(Mizzima) – An opening festival ceremony at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon this week marks the 2,600-year anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment. It also marks the first time the festival has been held since Aung San Suu Kyi used the site for a speech in 1988 that marked her emergence as an opposition leader, say festival organizers.
After her speech, the authorities began to exercise tight control on the pagoda, careful to ensure that monks and political activists did not use it as a rallying point.
"There is a hunger for the Shwedagon Pagoda festival. This was banned for 20 years and it's starting again now," Khin Maung Aye, a Buddhist scholar and an organizer of the event, told The Associated Press.
During the 2007 demonstrations, monks used the temple location as a gathering point.
This year, the festival saw monks beginning a 15-day chanting period, and government officials attending festival ceremonies.
Considered perhaps the most holy pagoda in Burma, the temple area sits on a high hill and dominates central Rangoon. It is also the country’s most elaborately wealthy pagoda. The stupa is made of genuine gold plates covering a brick structure. People from across the country, as well as kings in the country's history, donated gold to the pagoda to maintain it and the practice continues to this day.
The pagoda’s crown or umbrella is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. At the very top, the diamond bud is tipped with a 76 carat (15 g) diamond.
Pilgrims on their way up the steps of the pagoda buy flowers, candles, coloured flags and streamers to be offered in honour of the great pogoda, and the Buddha relics that are believed to be inside the stupa.