Botataung’s spacious riverfront location and lack of crowds give it a more down-to-earth spiritual feeling than Shwedagon. Its most original feature is the dazzling zigzag corridor, gilded from floor to ceiling, that snakes its way around the hollow interior of the 131ft golden zedi (stupa). In a hall at the north end of the compound is an 1859 gilded bronze buddha that once resided in the royal palace in Mandalay.
The temple is named after the 1000 military leaders who escorted hair relics of the Buddha from India to Myanmar more than 2000 years ago. For one six-month period, this paya (religious monument) is said to have harboured eight strands of the Buddha’s hair before they were distributed elsewhere.
A bomb from an Allied air raid in November 1943 scored a direct hit on the unfortunate paya. After the war, the Botataung was rebuilt in a very similar style to its predecessor, but with one important and unusual difference: unlike most zedi, which are solid, the Botataung is hollow, and you can walk through it.
There’s a gold leaf–coated corridor that zigzags around the inside of the zedi, with glass showcases containing many of the ancient relics and artefacts, including small silver-and-gold buddha images, which were sealed inside the earlier stupa. Reconstruction also revealed a small gold cylinder holding two small body relics and a strand of hair, said to belong to the Buddha, which is reputedly still in the stupa.
On the northern side of the stupa is the hall containing a large gilded-bronze buddha, cast during the reign of King Mindon Min. At the time of the British annexation, it was kept in King Thibaw Min’s glass palace, but after King Thibaw was exiled to India, the British shipped the image to London. In 1951 the image was returned to Myanmar and placed in the Botataung Paya.
In the southwestern corner of the temple is a nat (spirit being) pavilion containing images of Thurathadi (the Hindu deity Saraswati, goddess of learning and music) and Thagyamin (Indra, king of the nat) flanking the life-sized and thoroughly Myanmar nat Bobogyi.
The nat pavilion is flanked by a terrapin pool. Most of the turtles are fairly small, but every now and again a truly monstrous one sticks its head out of the water.