Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years before the British set out their orderly trellis of streets around it, the Sule Pagoda served as an important place of pilgrimage and wor- ship. Buddhist legend asserts that its central stupa encloses a sacred hair of the historic Buddha, Gautama, and that it was founded in 230 BC by Sona and Uttara, a pair of missionary monks dispatched from India to the court of nearby Thaton. The pagoda’s name, however, most likely derives from that of Sulerata, the guardian spirit of the site, who is said to have guided the monks to nearby Singuttara Hill, where three other hairs of the Buddha were enshrined and which is now the site of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Whatever the actual origins of the monument, it was certainly reconstructed several times before the Mon Queen Shin Sawbu of PeguHanthawaddy (1394–1471) had the central zedi (stupa) enlarged to its present height of 144 ft (44 m). The stupa is unusual for the fact that its octa gonal layers encom- pass the normally smoothly curved bell section.
The pagoda’s central position, at the hub of Lt. Alexander Fraser’s colonialera street layout, make it the city’s most prominent landmark after the Shwedagon Pagoda , which explains why it has played such an important role in Myanmar’s political life. During the prodemocracy demonstrations of 1988 and 2007, the intersection that surrounds it was the scene of bloody encoun ters between scores of unarmed protest ers and the Tatmadaw (military). Dwarfed by the phalanx of skyscrapers surrounding it, the pagoda is ringed by Internet cafés, print studios, and dozens of shops; the four entrances lie at the cardinal points, aligned with the main streets. The best vantage point overlooking the pagoda is the Sky Bar at the top of the Sakura Tower, located a few blocks north on Sule Pagoda Road, from where the view of the zedi is particu larly striking after dark.