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Nathlaung Kyaung (c.931)

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1. View of Nathlaung Kyaung from northwest. Note the restored brickwork on the second story and at the upper portion of the sikhara as well as the mandapa
2. View of façade from the west.
3. View of façade from the west
4. One of the seven surviving avators (protected from theft by the iron mesh) may be seen in the niche on the left side. This is just to the right side of the west entry door
5. Note the restored cinquefoil ‘flame pediment’ rising from the stone pilasters; it is thought to be the earliest example of such a decoration in Bagan, though it was restored in 1976
Click on an image to enlarge

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The Nathlaung Kyaung (or Nat-hlaung-kyaung), located slightly to the west of Thatbyinnyu and inside the old city walls, is the only remaining Hindu temple in Bagan.  It was possibly built by legendary King Taungthugyi (r. 931-964) about a century before King Anawrahta (r. 1044-1077) brought Theravada Buddhism to Pagan with the conquest of Thaton.  Paul Strachan, however, argues that it may have been built as late as the reign of Awawrahta.  It clearly is one of the earliest of the Bagan temples.

The several names given to the temple, as Strachan argues, indicate the religious struggle that ensued between Vaishnavite Hindu ideas and the southern Buddhist tradition that made its appearance with Anawrahta, though there apparently was a tolerance as the temple was not razed.  Most Burmese use the name given above, which may be translated as “Shrine Confining the Devas.” To Hindu devotees it was Nat-daw-kyaung, or the “Shrine of the Sacred Devas.”  Another version, Nat-hlè-kyaung, or “Shrine of the Reclining Deva,” suggests that perhaps there originally was such a statue inside.

This square temple with steep-rising upper terraces is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, and was perhaps built by Indian artisans brought into Bagan to work on other temples.  Strachan  suggests that, since it uses the Pyu brick building tradition followed in Bagan architecture, it was built by indigenous artisans of Bagan. It clearly was the temple of the Indian merchant community and Brahmans in the service of the king and was originally not only a place of worship, but also as a sculpture gallery.  Of the original temple complex only the superstructure and main hall remain, as the entry hall and other structures have disappeared.  The high mandapa, or plinth or porch that extends from the temple, was the gift of a Malabar Vaishnavite saint in the 13th century; it is the only mandapa  in Bagan and originally would have been covered by a wooden hall or awning. Considerable repair was done in 1976, as can be seen in the second story and the sikhara , or upper part of the finial.  Originally there were 10 avatars, past and present incarnations of Vishnu, housed in niches in the outer walls; seven survive. In the late nineteenth century a German oil engineer took the large Vishnu figure that was standing on the mythical garuda; it now is in Berlin’s Dahlem Museum.

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Bagan Monument No. 1600.

Text by Professor Robert D. Fiala of Concordia University, Nebraska, USA.

Bibliography:

All images copyright 2002 by Robert D. Fiala.

Clark, Michael and Joe Cummings. Myanmar (Burma). 7th ed.  Melbourne:  Lonely Planet Publications, 2000.

Doral, Francis,  Clare Griffiths, et al.  8th ed.  Insight Guide: Burma Myanmar.  New York: Langensheidt Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Pichard, Pierre.  Inventory of Monuments at Pagan, vol. 6, Monuments, [numbered] 1440-1736.  Paris: UNESCO [also Kiscadale, Scotland], 1995.

Strachan, Paul.  Art and Architecture of Old Burma.  2nd ed. Scotland: Kiscadale Publications, 1996.

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