The beautiful Botataung Pagoda is revered by Buddhists as the resting place of some of the country’s most sacred relics. Two millennia ago, all eight of the Buddha’s hairs said to have been brought to Burma from India during his lifetime were kept here, protected by a 1,000-strong armed guard – in old Mon, bo means “soldier,” and tataung “one thousand.” Only one hair remained which, alongside many other precious objects, was secreted inside the stupa until the building was hit by a bomb during World War II. Reconstruction work revealed precious reliquaries, with one containing pieces of bone and a single strand of hair. These are now installed in the golden zedi’s hollow interior.
Built in classic Mon style, the new 131-ft- (40-m-) high bell- shaped stupa has a shining coat of gold leaf. Planetary shrines mark the cardinal points, while a side hall houses a gilded bronze Konbaung-era Buddha, which originally sat inside Mandalay’s famous Glass Palace. Carried off to London after the British invasion of 1885, it was returned to Burma in 1951.