Burma - The Golden Shadow
So…what of this land called Burma… a land in which misty mountains rise from mythical rivers; where golden pagodas glisten as brightly as the sun. A land blessed with maroon robed monks and nuns wearing delicate shades of pink.
This is a paradoxical land, a land of contradictions; a country of two names Burma & Myanmar which for centuries has been the subject of oppression stemming back to Kublai Khan’s hoards; to King George VI and colonialism right up until the present day military regime.
Yet in spite of this, perhaps even because of this, the spirit of the Burmese people continues with passion and strength. Ever present are remnants of past grandeur; from the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon to the dynasties of the 11th century Bagan on the mighty Irrawaddy River.
Here her inhabitants greet you with the sincerity of long lost family; inviting you, open and warm into the bosom of her hospitality.
From the crystalline Andaman Sea to the winding Irrawaddy River, from the green Shan Mountains to the shimmer upon Inle Lake, from the thousands of Stupas of Bagan to the great shrine of Shwedagon – I travelled through this land a pilgrim, cradled by a sangha of loving kindness; here we met her people, practiced in her temples, opened ourselves to her energy & offered alms to her monks and nuns.
Upon this land on Makha Bucha day, raucous, colourful celebrations erupt marking the first sermon the Buddha gave at Sarnath after his enlightenment. On Valentines Day, a time of loving kindness, we offered alms to the monks, meditated and renewed our Bodhisattva vows.
To the hollow sound of drums, the clapping of hands, skin against skin; to a dance of spiritual movement & the stamping of feet upon wooden stilted platforms, here we lit our lanterns, each with a message, personal by nature, what did we want to let go of and what were we willing to let in.
Kipling said of Burma, “then, a golden mystery up-heaved itself of the horizon – this is Burma, quite unlike any land you know about”.
Here the countryside is golden; the pagodas golden, a cave is filled with over 8,000 golden Buddha images…even the sands upon the pristine Ngapali beach are golden.
The people of this land are Buddhist, to this day their sense of devotion remains strong. With a curious strength and inherent courage which stems back from centuries of living amidst adversity, challenge & oppression; these softly spoken people manifest absolute compassion through action; their sweet laughter heard & felt wherever one travels.
My journey began at Yangon (Rangoon), going to the Great Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk to join hundreds of monks, nuns & local people in their evening circumambulation. The sky here was serene, an effervescent glow illuminating the transition between day and night.
People gathered, the atmospheric energy was immense yet obscurely there was no sound, or none that I can recall. This scene played out like a dream, an altered state where consciousness and reality became as impermanent as time.
From here our footsteps carried us to one of Asia’s most beautiful and unspoilt beaches, Ngapali beach and onto the Shan mountains where pagodas decorate the landscape; where the Pindaya Caves are filled with over 8,000 thousand gilded Buddha statues.
Over land we travelled to Inle Lake; where the culture, people and villages exist upon stilts. Surrounded by fertile green mountains, vibrant lush fields; this is a place of exquisite natural beauty.
Upon this Lake a unique culture & way of life exists. Tribal markets dot the shores, to here local people travel from long distances to stock up on the necessary items for life in the high mountain villages.
Like stepping into a fictitious tale one can do little but marvel at the abounding hillside monasteries, like ripened fruits their beauty is nothing less than voluptuous. Verdant gardens appear to levitate upon the water, pinned only by bamboo and vegetables flourish with the vibrancy of life.
For a lake so majestic in size, Inle is curiously shallow. Here her people, young & old, male & female can be seen rowing standing up, maintaining a constant relationship with the river and its natural flow. Known as the Intha people, ‘people of the lake’ they are considered among the friendliest in Burma. Their greetings ring out with the grace & sweetness of a gentle birdsong.
From the serenity of Inle our journey took us to Bagan, where under a setting sun thousands of Stupas rose up from an expansive landscape. Their intricate carvings stood out, a bold silhouette against the scarlet canvas of a twilight sky.
Sadly, it is without dispute that a journey into Burma presents the traveller with an ethical dilemma; this is a land of striking contrast where hostility and peace co-habit a landscape scarred by centuries of oppression. Here the mouth’s of betel chewing Grandmothers drip with blood red juices, yet look deeper and one soon discovers a land that touches the soul, awakens the spirit, a land where each drop of water whispers with a sweet breath of compassion.
So what of this land I describe, well my friends… this land is Burma…