Ananda Temple, Bagan

The Ananda Temple lies just outside of the old city wall. It was completed in 1091. In plan, the temple is a perfect Greek cross. The four large entrance arches, topped with stone flames, face each of the cardinal points.

The Ananda temple in Bagan The Ananda temple in Bagan

The entrance halls each lead to large niches housing huge gilded standing Buddha images. Each of the images displays slightly different hand gestures, each of which has a meaning representing the last four incarnations of Buddha. A clever placement of windows in the upper story lights the face of each Buddha image.

A concentric set of corridors connect the four halls. The inner corridor is lined with scenes from the Jakata, the story of the Buddha's life. There are 80 panels in all, requiring two circuits of the corridor to complete the story in order.

Close-up of the roof decorations on Ananda Temple Close-up of the roof decorations on Ananda Temple

The roof above the central core rises in five stepped levels, like boxes stacked one on top of the other. The gilded crown, compared by some to a beehive, is more like the pyramidal pagodas of Indian temples, rather than the bell-shaped stupas that were coming into increasing favor at the time. The four corners of three roof levels are decorated with similar crowns.

Although the central temple building has remained relatively unchanged, save for a bit of looting over the last 1,000 years, there have been additions right up to modern times. Long corridors from the outer wall to the central structure were added in the nineteenth century. Although their style and detailing definitely marks them as something from the modern era, they still manage to fit in with the far older main structure.

One of the large standing Buddhas within the Ananda temple in Bagan One of the large standing Buddhas within the Ananda temple in Bagan

In January of every year, there is a huge temple fair held within the grounds and courtyard of the temple. The main purpose of the fair is to raise money for the upkeep of the temple, but it is also important in the religious life of Burmese Buddhists. The event is attended by a thousand or more monks, as well as lay people from around Myanmar.

Note: Like all temples in Myanmar, you must remove your shoes and socks before entering the temple compound. Your best bet is to wear a simple pair of sandles, as the Burmese do. Generally, it's considered "bad form" to carry your shoes into the temple. Lockers are often provided at the more popular temples.