On This Day

The Day Britain Moved Its Dead from Shwedagon Pagoda

By Wei Yan Aung 22 January 2021

Yangon — On this day in 1929, the British cemetery in the compound of Shwedagon Pagoda – the country’s most sacred site on Singuttara Hill in Yangon (then Rangoon) – was relocated to the cantonment cemetery near the southern gate of the pagoda.

According to the records, outsiders were prohibited from approaching the procession of tombs and armed guards provided security.

The British deployed troops at the pagoda during the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 and buried their fallen with Burmese troops in the northeast corner of the compound.

The British then established an arsenal and barracks to the west of the hill, prohibiting Buddhist devotees from visiting the pagoda from the western gate. Previously, pilgrims could ascend the hill from four directions to visit the pagoda. British troops broke into shrines and stole valuables, prompting the governor-general of India to issue an order prohibiting further theft.

Buddhist public meetings repeatedly demanded that the British fort and cemetery be moved from the pagoda compound. It took more than 70 years for them to get their wish. A few months after relocating the cemetery, the fort was also removed. Later, the war cemetery that was built beside Botataung Pagoda in Yangon during the Second Anglo-Burmese War was also relocated.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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