World Religions

Places of Worship – Bagan Temples


Fazal Ahmad, London, UK

Location: Bagan, Myanmar

Belief: Buddhism

Era: 11th Century CE

The city of Bagan in the Mandalay Region of central Myanmar is a scene of forests filled with religious shrines and temples in every direction.

Myanmar (prev. Burma) sat on a strategic trade route between India and China, and benefitted not just from material trade, but also the flow of religious ideas. Around 200 CE, the Pyu civilisation here began to flourish, and by 800 CE, the dawn of the Pagan Kingdom emerged in the Irrawaddy Valley in the north of the country.[1]

For around 200 years, Bagan was at the heart of the Pagan Kingdom in modern Myanmar, and saw advances and development in architecture, religion, the arts and education. The kings gifted land and made donations to build Buddhist temples and monasteries. It is thought that at its height, Bagan had ten thousand temples and other religious structures spread over an area of 40 square miles and became a beacon for Buddhist pilgrims from the region.[2] The city was a centre of religious learning and may have had a population of well over 100,000 people.

The design of the temples follows the same template as seen in India and Pakistan, with the kings favouring the Theravada school of Buddhism. But at the same time, Mahayana and other Buddhist schools of thought were allowed to coexist, along with Hinduism and other traditional religions. Muslims were also present in the region and played a role. Muslim Arab traders would use western ports in Myanmar on their travels from East Africa to China since the 9th century CE. Around the same time, Persian Muslims were arriving in the country from the northern Chinese border regions.

One of the finest temples in the Bagan complex is Ananda Pahto Temple, dating from the rule of King Kyansittha (1084-1112 CE), which rises to 51 metres. There are many other temples featuring golden domes and containing large statues of Buddha (as).

The Pagan Kingdom was overrun by the Mongols in the late 13th century, around 1280 CE, but continued to attract Buddhist pilgrims to the thousands of shrines and temples. Today, most of the temples have fallen into disrepair or were destroyed through damage sustained from earthquakes, but an estimated 2,200 temples still stand around Bagan in the most dense concentration of Buddhist shrines and temples anywhere in the world.


[1] M Hattstein, Lost Civilizations – Mysterious Cultures & Peoples (Bath, UK: Paragon Books, 2009), 228.

[2] M Derrick, Unforgettable Ancient Sites (New York, USA: Chartwell Books, 2018), 151.