Sula Mani quite literally translates into the Jewel in the Crown. This exquisite temple was one of those that I most wanted to see. It is said that this late-12th century temple combines the best aspects of the Dhammayangyi and the Thatbyinnyu temples. So it was a big disappointment when we arrived there to see that the recent earthquake had so badly damaged it that it was completely off-bounds to anyone. In the featured photo you see a big sign and the plastic wrapping to prevent bricks from falling.
What we could see from the outside was remarkable. The Family and I inspected the external mouldings such as the one you can see in this photo. The temple was built to the order of Narapati Sithu (king Sithu) at the height of the Bagan period of Burma’s history. These mouldings are a good indication of how beautiful the temple could be.
We pushed a little at the instructions posted for tourists. They said that it is unsafe to climb on to the porch: perhaps some of the bricks could fall. We saw that the plastic sheets wrapped around the damaged spire of the temple were quite comprehensive and ventured as close as we could. In the massive eastern entry arch we found this mural: damaged but still impressive. We couldn’t explore more: everything was cordoned off. The Family and I loved Bagan, and realized that one can easily spend a week there. If we go back in a few years this temple will be on the top of our list. The crowning jewel, how can one not visit it again?
I really liked the temples of Bagan, so I’ll keep coming back to them. The temple which charmed me most was the Dhammayangyi temple. You see a photo of it from the entrance archway here. It has been damaged in the recent earthquake, but not too badly. One can still explore this temple. The layout of the temple is like a cross, with the main Buddha images facing the cardinal direction, just as the older Ananda temple. However, the effect is completely different, it feels lighter and more airy. The plaster work over arches is lovely, although not in good repair any more (see the photo here). Most of all, the Buddha images have changed from the distinctly Indian looks in the Ananda temple to the more Burmese faces and bodies shown in the featured image.
There are paintings on all the walls. They are faded and details are hard to see, as you can tell from the photo above. But when I could make out details and colours, they looked wonderful. I hope there is an effort to restore them. We noticed paintings on the wall behind several of the statues in the main alcoves, and more around those in niches inside the corridor. The first Buddhas we saw (featured image) are partially gilded. However, I liked the one shown here. The white face and the red robe look more serene. However, gilding statues of the Buddha is so ingrained in the local culture that I’m sure when the temple is restored, these statues will also be gilded. Today, with the temple in its somewhat neglected state, the number of tourists is not large. There is a sense of quiet and peace in the temple. We sat in an airy window looking at the greenery outside for a while before moving on.
The lack of tourists translates into a smaller number of shops outside the temple. Although the numbers are small, the handicrafts I saw on display were lovely. I liked some of the wooden masks on display, and even enquired about the price, but forgot to buy any. Inside the outer wall of the temple there were spreading banyan trees. A large number of puppets hung from the lower branches of the tree. It was interesting to walk among these puppets and try to figure out the differences between these traditional characters. Inside the temple there were people who had paintings on display. The first person we came across spoke just enough English to negotiate a price. He could not tell us too much about the paintings. The next person (photo alongside) was called Zaw Zaw, and he could communicate better. He explained that the paintings are made with sand stuck on cloth and then coloured. The paintings were traditional designs, although he would vary the colours.