Tabaung Festival of Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon

  • Maha Saddhamma Jotikadhaja,
    Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
  • DSC 3399 copy
    The Sacred Shwe Dagon Pagoda.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

Myths, legends and histories shroud the world renown Pagoda Shwe Dagon in Yangon, Myanmar. Its location is the subject of geological interest. Sitting on a triangular area within three summits of Sriguttara hill-lock, the highest among the 99 hill-locks around it, covering the entire space of Yangon Region, Shwe Dagon Pagoda is the landmark of the country, visible from quite a far distance by travelers coming either by sea, by land or by air. Originally name Trigumpa means “Three summits”. Down deep right under the solid structure of the Pagoda “is a natural pool fed by and connected with a subterranean creek activated by the tide of the sea. We can still witness the evidences of its tide and sea connection, if we walk around the surroundings and the hillock of the Pagoda. The depressions, especially the one on the westside where we now have the shrine of saint monk Shin Upagupta on a raft afloat on the water in the depression. The level of its water changes in tune with the tide. Olds records say that pilgrims came by boat to Tabaung Festival of Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Even at the turn of the 20th century, travelogues by some foreign tourists mentioned that they came by boats.
The mystery of a water pool right down under the solid structure of Shwe Dagon Pagoda seems to be proved true by the account of an Armenian elderly man who published his “Letter to the Editor” in the “Working Peoples Daily” News Paper in about 1966. According to him, he was a school boy of early teens at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic missionary school in Yangon_one weekend the happened to be loitering about on the compound of Shwe Dagon Pagoda, very early morning. He met an elderly hermit. The two greeted each other the hermit asked him if he would like to join him to go down underneath the Pagoda. The boy agreed the hermit made him promise not to take or steal anything and to leave when allocated time was up. Then the two went into a Tazaung at the south-west corner of the compound. They slowly pushed aside one stone Buddha statue. It moved and an entrance of a tunnel appeared. Dark but just enough space for one person to crawl in. The hermit leading and the boy holding his staff crawled in. After some steps and right turns and left turns, they could walk up right and see each other in the light coming in and could breathe normally. They kept on walking clockwise but going down and down finally they saw quite a large pool in which a golden barge with a casket was afloat. On closer look they saw strands of hair in the casket. The hermit told the boy that strands of hair were the sacred relics of Gotama Buddha brought by the two merchants brothers long long ago. They saw heaps of crown jewelleries, regalia and several other offertories of treasures. The hermit asked the boy if he wanted any of them. The boy said no, but he was never tired of seeing all those strange things. The water level in the pool began to rise. The hermit knew that their allotted time was about to be over and they should leave. The boy was reluctant to leave as he would like to see other places there.
Both safely came out of the same entrance and the two replaced the stone Buddha statue on its original place totally covering the entrance. It was already noon time when they departed.
In his capacity as the Director-General of the Fine Arts Department under the Ministry of Culture, the writer had the following experience.
One early morning he got a phone call from his school mate U Nyunt Yee who was then a member of Shwe Dagon Pagoda Trustees, to come to his office right now. When the writer turned up at his office on the Pagoda Compound, U Nyunt Yee showed a 12 strings gold sash which was discovered that early morning by Pagoda Patrols right in front of the stone Buddha statue in the south-west corner Tazaung, the exact place where the hermit and the Armenian boy went down into the Pagoda.
The writer reported the matter to General Ne Win who after examining the gold sash told him to be sent to National Museum to display for the public but not to mention where and how it was discovered. He also asked the writer to block the entrance tight, to rearrange the Buddha statues in the Tazaung and to redesign the Tazaung as well. It seemed that the robber went into the same turnel and took the gold sash he found near the pool and came out to escape with it, unfortunately he saw the Pagoda Patrols coming around so he left the gold sash and fled.
Later, in his capacity as the Director-General of Archaeology Department he read an old report by Dr. Charles Forchammer, then superintendent of the Epigraphies Office, Burma Branch of Archaeological Survey of India. In that report, Dr. Forchammer supported the myths of Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Its hillock, he said, “has an underground pool connected with the sea by tide”.
Now we should turn to Tabaung Festival. In the Maha Sakarit year of 103 [ Buddhist Era] on full moon Day of Kasone [May] Gotama Buddha became enlightened under the Shade of Bodhi Tree [Bannyan] in Gayga, India. This happy tidings reached out to all directions of the Universe. It was that time that Taphusa and Ballika the two merchant brothers, natives of Pokkaravati town in Ukkalapa Province of the country Ramanya came with 500 bullock carts to trade at seaport towns on the east coastline of India Hearing the good news, they went to worship the Enlightened Gotama Buddha and offered Him honey cakes. Lord Buddha gave them his teachings [Dhamma] and the two brothers embraced Buddhism. They requested Lord Buddha to give them some representation of him. The Buddha brushed his head with his right hand and came out 8 strands of hair from his head and offered them to the two brothers Encased the sacred hair relics in a ruby studded gold casket the two brothers set sail homeward bound. During, the long adventurous voyage, they encountered hardships and two hair relics were stolen.
On arrival at the jetty, King Ukkalapa with one thousand army officers welcomed the sacred relics. The jetty is now called Bo-ta-htaung Seik Kan [The Jetty of one thousand army officers]. After deep prayers and vows the two lost sacred hair relies returned into the casket. The king sent out the search party to find Theinguttara hill where Lord Buddha bade the two brothers enshrine his sacred hair relics. Sakka Deva showed the hill to the brothers and a ruined stupa in which three relics of the three previous Buddha were enshrined. The three Nat Devas- Sule, Yawhane and Dekkhina, received staff from Kakusandha Buddha, the water dipper from Konagamana Buddha and a bathing robe from Kassapa Buddha respectively when the spot was excavated these relics were found enshrined in a ruined stupa. The ruined stupa was repaired and renovated. The previous three sacred relies and the eight hair relics of Gotama Buddha were put inside the casket and enshrined in the rebuilt Pagoda. The casket had many enclosures, a silver, tin, copper, lead, marble and iron enclosures, each swallowing another. Finally, a solid structure was built on it.
Next, its history records the religions works of the Buddhist Kings, starting with Emperor Asoka right down to the British Colonial Period. Legends and stories of the bells on the platform are also history of other interest that waits research. The Singu Min Bell, the Thayawaddy Min Bell and the mysterious Dhamma Zedi Min Bell are well known.
Lay su dat pone Shwe Dagon ေလးဆူဓါတ္ပံု ေရႊတိဂံု enshrines two types of sacred relies- Hair relics of Gotama Buddha and utensils used in the life times of 3 previous Buddhas- so it is datu zedi stupa as well as paribawga zedi Pagoda.
When the first stupa was built on the triangular area between the three summits, and completion and consecration ceremony was held by putting a decorating gold umbrella and diamond bud on top, date and time were the full moon day of Tabaung in the early morning.
So that great event on that date and time is celebrated as Tabaung Festival of Shwe Dagon Pagoda.
Most famous Pagodas in Myanmar hold their Festivals in Tabaung. So Tabaung Festival is relavent not only to Shwe Dagon Pagoda but also to other pagodas across the country.

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