History and Legend
Burmese chronicles attribute the founding of the temple to King Kyanzittha, but firm evidence about who constructed the temple or when it was built is missing. That no donor inscription is associated with Pagan’s most important temple highlights the difficulty in reconstructing the history of the city. The temple came to be known in the 18th century or slightly earlier as the Nanda, based on a legend claiming that Kyanzittha emulated the legendary Nanda-mula Cave in the Himalayas when he designed the temple. In the 19th century or earlier, the temple also came to be called Ananda, after the name of one of the Buddha’s celebrated disciples.
The temple’s real patron and its original name are unknown, however. The monument is usually dated to around 1100, based on the style of its stone sculpture, the use of Mon language captions incised on the glazed tiles, and its legendary connection with Kyanzittha.
The Ananda is likely the first of Pagan’s enormous temples, but extensive building activity certainly took place long before its creation. The earliest dated structure at Pagan is the Kubyauk-gyi (Myinkaba), built by Kyanzittha’s son in 1113. A number of temples are thought to be late 11th century, such as the Pahto-thamya, Nagayon and the Abeyadana, but it is safer to think of them as late 11th or early 12th century, like the Ananda.
The vast temple emerges into view after leaving the Walled City from the Tharaba Gate. The expansive area in front of the west gateway is reserved for traders and merchants during the annual festival culminating on a full moon day in December-January. Footwear is deposited just inside the north and west gateways, the two main public entrances today. A morning visit is recommended, since the compound flagstones grow toasty as the sun rises.
Pilgrims visiting the Ananda purchase vases brimming with flowers and place them around the central gilded Buddhas. Devotional activities also include lighting candles at the base of the Buddhas and quietly intoning prayers whilde4 kneeling in the narrow passage ways. Senior monks are now and then commissioned to chant from Pali texts, the sacred syllables drifting throughout the temple and outside, boosted with electronic amplification.
Imposing gateways resembling miniature temples are set into each of the four walls of the square compound. Inside each are two heavily restored seated figures, with one leg pendant, probably representing bodhisattvas. Similar figures, though unrestored, are in the gateways of the Nagayon temple. The gates at the Ananda are largely original, but their exterior has been repeatedly resurfaced with stucco and whitewash. A continuous row of miniature stupas adorns the exterior face of the compound wall, probably added to the original was during the 19th century in the Konbaung period (1752-1885). Each wall is roughly three meters thick at the base.
The two public entrances today are on the north and west sides, but the principal one during the 19th century was on the north. A 19th century British mission recorded a ” wooden colonnade, covered with the usual carved gables and tapering slender spires.” (Yule,37). This old colonnade adjoins the north gateway, now packed tightly with shops. To one side is Pagan’s first museum, with its original blue and white enamel sigh bearing the date 1904. On the other side is the multi-storied Ananda temple Monastery, with its 18th- century wall painting.
The Modern Outer Corridors
Three long corridors were established within the compound wall during the early 20th century. Each is designed somewhat differently, during the early 20th century. Each is designed somewhat differently, but all combine European and traditional Burmese elements. The two on the north and west are lined with shops and form the main avenues leading to the temple today.
The west corridor was completed on April 14, 1925, recorded in an inscription on raised stucco at the entrance. It took one year to finish, having been begun the previous year on a certain day at 9:00 in the morning. In two niches placed at the end of the corridor, facing the temple, are sculptures of the donors, a husband and wife from Shale. Above the souvenir shops are modern painted panels recording the deeds of Anawrahta and Kyanzittha. Dozens of small oval-shaped terracotta votive tablets salvaged from the ancient period are placed high on the exterior walls.
The south corridor was finished in 1929, the gift of a husband and wife and their family, recorded in an inscription. Panels lining the walls depiction at least one of the Budddha’s previous births, or jatakas, were probably hung soon after the hall was finished. The signature of the artist, Maung Saw Maung, can be made out on the panels, and he describes himself as a famus painter from Mandalay. Some figures are dressed in court costumes of a by-gone age. Artists were exposed to European painting as early as the 18th century, and indigenous painting came to be greatly influenced by Western pictorial conventions, such as perspective and modeling.
The north corridor has no panel painting, only in the entrance hall preceding the main temple where eleven examples are devoted to at least one jataka. The corridor itself was finished in 1932 by a woman and her family from Twinya village, south of New Pagan. The ceilings of the corridors are enlivened by repeated designs formed by metal strips inserted between the rafters in parallel rows.
The Temple Plan
The Ananda is unique at Pagan for many reasons, beginning with its symmetrical ground plan. A huge central block is fronted on all sides with wide, long entrance halls of equal dimensions, forming a cruciform shape. Since the four entrance halls are equal in size and so long and low in relation to the central block, the temple appears two sided rather than four, from every point of view. Other large temples at Pagan may appear symmetrical like the Ananda, such as the Sulamani, or the Thatbyinnyu, but one entrance hall is always slightly longer than the others, and one major Buddha dominates the conception.
This ground plan highlights equally the four enshrined standing Buddhas. Also, the glazed plaques surrounding the base appear to be in a continuous row, although divisions are created by the entrance halls. The genius of the Ananda plan can be only appreciated today from the east gate, since no modern corridor was built on that side.
The principal ancient entrance at the Ananada is unknown, since the symmetrical plan itself offers few clues. However, it may have been the west side since sculpture featuring the biography of the Buddha begins there. Also, the jataka tiles in the tower begin on the west face. The west face also is oriented toward the Walled City, perhaps another consideration.
Two concentric corridors encircle the enormous central block whose four deep niches contain the gilded wooden Buddhas. The outer walls are pierced by numerous windows, one set above the other, admitting light into the first corridor which passes directly into cross passages leading to the inner corridor. This design ensures that the interior sculptures are well lighted.
The Glazed Tiles
The Ananda showcases over fifteen hundred green glazed tiles set into exterior niches, all identified with Mon characters incised on their base. The basement tiles are devoted to the army of Mara and numerous deities, while the upper terraces feature tiles dedicated to the jataka. The roof tiles were near designed to be closely viewed, since no ready access was ever planned to the terraces. The majority of the plaques are in their original niches, with only minor modern fiddling.
Tile production began by placing the clay in a square mould, probably of wood. The figures, such as men, women, animals, carts, boats and trees, were formed separately and carefully attached. A Mon inscription was incised on the bottom of each plaque, are in a variety of hues dependent on the composition of the glaze and firing conditions.
Other glazed complete jataka series are found at Pagan encircling the terraces of stupas, such as the Mingalazedi and Dhamma-yazika, but the Ananda is the only temple designed with glazed jatakas in the roof terraces.
Mara’s demons-west face
Encircling the were face of the temple are hundreds of tiles portraying the army of Mara, the demon king symbolizing the worldly attachments that the Buddha eschewed.
The demons are depicted in pairs, with few exceptions, and are shown marching to the left, toward the north. Many stand on their own two feet while others go to battle on animal mounts (Guillon). A common category includes men with unpleasant faces, made more disagreeable by snakes emerging from their mouths, ears, eyes, or even noses. A typical Mon caption reads, ” Mara’s army with snakes coming from their eyes.” At least one illustrated palm-leaf manuscript form Nepal also depicts snakes coming from the mouths of Mara’s demons, so eastern India is probably the origin for this unusual rendering (Pal, 1985,192). It is also found in Pala sculpture, though rarely, and at least once at Ajanta. Snakes emerging from the mouths of Mara’s soldiers also feature in the Lalitavistara, a Mahayana text.
Other no-gooders appear deceptively harmless, such as little waddling ducks, but these cute, innocent creatures were probably included in the phalanx to illustrate Mara’s all-encompassing and beguiling powers, a theme in Pali literature. Mara, for example, could even hide within the stomach of a disciple of the Buddha, assume the form of a ploughman or a bullock, or could create an earthquake or a landslide. The message is clear: ” keep a clean mind, since even a duck in your nearby pond can cause mischief and spoil your day, if not your life.”
Mara’s demons appear only rarely in ceramics at Pagan but commonly in frescos. However, no fresco series repeats many of these demons, such as the characters with the snakes. One or two small stone sculptures of Mara’s demons, from a ruined stupa (no.1339), are displayed at the museum. Ferocious figures in trios line the south side of the Mingalazedi stupa basement but are not Mara’s demons, judging from their Burmese captions.
The Gods-east face
Hundreds of deities on the east face represent the major players in the Pali Buddhist universe, such as the Regents of the Four Quarters, their 28 Generals, the Four Kings of Death, and many other divine beings, including special mythical birds, snakes, gods, goddesses and others (Shorto). Among the ink inscriptions at Pagan many of the same deities are listed within a group attending a sermon of the Buddha. One inscription from a Pali text at the Nagayon lists attendees at one of the Buddha’s sermons as including “gods (devas), yakkba (spirits), Gandharvas, snakes, Suparnas and Kumbhandas of the ten thousand world systems.” (Digha Nikaya, 20). Some of these protagonists appear in later painted Burmese manuscripts, surrounding Mount Meru, but the Ananda should not be associated with Mount (Herbert, 2002).
Unlike the demons facing in a single direction, the gods are divided into two moieties, each moving toward the east door. Both group largely mirror each other, with some exceptions. The procession to the right side of the entrance is led by the chief gods, Brahma and Sakka, standing together on a single plaque next to the doorway. The three-headed Brahma holds an umbrella, while Sakka grasps a conch, their usual attributes at Pagan. All of the figures are identified by Mon glosses. Gods and goddesses are usually in trios, holding different auspicious objects identified in the glosses, such as lamps, banners and vessels.
|‘Mahosadah decides the case of the bull–671’, Mon caption. Each of the last ten jatakas extends over numerous tiles. They umbered serially, and this example is 671 in the sequence and belongs to jataka 546. The last tile is numbered 920 from the Vessantara jatakn.
Prince Vessantara, his wife, and children. This jataka completes the series of 547. (DS)
The tiles on the roof terraces comprise the most complete surviving ceramic jataka series at Pagan. They begin on the southwest corner of the lowest terrace and wind around the temple in a clockwise direction, ascending to the sixth topmost terrace. Each of the first 537 jatakas is accorded a single tile and is identified with its Pali name and number. The order conforms to the standard collection of Pali jatakas known today. The last group of ten tales, known as the Mahanipata, was considered most sacred and their complete telling consumes a total of 389 tiles. The plaques on the last two terraces are smaller than the others, since the terraces themselves become smaller. The last ten stretches over much of the top four terraces, the first (no. 538), beginning in the middle of the north side, immediately abutting jataka no. 537, with no special break marking the division. The number of the last ten jatakas begins with 538 and runs serially. The Mon captions briefly describe the action represented. The order of the last ten jatakas differs somewhat from the sequence in the standard Pali collection.
Death of the Buddha. Sculpture presenting major events in the Buddha’s life are within 16 niches in each entrance hall. East entrance hall.
The Entrance Halls
The entrance halls are showcases for sculptures illustrating the main events in the buddha’s life. Each hall contains sixteen images. The majority has been heavily painted and gilded but are otherwise as fresh as the day they left the workshop. The subjects and their positions on the walls are nearly identical in all four halls, with some probable shifting over the centuries. At the rear of each hall on the side walls are Maya’s Dream and the Death of the Buddha. Other familiar subjects include the buddha’s Descent from the Heaven of the 33 Gods, the Birth of the Buddha, and the First Sermon at the Deer Park.
In the north hall stucco has flaked off to reveal a triple arch made up of alternating brick and stone voussoirs. Similar arches can be detected high within the outer corridor where they distribute the weight down into the walls. The stone voussoirs extend deeper into the wall than the bricks, designed to secure the face of the wall to the inner fabric.
New Painting Discoveries
The entrance halls were once completely covered with frescos but were whitewashed sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century. Recent cleaning has uncovered small portions of the original painting, in the north east entrance halls. Parallel rows of unidentified narrative scenes appear on the piers, while rows of seated Buddhas filled the vaults above. The ceiling was painted with roundels. Thin orange-coloured lines used within some of the figures resemble those in the frescos of another early temple, the Pahto-thamya.
An ink inscription in late 18th- ro early 19th- century characters in the east hall records a donation by a military leader from Yangon, made for the sake of obtaining ‘nebba’, or nibban (Pali). His act of merit should be associated with a row of painted Buddhas immediately below.
The inner corridors may also have been covered with original mural painting, but we cannot be sure. The walls of many later large and small temples had no figurative painting but were covered with a tan coloured wash, accented by painted borders, such as the Sulamani and the Thatbyinnyu.
The Buddha’s Footprints- West Entrance Hall
A huge circular stone slab dominating the west entrance hall is incised with impressions of the Buddha’s footprints. Worshippers often make offerings here before proceeding to the inner sanctum. This may be the original location of the footprints but it is uncertain, since no similar stone footprints remain inside temples today. Carved inside the footprints in very shallow relief are small auspicious symbols contained in square frames; they are said to total 108, a number specified in certain Pali texts. Surviving ancient stone footprints at Pagan number no more than a handful, but one can be seen at the museum, recovered from the Lokananda stupa (no.1023)
Worship of the Buddha’s footprints began very early in India but cannot be document in Burma until the Pagan period. The prints are often found painted on the ceilings of entrance halls, such as the Loka-hteikpan. The veneration of the footprints increased following the Pagan period, and even entire temples became dedicated to them, such as the 19th- century Settawya temple at Mingun, near Mandalay. One 18th- century reference that stone footprints were placed in carts and wheeled about to obtain offerings (Cox,111). The sanctity of the Buddha’s footprints is recognized through Buddhist Asia, but especially so in Theravada countries, like Sir Lanka and Thailand.
The Four Gilded Buddhas
At the heart of the temple are four majestic gilded wooden Buddha images standing in deep tall niches within the central block. These Buddhas are believed to represent the historical Buddha, Gotama, and the three Buddhas preceding him in the present ear. Gotama is considered the 28th Buddha in a sequence extending into mythical time. The 25th, Kakusandha, is believed today to be in the north niche, while the 26th, Konagamana is in the east, Kassapa, the 27th, is in the south, and Gotama, the 28th, is in the west. Kakusandha and Kassapa are shown with their hands raised together at their chest in the teaching-gesture; Konagamana’s lowered outstretched hands resemble Buddha figures associated with Mandalay in the 19th century and earlier. Gotama’s right hand is raised in the gesture-of-reassurance.
The Buddhas on the east and west sides are believed to be 18th century, while the other pair is thought to date from the ancient Pagan period. However, it is more likely that all four images belong to the Konbaung period, from the 18th or early 19th centuries. We must remember that on Buddhas that are the chief focus of devotion in ancient Pagan are made of wood. Moreover, the central image within a sanctum is never shown standing, always seated. It is more probable, therefore that there were originally seated Buddhas in these four niches.
Even the identity of these four Buddhas is speculative, apart from believing that they represent the last four Buddhas in the influential sequence of of 28. For example, none of the Buddhas are associated with the cardinal directions in canonical Pali literature. Also, the hand-gestures by themselves provide no clue. It is also probably not without significance that the identifications made in the 20th century by Luce and others, differ completely from those recorded in the 19th (Yule,39).
Skylights piercing the lowest roof terraces admit a shaft of light at certain times of day, striking the Buddhas with dramatic effect. Artificial lighting installed over the last decade has unfortunately spoiled the ”very powerful and strange effect”, as one early observer noted. (Yule, 38). Also, lining the side walls of the deep chambers are additional sculptures placed in niches, barely visible due to their height. Their subject matter can be identified, kneeling figures are found within a small 18th century shrine in the northern part of the Ananda compound is one more reason for thinking tht all of these kneeling figures inside the Ananda are much late (see temple 2168). The example on the south side is my favorite, poised as if to spring out of its niche.
A Biography in Stone – the outer corridor
|In the Buddha’s life series. The Buddha-to-be in Tushita Heaven, lower tier, west.No.7 Dream of Maya, lower tier, north
Eighty stone sculptures inside the Ananda narrate the compelling story of the Buddha, starting from before his birth on earth and ending with the enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya. The series encircles the wide outer corridor located only steps beyond the rear of the entrance halls. To appreciate the story from start to finish in the correct order requires two circumambulations of the corridor, the first round focusing only on the bottom row of niches and the second round only on the top tier where the story concludes.
The sculptures were based either on a 5th or 6th century Pali text known as the Nidanakatha, or more probably from later works based directly on this source. A remarkably close correspondence exists between this text and the sculptures, suggesting that the stone carvers, who were likely illiterate, modeled their work n drawings based upon the text.
Too many details in the sculptures conform to the text to believe that the craftsmen fashioned these from common lore. There are a number of scenes that appear to be unprecedented in ancient Buddhist art, such as the buddha fainting. A handful of stray Buddha figures outside the narrative were likely inserted into niches for unknown reasons, replacing original images. Apart from these later additions, these sculptures have not been removed from their original niches for roughly a millennium, a long time to be sitting still, gazing down at pilgrims, and, more recently, foreign tourists.