The Burmese are a practical people. This trait is reflected in Schwedagon Paya. The pagoda has been rebuilt and reguilded numerous times since the stupa was first raised sometime around 6th Century AD. Much to the chagrin of UNESCO and other preservation groups, it has been modified to keep up with the current times. Christmas lights line the roofs of the numerous temples that surround the main stupa. Flashing LED lights adorn statues of the Buddha, adding a fluorescent touch to his benevolent aura.
The tacky modifications do not tarnish the country’s holiest site of worship. Walking through the pavilion at night, I saw holy business being conducted as usual. Monks, seated before magnificent gold and jewels that shimmered under the flickering neon lights, led scores of devotees in soul-shaking prayer. Around me were pilgrims circumambulating the main monument, chanting sutra lines with prayer beads gripped tightly in their lifted hands.
If anything, the tawdry display of lights lent a festive air to the surroundings. A reminder to those present that faith should be celebrated rather than observed.