Legend of The Uncompleted Temple – Dhammayangyi

Despite being uncompleted, the temple Dhammayangyi is still superb, majestic and long-standing with time and space of Bagan, containing numerous mysteries and contrite whispers.

Recently, Burma’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library listed over 2,000 ruins of temples and stupas in Bagan located in a conservation area of 42 km2. These precious constructions are the places to research the historical development of culture, society and politics relating to Buddhism in Burma, the national religion of the country. One of these is the largest temple in Bagan, although this construction left unfinished after 3 years of building – Dhammayangyi.

“Massiveness that is Dhammayangyi, Loftiness that is Thatbyinnyu, Grace that is Ananda.” – quoted by Burmese people about Bagan’s famous temples.  So, to admire a monumental construction, let visit Dhammayangyi.


Highlights of the Architecture

Dhammayangyi temple built of red bricks is famous with the shape as a huge, massive pyramid overwhelming other constructions in ancient Bagan complex. This model of pyramid is completely different to other traditional stupas in Burmese Buddhism, usually stupas with sharp towers soaring to sky. Until now, Myanmar people have not found any explanation for why King Narathu chose this architectural style.

Constructed in 1170 under the reign of King Narathu, Pagan Kingdom, Dhammayangyi is a very large square pyramidal temple with 6 ascending exterior terraces oriented toward the east. About interior, the temple has two ambulatories running parallel around a solid square pillar in the core. Many systems of arch-windows made of brick are to catch sunshine from 4 directions beaming into the ambulatories surrounding the temple.

Brick arrangement creating the system of domes above the two ambulatories proved the extremely high standard of the ancient Burmese people. In every arch-way, there are Buddha statues with various sizes and shapes golden-inlaid or painted. On wall of the ambulatories, there are a lot of niches and pedestals to lay smaller Buddha images.

The temple’s foundation is 78m wide, in which the width of the central core is up to 25m connected by the broad system of ambulatories with domes and a system of fake arch-doors.

According to some document about Bagan, notwithstanding being uncompleted, it was estimated that Dhammayangyi temple was made of about 6 million bricks, not mention to the system of stone to make foundation for this colossal construction.


Repentance of the King

The legend was related that King Narathu smothered his ailing father (King Alaungsithu, who constructed Thatbyinnyu temple) then poisoned his elder brother to occupy the throne. When he acceded to the throne, presumably because he worried about the bad “karma” that he had created, or to atone for his sins, the king ordered to build a temple to worship Buddhas. Inside Dhamyangyi temple, at the remaining western shrine, there are two original side-by-side Buddha statues which were believed to be carried out and modeled by the king and adapted personification of the father and the elder brother. Nevertheless, some other historical document argued that these were two images of Gautama Buddha (so-known as Siddhārtha Gautama or Shakyamuni Buddha) and Maitreya Buddha.

However, his sins were still continued…

Perhaps, King Narathu was beyond doubt that his great construction, which was promised to bring again a lot of surprises, has never been accomplished. Three years after the king came to the throne while the temple were under construction, he was murdered and died in this temple.

About his death, Burmese chronicles stated that formerly he got married with an Indian princess because of diplomatic issues. At a time, he saw his wife performing Hindu rituals. The king was really displeased so he executed her for such reason. The Indian princess was the daughter of the lord in Pateikkaya Kingdom (East Bengal now). The lord wanted to revenge for his innocent daughter so he sent 8 officers in the disguise of Brahmans priests and assassinated Narathu at Dhammayangyi temple. The construction was then stop executing. Not being completed, the temple have been abandoned since that time. Others, however, have suggested that his death stemmed from a plot of a Ceylonese mission that not only killing the king but sacking the city and introducing Ceylonese influence into the architectural spirit of Bagan

Burmese residents have still transmitted each other that King Narathu was extremely severe. He was willing to cut hands of any mason if they built the temple not perfectly. All bricks needed to be joined together so tightly such an extent that it was impossible to stick a pin through a split between two bricks. If a pin could penetrate, the mason were killed owning to lack of efficient work.



When the temple was excavated, archaeologists discovered that bricks and soil piled up fully at the ambulatories were similar to bricks and soil used to build the temple. Therefore, many people suppose that workers threw bricks and mortar into the temple due to indignation at draconian laws of King Narathu. Almost all of the inner passages of the two ambulatories was intentionally filled with brick rubble. Three out of the four Buddha sanctums were also filled with bricks.


The interlocking, mortar-less brickwork at Dhammayangyi, best appreciated to the upper terraces, is ranked as the finest in Bagan. If you have one time to step with your bare foots on the cool ambulatories, silently wander around the temple, you will easily understand the greatness and mystery of Dhammayangyi. Undergoing over hundreds of years, the temple has attracted many people although it is just an uncompleted construction.

Related contents: