Bago, Myanmar (Burma)

Shwemawdaw Pagoda Bago, Burma
Shwemawdaw Pagoda Bago, Myanmar (Burma) (Enlarge)

The Shwemawdaw or 'Great Golden God Pagoda' of Bago has been growing for more than 1000 years. Originally built to a height of 23 meters, it has over the centuries become the tallest of the Burmese pagodas and now rises 114 meters. As with other pagodas, this growth in size occurred during numerous reconstruction periods, usually following great earthquakes. The most recent quake, in 1930, nearly leveled the ancient structure and it was not until 1952 that it again dominated the Bago skyline. In this photograph the pagoda is entirely encircled with scaffolding composed only of bamboo poles. Workers climb this scaffold to apply golden paint to the sides of the pagoda. Legends say that enshrined beneath the towering pagoda are hairs and teeth of the Buddha. Because of these relics, Shwemawdaw is visited by throngs of Buddhist pilgrims during all hours of the day and night.

Martin Gray is a cultural anthropologist, writer and photographer specializing in the study of pilgrimage traditions and sacred sites around the world. During a 40 year period he has visited more than 2000 pilgrimage places in 165 countries. The World Pilgrimage Guide at is the most comprehensive source of information on this subject.