MYANMAR TRADITIONAL ARTS
THE HISTORY OF MYANMAR TRADITIONAL ARTS AND CRAFTS
When King Anawrahta of Bagan brought the relics of Buddha and Buddhist scriptures to Bagan from the Mon capital Suvunna Boumi, various gold and silver artifacts were included. Popular copper items include Buddha images, gongs, bells, and round cattle bells. Monasteries and pagodas are decorated with intricate patterns of stucco works. The artisans produced wood products using the turner’s lathe. This craft also owed much to Mons of Suvunna Boumi.
Myanmar’s woodcarving emerged before the Bagan period and subsequently improved in the middle of the Bagan era. The temples and palaces of the old were magnificently decorated with carved wooden gables and eaves, and other fabulous ornamentation comprised of the most creative and intricate woodcarvings. It is a pity that many examples of the true genius of Myanmar wood carvers have suffered in the course of time but, fortunately, some of the most exquisite woodcarvings still survive in monasteries and pagodas.
The Shwezigone Pagoda in Bagan, Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay contain ornamentation of filigree-like woodcarving with scrolls, flowers, animals and supernatural-beings arranged in intricate patterns. Carvings of nats, or mythical traditional spirits, marionettes, and figures of animals still flourishes today.
The craft of turnery started to develop in the Bagan period around the 8th century A.D. The artisans produced wood products using the turner’s lathe. This craft also owed much to Mons of Suvunna Boumi. The turner produced items of diverse shapes such as boxes, bowls, containers, beads, and kitchen utensils. Now this craft thrives mostly because of the tourism industry.
Precious metalwork is one of the oldest Myanmar crafts, dating back to pre-Bagan times. Artistic Pyu silver ware was discovered in the mounds of the old shrines of Srikshetra. When King Anawrahta of Bagan brought the relics of Buddha and Buddhist scriptures to Bagan from the Mon capital Suvunna Boumi, various gold and silver artifacts were included.
In antiquity, royals, nobles and the wealthy used gold and silver utensils as status symbols. Silver items such as vases, trays, silver Buddha statuettes were also used for religious purposes. The art of making gold leaf is a renowned Myanmar craft. Gold leaf is popularly used by Buddhist devotees and is pasted on Buddha images as part of their offerings. The process of pounding gold nuggets between layers of leather to get paper-thin gold foils is an intricate art, which is mos prevalent in Mandalay.
The history of Myanmar’s painting can be traced back to pre-historic times. Stone age paintings have been discovered in Padalin cave, in the Shan State. Nine wall paintings, and brown-colored sketches were found there. The 11th century Bagan mural paintings have strong Indian influence and floral patterns are the main elements of the paintings. The Bagan period artists excelled in line drawing, and popular techniques included fresco, oil painting and tempera painting. Most of the paintings depict the 550 Jatakas (Buddha stories). Inwa paintings began depicting the social life of the people, and only red and green paints were mainly used in the murals.
In early Konebaung era (17th century), the paintings marked the transition from Myanmar traditional flat painting to western styles of perspective and tones. Blue colour was generously used and the paintings recorded the lifestyles, entertainment and scene of that era.
In the Yadanabone era western style painting began to penetrate, but traditional line sketches remained intact. During the colonial era western styles and modern techniques were introduced and became popular. Contemporary art also flourished in the 20th century, and now Myanmar contemporary art is mainly impressionistic.
In ancient times palm leaf painting and parchment painting flourished. Some of these paintings can be found intact in some pagodas and monasteries and at the National Museum of Myanmar.
Myanmar’s masonry is of high standard and dates back to Pyu era. Archeological findings at the old sites of Beikthano, Hanlin and Srikshetra have unearthed high standard Myanmar masonry work. Masonry attained its zenith during the Bagan dynasty, and Southern Indian culture and Mon culture contributed much to the Bagan architecture. During that era, many religious edifices were built by the kings and lay people alike. The masonry works are remarkable for their strength, grandeur, beauty of designs, ornamentation, lighting and ventilation which hold spectators in awe. Bagan became the wonder and the pride of Myanmar, and set the example for later endeavours.