A medieval Hindu temple in Bagan

As we walked about the impressive Thatbyinnyu temple a craftsman who spoke a little English recognized us as Indians and told us about a Hindu temple just outside and to the west.Unusual statue of Vishnu with six arms We walked up to the temple and found that it was being restored. We saw the bandages sported by temples damaged in the recent earthquake. Of course, part of the damage is also due to long years of neglect of the Bagan temple complex.

This Vishnu temple was one of the oldest temples in Bagan, perhaps built during the reign of Bagan’s founder: king Anawrahta. Since we could not enter, we walked around outside and saw statues in niches; you can see one of them in the featured image. They were avatars of Vishnu. On the southern wall we saw an exquisite statue of the Varaha avatar (Vishnu as the boar) and a slightly damaged but still quite brilliant Narasimha (the man-lion) avatar in the act of killing the king Hiranyakashipu.

A statue of Vishnu in Nat Hlaung Kyaung temple in BaganThrough open windows we could see in the gloom inside the temple some statues. Since I was carrying a superzoom, I tried to take some photos. The one at the top is a rare image of Vishnu: I’ve never seen him represented with six arms. I assumed it is Vishnu, because in three of them he carries the chakra (wheel), the mace and a lotus. Strangely he also carries a noose, usually associated with the Vedic god Varuna. He does not carry a conch shell. However I also saw a four armed statue, the second photo, which has a trident in one hand instead of the conch shell.

After restoration this would be a very interesting temple to visit for several reasons. For one, it is the only Hindu temple in Bagan. But also because the iconography of Vishnu is different from the one we are used to.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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