As we came to the Ananda temple in Bagan, Zaw Zaw, our guide for the day, told us that it meant endless in Burmese. The Sanskrit word Ananda means happiness, and the word has come unchanged in sound and meaning into most modern north-Indian languages. The word for eternity in Sanskrit and modern Indian languages is Ananta (technically the word means endless). I was happy to note that the Wikipedia article on the temple comments on this etymological confusion.
From Zaw Zaw and others I learnt of the Theravada Buddhist belief in five Buddhas in the current kalpa (era), of whom Gautama, the historical Buddha, is believed to be the most recent. One is yet to come. In many temples in Bagan the remaining four Buddhas face the four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. These temples have a symmetric cross shape, with a corridor which goes around the cross so that you can see all four by simply following the corridor. From the outside one sees four porches, surmounted by terraces, leading to a pagoda and an umbrella above it called the hti.
The Ananda temple is built in this style, and is more than 50 meters tall. The first impression is of a temple from Orissa, but differences are visible as one nears it. We entered from the south, and saw the immense, almost 10 meters tall, statue of the Kassapa Buddha in front of us (photo above). At its feet was a small statue (photo alongside), probably of the king Kyanzittha, who caused the temple to be built in 1105 CE. The height of the statue makes the space look much smaller than it is.
We walked around the corridor. The temple had been damaged in the 1975 earthquake and has been restored with the help of the Archaeological Survey of India. We’d seen beautiful glazed panels running at chest height along the outside (featured image) which recount stories from the Jatakas. The inside was more mixed: there were parts which were painted and gilded, like this arch set into the corridor. Other parts were barer, but had niches running from head height up to the top of the corridor, with a gilded sculpture sitting in each niche. The one here is a typical example. I liked the look of serenity in the face of the Buddha. Notably, the faces look Indian. By the end of our perambulation we realized that we had run counter to the designed sense of the corridor, because we began to recognize the story of the birth of the Buddha in the sculptures. I guess if we had gone around in the right sense we would have followed the story of the Buddha in more detail. There were very few paintings visible: the corridor walls were white washed, and what little was visible was restricted to the walls behind the large Buddha statue.
The Ananda temple is one of the biggest sights in Bagan. I was impressed, but later I visited other temples which I found more beautiful.