The Legends of Dhammayangyi Temple | Thahara Blog
Dhammayangyi Temple in Bagan

The Legends of Dhammayangyi Temple

Bagan, the ancient city that was once the capital of the Pagan Empire, has around 2,200 temples dotted around its orangey plains. With so much choice, it can be a bit overwhelming deciding which temples to visit and which ones to skip. One of Thahara’s favourites, and one definitely not to be missed however, is Dhammayangyi Temple. This monumental structure dominates the surrounding area and is truly mesmerizing. So let’s take a closer look, explore Dhammayangyi’s history and let us explain why it’s our favourite.

Dhammayangyi Temple under construction in Bagan

The first thing that will strike you about Dhammayangyi Temple is its size and impressive architecture. Believed to have been completed in 1170 following three years of construction during the reign of King Narathu, it is easily Bagan’s largest temple.

Reminiscent of an Egyptian pyramid, or a Mesoamerican pyramid, Dhammayangyi Temple has a similar floor plan to that of Ananda Temple, situated around 500m north. Surrounded by walls, the largest of Bagan’s temples is actually only one story high, but is then topped with 6 terraces that ascend to the sun. Atop the now blunted peak used to be a stupa, which has now collapsed due to the regular earthquakes that hit this area.

A notable aspect of Dhammayangyi is the western shrine, which features two original side-by-side images of Gautama and Maitreya, the old and new Buddha’s (it’s the only Bagan temple with these present).

The stupa of Dhammayangyi Temple

Going hand in hand with the vast scale of this pagoda is the incredible brickwork. Legend has it that King Narathu would chop the hands, or even the heads, off any mason who he deemed inadequate. And for King Narathu being able to stick a needle through the gaps of any two bricks constituted an inadequate mason. Due to this vicious king, the brickwork as a result is the finest in Bagan. It’s no wonder that Narathu is known as one of the harshest and cruelest king’s in the history of Myanmar.

This brings us onto the legends that surround Dhammayangyi Temple. And there are many.

Stories claim that King Narathu ascended the throne after assassinating his father, and then smothering his own brother who was next in line to the throne. To atone for his awful sins, Narathu set about building a temple on a vast scale, which was to be called Dhammayangyi Temple.

The temple was however never completed as King Narathu met his end in 1170 having himself been assassinated. This assassination was carried out by eight men, disguised as Brahmin priests, who had been sent by the king’s former wife’s father. We say former, as the wife herself was killed by King Narathu after she was found practicing Hindu rituals. Quite the death count.

Following the death of the king, and due to his brutish behavior, the builders proceeded to fill the inner center of the temple with rubble, blocking off the ambulatory as “payback”.

Dhammayangyi Pagoda in the distance

With all these legends and stories that surround the temple, many believe it is haunted, and contains bad karma (something not to be trifled with in Buddhist culture). This might explain why Dhammayangyi has never undergone large scale restoration.

An impressive story no? We think so, but some do dispute it, as with all legends.

Some believe the temple was actually built by Alaungsithu several years earlier, and that the rubble inside was placed there to prevent Dhammayangyi from collapsing. Others think there is treasure to be found underneath the rubble and that the temple has never been renovated because it has never needed to be, with the incredible brickwork withstanding the harsh years.  

Whether you believe the stories or not, Dhammayangyi temple remains one of the most unique and interesting sites in Bagan. Visit the temple and come to your own conclusions, or even add some lines to the story yourself.

A must for all travelers visiting these immense plains.