In Burma, where something like 16 million people are currently going to the pools to re-elect the socialist government of President Ne Win, freedom of religion is still one of the mainstays of life.
In Burma, where something like 16 million people are currently going to the pools to re-elect the socialist government of President Ne Win, freedom of religion is still one of the mainstays of life. About three-quarters of the country's 30 millions are Buddhist, and for them, the major place of worship and pilgrimage is the Shwe Dagon Pagoda...sometimes called Burma's Golden Glory.
SYNOPSIS: And it's literally a 'golden glory' Towering 112 metres high, it's built of brick...and covered from base to dome in pure gold. Buddhists make their way there from all over the country to pray on the sacred terraces.
There are hundreds of images of Buddha in the massive complex of pagodas and shrines. And each of them is the subject of a ceremony enacted by each and every pilgrim. It's a ritual 'cooling' of the Buddha...cold water is poured over the image, and the Burmese believe that by keeping Buddha cool, they are worshipping him best.
The Shwe Dagon Pagoda is, in fact, a collection of pagodas....four large ones. 64 smaller ones and no fewer than 72 small shrines.
The history of Shwe Dagon goes back more than 2,500 years, to the time when, legend has it, two merchants, brothers, were given by Buddha eight hairs from his own head. The pagoda was built to enshrine them. It was covered in gold in the 15th century ... and public donations have ensured it's been re-covered every generation since then.
Even the summit is studded with 4,350 diamonds.
Just how much it's all worth, this most sacred of Burma's Buddhist shrines, no-one has ever dared hazard a guess.