Sinhalese Type Pagodas

Sinhalese Type Stūpas

The most representative collection of the stūpa decorations of Bagan can be traced in the typical design of the Sinhalese form of stūpas. This feature finds expression in the addition of a special structure of harmika, a square railing that surrounds the pole on top of a stūpa which symbolized the zenith beyond life and death (nirvāna).

Generally in the shape of a square box it is at times a modified box in shape and even and a circular curvilinear structure at other time. This structure was first used in Ceylon, it having been in use in some cases in India in the early period of the Buddhist art (examples are the Sanchi and the Karle stūpas).

The earliest Ceylonese type of the stūpa in Bagan period is the Pebingyaung pagoda (1653). It is the mixed type of stūpa an example. Tradition ascribes this pagoda to the 10th AD. It is the shrine of unpretentious dimensions of Sinhalese type with a large bell-shaped dome surmounted by a box-shaped structure generally known as dhātu-garbha or relic chamber, which in its turn, is crowned by a Sikhara.

It is the definite evidence of cultural exchange between Myhanmar and Ceylon. These type of pagodas can also be found in Kaunghmudaw paya, Htupayon paya and Sinmyashin paya all are located in Sagaing. Its architectural evidence appears to show that it is older than the Sapada pagoda (187), which was built in the 12th century AD.

The entrance of the square-based relic chamber of Pebingyaung is decorated with True Arch. The distinctive style of Bagan period Buddhist architecture was the erection of the arch which was the curved structure built as an ornament or gateway.

The Sapada (187), and Sapadaw (190), are another unique Sinhalese type of stūpas which are decorated with hemispherical dome, square crowning block and conical spire and estimated date of them are 12th century AD. The Sapada pagoda stands on a raised earthen platform, which is protected by an ornamental retaining wall. Its form differs from the cylindrical-shaped pagoda of the ordinary Myanmar type, in tha a square block of masonry, commonly called the “dhātu-gabbha”, or relic-chamber, intervenes between the sikhāra and the bell-shape dome.

The pagoda was built by Sapada, a native of Pathein, who was ordained a Buddhist monk in Ceylon and who founded a sect at Bagan on his return to Myanmar.

The pagoda was constructed after the model of Sinhalese shrine, and is the prototype of similar structure in province. It was modeled on the design of Thūparama zedi in Anuraddhapura in Srilanka. It is a land-mark in the history of Buddhism, and commemorates the religious intercourse between Myanmar and Ceylon (Srilanka).

Another Srilankan architectural design of stūpas in Bagan period are U Kin Ta pagoda (Khin-tan Pagoda), (18), built by Khin Tan, a queen of King Kyansittha and U Kin Gyi pagoda (Khin U Pagoda), (19), built by Khin U, one of King Kyansittha’s queens. Those two stūpas belong to the Bagan period, 12th century AD.

The Seinnyet Nyima is a solid stūpa and a cylindrical structure which is most interesting both architecturally and historically. Traditionally it is assigned to 11th century AD.

The harmika on top of this pagoda evolved from those of Sinhalese origin as seen in the Sapada stūpa. This pagoda represents a distinct stage in the development of stūpa architecture in Bagan period, and reflects the streams of influences from China, India and Ceylon.

Seinnyet Nyima, General View

The East Petleik (1030) and West Petleik (1031) are distinctive models of Sinhalese-formed stūpas and date of building estimated about the 11th century AD. The pagodas originally had vaulted corridors round the basements, and the walls were lined with rows of square niches which accommodated the Jataka plaques. The East Petleik is constructed the harmika or the cubical relic-chamber above the bell as the form of Sinhalese stūpa. The Western shrine connects sikhāra with the bell-shaped dome and it appears to be the prototype of Sinnyet Nyima pagoda.

The Sittanagyi stūpa (987) is situated at the southern extremity of the Bagan monument zone with a decorative frieze of 156 elephant heads around the base (each side has 39). It is considered 13th century “or earlier” by the Inventory.

This stūpa is a good representative of the transitional stage of the stūpa architecture during Bagan period. It has a Srilankan style square crowning block above the dome. It is a decided improvement upon the Pebingyaung stūpa of the early period. The body is the bell-shape and there are terraces, four in number each with Jātaka plaques and having replica stūpa at their corners.

The distinctive feature of the Sinhalese type stūpa is the absence of steps. This is clearly seen in the Sittanagyi and the Seinnyet Nyima stūpas. The architectural development of Sinhalese-formed stūpas are exemplified by the Pebingyaung, Sapada, Seinnyet Nyima and Sitanagyi respectively.

Source: Zin Tun Tint, Dr., Origin and Development of Stūpas in Bagan Period (1000-1300 AD), Ph D Dissertation, Department of History, University of Yangon, 2006

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