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Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar Offers Refuge to Snakes

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Baung Daw Gyoke Pagoda in Twante Township, Yangon
Baung Daw Gyoke Pagoda in Twante Township, Yangon

Baung Daw Gyoke Pagoda in Maynmar’s Twante Township, just south of the former capital Yangon, has received the nickname Hmwe Paya or “snake temple” from locals. Located in the middle of of a lake, the temple houses some 30 pythons, some measuring two or three meters in length, that can be found draped across windows and basking in the warmth of the sun, gliding across the temple’s floors, coiled around the many Buddha statues, or weaving themselves through the branches of the tree in the pagoda’s main hall.

Many of the local residents see the presence of the pythons as a sign of the pagoda’s auspiciousness, and visit frequently to pray and make offerings to its reptilian inhabitants. People can be found prostrating below the snake-filled tree, tucking 1,000 kyat notes  (US$0.60) between the coils of the snakes, and, if they are brave enough, gently caressing the snakes for good fortune.

A python draped across an open window. From thepointsguy.com
A python draped across an open window. From thepointsguy.com

“People come here because they believe that their prayers will be fulfilled when they ask for something,” said Sandar Thiri, a resident nun at the pagoda. “The rule is that people can only ask for one thing, not many things. Don’t be greedy.” (The Economic Times)

One of the locals visiting the temple, four-year-old Win Myint, related that he has been coming to Baung Daw Gyoke since he was a child. “Now I am older and I come to give offerings, which has made some of my wishes come true,” he said. (The Economic Times)

Money offerings are scattered over the pythons. From atlasobscura.com
Money offerings are scattered over the pythons. From atlasobscura.com

The monks and nuns at the temple willingly care for the snakes, many of which have been collected from the surrounding area and brought to the temple by locals. The snakes are not aggressive, but well fed on milk and eggs purchased from the donations made to them.

Nay Myo Thu, a 30-year-old farmer, brings the snakes that he finds in his fields to the temple as he believes that he will receive good fortune by bringing them to the temple instead of killing them. In doing so, he follows the Buddhist principle that all animals are sentient beings that have the potential to reincarnate as humans. “I don’t want to bring about any misfortune by killing a creature,” he explained. “Catching and donating the snakes brings me good fortune instead.” (The Economic Times)

The monks and nuns of the temple take care of the snakes. From scmp.com
The monks and nuns of the temple take care of the snakes. From scmp.com

Snakes and serpents have mythical significance both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. According to Buddhist mythology, the snake king Mucalinda protected the Buddha from a storm after he attained enlightenment. During the seven weeks that the Buddha meditated after attaining enlightenment, the sky darkened and torrential rains descended. When the rains threatened the Buddha, the snake king came forth and protected him from the elements by spreading its hood over the Buddha’s head to act as a shelter.

A snake and a Buddha statue at the pagoda. From timetravelturtle.com
A snake and a Buddha statue at the pagoda. From timetravelturtle.com

Stone carvings of snakes or nagas can often be found at the entrances to temples thoroughout Southeast Asia. But Baung Daw Gyoke is one of the few Buddhist pagodas that intentionally accomodates live snakes. Yadana Labamuni Hsu-taungpye Paya, just outside of Mandalay, Myanmar, is another pagoda in Myanmar known for housing large pythons, which are worshipped as the  reincarnated souls of monks who used to tend to the pagoda. And in Malaysia, the snake temple Hock Hin Keong in Penang is home not to pythons but vipers.

Read more

Inside Myanmar’s ‘snake temple’, now a nirvana for dozens of large pythons (South China Morning Post)
Myanmar Buddhist temple now a nirvana for snakes (The Economic Times)
Up close with the residents of the Twante Snake Temple (Coconuts Myanmar)
Snake Pagoda of Myanmar (Atlas Obscura)
Snake Temple (Atlas Obscura)

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