Sacred Site or Public Space? The Shwedagon Pagoda in Colonial Rangoon

  • Donald M. Seekins


John Whalen-Bridge in his chapter “Angry Monk Syndrome on the World Stage,” in this volume, discusses how Engaged Buddhism can be understood in terms of act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. The focus of this chapter is on scene, or more precisely spaces, and how people define or represent them. I am especially interested in showing how a sacred space can be transformed, or evolved, into a public space. My goal is to show how Burma’s most revered sacred site, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, became not only a center for Buddhist devotion, but also a rallying point for public demonstrations against what was perceived as an illegitimate colonial government. Most fundamentally, the Shwedagon became a rallying symbol for a Buddhist public, primarily but not exclusively Burman, who saw their religion threatened by foreign rule, economic exploitation, and an uncontrolled influx of immigrants from other parts of the British Empire. No space, especially a sacred one, can exist apart from participants who act meaningfully within its boundaries and an audience who appreciates its meaning.


Public Space Colonial Government Sacred Site Sacred Space British Occupation 
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Copyright information

© John Whalen-Bridge and Pattana Kitiarsa 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald M. Seekins

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