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#FriFotos: “Sparkle” and Buddha Bling Edition: Sunrise at Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda

Earlier this month I traveled to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Rangoon, Burma), where I spent two great mornings photographing Shwedagon Pagoda, a gilded stupa that is the most sacred site for Burmese Buddhists. In a country whose per capita income is probably about $379 US, you might be surprised at the amount of bling and sparkle on display at this holy site. Legend states that this pagoda has existed for some 2,600 years, making it possibly the oldest historical stupa in the world.

It’s always such a contrast seeing monks in simple ochre robes and nuns wrapped in pink cloth praying to glitzy, sparkly Buddha statues. Visiting at sunrise gives you an opportunity to see a wide cross section of Burmese society doing their morning prayers and offerings, as well as visiting pilgrims from other countries. My favorite surprise was seeing monks on “dome shining” duty, walking barefoot up on the 344 foot high dome, buffing the gold to make it sparkle.

These domes reminded me of those I saw earlier this year at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine.

The top spire of Shwedagon is 638 feet high

A hall of blinged out Buddhas

Before sunrise at Shwedagon Pagoda

Morning offerings and monks on dome shining duty making sure Shwedagon sparkles

A man burns joss sticks as part of his morning ritual.

at 5:30 am, Shwedagon is open and filled with the faithful, with the golden domes sparkling in the morning light.

This man washed a Buddha statue as part of his morning prayers.

Golden Buddhas and gilded roofs contrast with the barefoot worshippers

Monks shining the dome of Shwedagon

Portrait of three young Buddhist nuns who posed for me in front of sparkly lights