Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan

The 61 meter tall Thatbyinnyu is the tallest of the temples of Bagan. On the day we visited it wore a blue plastic bandage to indicate that it is due for repairs after the earthquake earlier this year. The name of the temple means the omniscience of the Buddha. I wondered whether the name is due to its height.

Detail above the eastern entrance of Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan, Myanmar

It was built in the mid 12th century CE by King Alaungsithu. It has the standard cross form of corridors inside, but is a two story temple, with a massive seated Buddha on the upper story. When we approached it from the south, it seemed that the east-west faces was much broader than the north-south faces; but this was an optical illusion. we entered the temple from the very impressive eastern portico. From here one can see the Ananda temple. The road between them is lined with stalls. I saw someone walk past selling a dish I’d noticed before: it looks like a flat vada made with prawns.

Corridors inside the Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan are narrow

The eastern face is ornate. You can see a detail above the main arch in this photo: it seems to show the Buddha in abhaya mudra. The temple was quite full of people: locals praying and tourists gawking. We looked at the large Buddha dominating the entrance, and walked on. The corridors are narrow, and you get a feel of the incredible width of the walls required to support the tall structure, as you can see in this photo. In spite of this, there is much more light than in the Ananda temple because of windows set into an upper storey. The thick walls contain the stairs which run up to higher storeys. One set of stairs is visible as soon as you enter; it is flanked by two androgynous guardian statues. I missed the second flight of stairs: a lesson to either give yourself lots of time or to take a good guide.

Buddha statues in the corridors of Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan are caged
Paintings on the vault of one of the chambers in the Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan

As we walked along the corridor we saw gilded statues lining the corridors. These have clearly evolved to take on Burmese features, as we’d already noticed in the Dhammayangyi temple. We couldn’t figure out why bases of the statues are enclosed in boxes. The Family speculated that it was meant to prevent you from cutting the statue free of the base. It could have a more mundane explanation, but we didn’t play more guessing games. Beyond the end of the corridor where there are people, you can see part of a seated Buddha. The scale shows how large it is.

Writing on the wall of the Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan

We didn’t see too many paintings. At two spots we saw paintings which had rubbed off, leaving so little that you could not imagine it into a whole. The only place where we saw a reasonably whole painting was the geometrical design on the vault which you can see in the photo above. But one of the walls had a long inscription in Burmese. The attempt at uniformity of size of the lettering made me think that this was not graffiti. I wonder how old the inscription is.

An interesting fact I read after our visit is that there is a small pagoda to the north-east which served as a tally of the material used for construction: for every 10,000 bricks used in the main temple, one brick would be given to the smaller one.

Thatbyinnyu from inside is less impressive than the other major temples of Bagan which we saw, but it really stands out when you see it from outside. There is a claim that the temple was never finished and consecrate. The evidence quoted for this claim is that the outside of the temple contains space for tiles showing scenes from the Jatakas, as in the Ananda temple, but these tiles were never installed. If this claim is true, then it could explain the feeling of incompleteness one has inside.