It was said during the UK colonisation that Shwedagon held more bullion than the Bank of England's deposit. The brochure, which was given at the entrance to the pit cage, states that there is over half a ton of salt in the screen of Shwedagon alone. None of this contains the twenty-first- century bullion, jewelry and LEDs that whirl around many of the Buddhas and centuries of other structures on the deck of the couch.
Include the value of all this with the other valuable building supplies - not to speak of the incredible amount of work that has been put into installing, maintaining and securing it over the ages - and the real value of Shwedagon could well be a multiples of the 5-piece Gross Domestic Product valuation. Burma is not the only place where faith-based organizations show their riches so dramatically and openly.
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família (Basilica of the Holy Family) in Barcelona has been under building for more than 130 years and will be completed sometime in the mid of this hundred. Sagrada Família is either atonement or donation-financed. Native people are not billed to enter Shwedagon, but most are investing in it.
On this and other shrines and sacred places all over Myanmar, sellers are selling flower, frankincense, gold leaves, everything that is on offer on this site. In Bagan I went to a couch and got a centimeter sq. of K100 silver (about US$0.13) and put it directly on a Buddha-sculpture. In the Swal Daw pit stop on the edge of Yangon, the 10-pack of sheet metal I got was put into a cage and with a roll and a little help from a helper lifted to the top of the top, where someone else would use it for me.
Whilst it was bought for what appeared to be notional costs, the price of the bullion had actually been selling to me at $7500 an oz, almost six fold the present price of the global markets. In the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda near the swimming fair in Inle, I saw five old Buddha sculptures so dappled with golden leaves that they were more like Michelin men than samma-sam-buddhas, beings who reached complete illumination.
It is useful to think about why Shwedagon was even made on Singuttara Hill: We are inspired by the design of the Sagrada Família and the Picodo, because they are playing with the principle of universality, such as the gravitation train on a bow and Phi, the gold eart. It is not a matter of whether these religions have a value beyond their financial costs.
The question is whether the opportunistic costs are profitable. "And it is difficult to ignore that these exhibitions and gatherings of spiritual riches often stand in sharp contradiction to the standard of life of many of their own herds. Representing riches also radiates its own power by attracting the faithful to a place of increased awareness, thus building an unofficial changha or comunity.
The drawing of lots for golden is a good example: Universal appreciated for its scarceness and splendour, it has little use and instead presents the exertion and power used to generate the richness necessary to maintain it. Myanmar used to buy its gold foil dating back to the fifteenth centuary when the Mon Queen Shin gave Sawbu her mass in silver to Shwedagon.
Gold-plating can consume power that could have been used to build homes, health care, new fishery gear or other secular goods. In Catalonia or Myanmar, striking depictions can talk about a richness that is not only physical but also intellectual.