Nyaungshwe

27

Nov
2021

The Southern Plain

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The temples spread across the southeastern extremity of the archeological zone, around Minnanthu village, are the most remote on the site, but their superb murals, which include  some of the oldest and best- preserved in Bagan, warrant the  effort needed to reach them.

On the west side of the lane winding through Minnanthu is the whitewashed Lemyethna Temple. This single-storied edifice is built in late Bagan style on a square raised platform with four pro jecting porches and an upper section of receding terraces, surmounted by an Indian-style curvilinear spire and gilded pagoda. Dating from 1222, it is said to have been  built in honor of a prime minis- ter who, having been sentenced  to execution by the king, wrote a famous poem expressing equanimity at the prospect of his death, described as merely part of the “ineluctable cycle of Karma.” Lemyethna contains some well-preserved paintings, particularly around the arches framing the Buddha shrines, although many of these have been lost under a recent coat of limewash.

A short way north, on the opposite side of the lane, stands a trio of shrines conjoined by narrow vaulted passageways. Payathonzu Temple was never completed but is renowned for its wonderful 12th-century paintings dominated by floral motifs into which mythical animals, birds, and human figures are woven. Shown under the bodhi trees where they gained enlightenment, the 28 Buddhas of the Past also feature prominently. Several murals reveal a marked Tantric influence. Some scholars attribute this to Payathonzu’s proximity to the last of Bagan’s Ari monasteries. These were home to forest-dwelling monks who practiced Tantric rituals regarded as debauched by the Theravada order.

More wonderful paintings adorn the walls and arched ceilings of the Nandamannya  Temple, a short walk north down a sandy track off the lane. Framed by decorative scrolls are a series of large panels showing scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha.

These include the Birth, with Prince Siddhartha coming forth from the right hip of his royal mother, and the Renunciation of the World, sym bolized by the Buddha cutting off his hair. A small rec tan gular panel on the shrine’s western side depicts the famous Temptation of Mara.  Here the demon Mara, the per- sonifica tion of unwholesome  influ ences and temptation, tries in vain to seduce the Buddha out of the meditation that led to his enlightenment by showing him visions of beautiful young women, who, in some legends, are said to be Mara’s daughters.

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