Known as “The Golden Land”, Myanmar is home to thousands of pagodas and temples that never fail to wow tourists and even locals. People who see the centuries-old pagodas are simply stunned by their jaw-dropping beauty, while the locals who see them regularly each day stand in reverence for what the ancient structures represent. Ananda Temple is the largest temple and considered by many to be the finest and most well preserved in Bagan, where there is a number of important temples, pagodas and ancient structures. The 1975 earthquake significantly damaged this temple, but it has been totally restored.
Experts and devotees believe that the temple was built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha. The architecture is so unique that legends have been told about this temple. One such legend tells about eight monks who arrived in Myanmar and met King Kyanzittha. The monks explained that they came from the Nandamula Cave temple in the Himalayas and talked about the out-of-this-world beauty of their temple. Eager to see the enchanting Himalayan temple, the king was placed in a trance and was able to “see” it. He then called his architects and explained how he would like his temple to be built, following what he saw in his mind. After completing Ananda Temple, the king ordered the execution of his architects to make sure that no other temple will be built following the same architecture.
The temple is perfectly proportioned and shows an architectural style that ended the early Bagan period and ushered in the middle period. It is a simple corridor temple with a central square that measures squarely at 53 meters on each side. The structure rises in terraces, forming a decorative 51-meter cliff above the ground. There are four entrance ways that form a perfect cross, which corresponds to the four Buddha figures and stupas on each side. A total of 554 glazed tiles decorate the temple base and terraces, depicting the stories of the Buddha (jataka scenes). There are also large carved teak doors on all four sides.
The four standing Buddha figures are what make this temple unique and popular. The 9.5-meter high images represent Nirvana and are made of solid teak; one of the them, however, is believed to be made of bronze alloy. The two figures facing north and south are original, with hands positioned to symbolize the Buddha’s first sermon. The other two images are replacements since the old ones were destroyed by fire. What’s amazing about the southern Buddha image is that up-close it looks sad, but from a distance it looks as though it is smiling. Meanwhile, the eastern image appears to be holding a small nutlike sphere between its thumb and middle finger. It looks like an herbal pill and may represent Buddhist philosophy as being offered by the Buddha to cure people’s sufferings. This image’s arms hang outstretched at its sides, a Buddhist position not seen anywhere else.
Ananda Temple comes alive between December and January as devotees from all over the country arrive to participate in the temple’s annual festival. It is a three-day festival that is highlighted by the day and night chanting of more than 1,000 monks.