting the Jatakas (Buddha's birth stories). Beginning from the south-west corner of the first terrace to the northern side of the third terrace are depicted in glazed plagues 537 Jatakas, each plaque presenting one story. The green colour plaques are still in perfect condition. Beginning from the northern side of the second terrace where the glazed plaques depicted Tey Mi Jataka to the fifth terrace where the glazed plaques depicted Vessantara Jataka, the last ten lives of the Buddha' are fully told in green coloured glazed plaques. Below each glazed plaques are inscribed the name and number of the Jataka depicted. It will take about two days to study in detail all the glazed plaques on five terraces above and those on either side of four devotional halls..
The stone sculpture works inside the outer vaulted corri-dors are considered the best of its kind in Bagan. Especially those stone works depicting 80 episodes from Buddha's biography are very excellent works of art. Each piece measures on average 3 feet 6 inches high, 2 feet 5 inches broad and one foot thick.
Each work is a piece carved out of a single block of stone. Forty episodes from the last life of the Lord Buddha, starting from Setaketu deva to Prince Sidattha lifting the curtain to take a last look at his wife Yasodaya and newly bom son Yahula before he left the palace for a recluse's life in the forest, are depicted in the stone sculptures found in the niches at the lower base of the structure, near the northern and western wooden doors.
Stone Image of Buddha's disciple, carved out of
a single pice of stone. It is located near the
standing Buddha statue facing north,
in Ananda Temple
Stone Image of King Kyansittha on the south
side of the imposing standing Buddha statue
facing west at Ananda Temple. It was sculpted
out of a single piece of stone. On its back are
intricate floral designs
On the upper base are also similar stone works, 80 in total, each depicting an episode from the Jatakas up to the time of Buddha's enlightenment. These are also fine sculptural works. Among them are four replacements of later period.
In the niches of the devotional halls are stone works presenting eight important events from the birth stories of the Buddha. On both walls of the inner vaulted corridor, on the right side of the outer vaulted corridor and on either side of the four huge statues of Standing Buddha are over one thousand niches in which are Buddha images with the gesture of preaching Suttas (the Discourses), the Vinnaya (the Discipline) and the Abidhamma (the Buddha's philosophy). With various hand postures, these images were sculpted out of sandstone. They stand witness to the high artistic skill of the Bagan sculptors.
By the side of the statue of standing Buddha facing west is the statue of King Kyansittha, sculpted out of a single piece of stone. On its back are found floral motifs, exquisitely executed. Facing this statue is Shin Arahan in stone. He was a great learned monk who introduced the pure form of Theravada Buddhism to Bagan.
In addition there are stone images of Buddha inside the niches of the Sikhara of the main Stupa and those of the surrounding zedis.
Originally all the walls of devotional halls were adorned with paintings. As a result of the restoration of Bagan frescos by the Department of Archeology, paintings on the south-west column of the northern devotional hall were recovered. Also on the walls and ceiling of the eastern devotional hall, north of the statue of standing deva re-appeared the pictures of Buddha, Arahats and lotus flowers. At other places on the wall of this hall original paintings are faintly visible under the veneer of lime wash.
On the walls of the western entrance appeared floral designs. The Department of Archeology has plans to remove all lime wash to recover ancient mural paintings.
Plaster mouldings are found at Ananda Temple. Orna-mental backdrops above the arched windows in the walls of outer and inner vaulted corridors are original stuccos of ex-cellent skill. Besides two statues of deva on either side of each of the four entrances totalling 8 in all, the statues of Duara pala the guardian devas at the entrances, statues of lion and Chakaravan gods inside the niches of the big statues of standing Buddha are plaster works of Bagan time. In the ornamental backdrops above the arched entrances are found statues of Makara (sea monster) and flying devas made of fine cement.
The original eight carved wooden door leaves, two at each of the four entrances, are over 900 years old. But King Bayint Naung (A. D. 1551—81) re-embellished them by adding floral and toenaga motifs to them.
Big iron rings atop are original. They keep the massive door leaves upright and stable. Below, two big stone slabs with grooves cut in, in the shape of a cross press the iron rings tight. The idea of a cross shaped grooves cut in the stone slabs was to keep the big door leaves from inclining during opening and shutting. The big iron rings atop on four sides also keep the door leaves in vertical position.
The main door posts rest on the sockets of sandstones in which they evolve flexibly. To prevent the door leaves from going off during shutting a big long oblong sandstone was placed as a block.
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Plaster mouldings of floral designs adorning the spire of Ananda Temple
A view of the entrance and wall of Ananda Temple.
At this wall are seen small surrounding zedis.
Ananda Temple at night
A stone work found inside Ananda Temple. It depicts Prince Sidattha, the future Budha, handing over to his attendant Channa the bejewelled ear-plugs he wore.
A circumambulatory vaulted corridor inside Ananda Temple.