MYANMAR TRADITIONAL HANDICRAFTS

MYANMAR TRADITIONAL HANDICRAFTS

The yoke-the pwe, or marionette theatre, was very popular in the 18th century. The Myanmar puppets are distinctive in dress, style and the intricacy of manipulating them. The dolls usually have 20 strings, but some have as many as 60, giving the puppeteers room to emulate uncanny dance movements.
The Shwenandaw Monastery, located outside the palace walls near the foot of Mandalay Hill, was once part of King Mindon’s “Golden City.”

THE MARIONETTE CRAFTS IN MYANMAR
The yoke-the pwe, or marionette theatre, was very popular in the 18th century. The Myanmar puppets are distinctive in dress, style and the intricacy of manipulating them. The dolls usually have 20 strings, but some have as many as 60, giving the puppeteers room to emulate uncanny dance movements.
The Shwenandaw Monastery, located outside the palace walls near the foot of Mandalay Hill, was once part of King Mindon’s “Golden City.”
Copper and brass work has maintained its popularity. Religious artifacts are still made, but the craft has been developed into other utilities such as figurines, altar items including flower vases and candle stands, and household or display items. Bells and gongs are part of Buddhist prayers and rituals in Myanmar, and their echoes in temples are a characteristic sound of Myanmar.

THE SHWEGYIDO
Embroidery is an old industry believed to have started during the reign of Alaungpaya, founder of the Konebaung dynasty. Shwe-ge-doe embroidery is elaborately designed and creatively embellished with ornaments for grandeur. In making tapestry the base cloth, usually black, is adorned with metallic sequins, coloured glass beads, and figures that are stuffed to give a distinctive three-dimensional effect. Each tapestry depicts a character or a narrative from Jatakas or the Ramayana epic. These appliqué tapestries can be anything from 25cm x25cm to 6m x 1.5m. Jackets, pasoes, longyis are also beautifully embroidered for special functions, and Mandalay is the center of this industry.

THE BURMESE SILVER WORK
Myanmar silverwork is an ancient industry dating back to the 13th Century. Monarchs customarily used silver and gold bowls as rewards for the ministers and the attendants’ loyalty and faithfulness to the royal family. Silver items were also a symbol of wealth because only the ministers, the generals and the rich citizens used silver for items such as betel-nut boxes and stands, flower bowls and vases, spittoons, daggers, dagger sheaths, and regalia and waistbands for the kings.
The poor citizens could not afford silverware and monks and clergy refrained from using any worldly luxury except for religious purposes when silver was used for altar vases and Buddha statues.
On ceremonial occasions such as wedding celebrations, ear boring ceremonies or novitiation feasts, huge silver bowls and vases were used.
Silver bowls made of ngwe-zin-baw-phyu, the best kind of silver, are so flexible they usually bend until the rims meet when gripped in the palms of the hand. Another grade of silver quality ywet-ni is obtained from an amalgam composed of equal parts of silver and copper. During the British regime, this was mostly used for silver coins.

THE LACQUAREWARE
Lacquerware is a famous local craft that has developed over time into an art form of refined quality. Lacquerware craftsmanship can be traced back to China’s Shang dynasty and reached Myanmar in the 1st century AD from the Nan Chao empire, now modern Yunnan. It arrived in Bagan during King Anawratha’s conquest of Thaton in 1057.
Lacquerware is crafted from a mixture of the sap of the thitsi tree and ash applied on the surface of objects such as woven bamboo or wood.
Traditionally, extraordinarily fine lacquerware bowls were produced with a combination of horsehair and bamboo, or even horsehair alone. This made the bowls so flexible the rim of the bowl could be squeezed to meet without breaking the bowl. The most common items made of lacquerware were bowls, trays, betel-nut containers, small decorative boxes, tables and screens. Now the usage is even more diversified, and modern shops carry a wide array of kitchen wares, home decors, foldable screens, and frames made from lacquerware.
A multicolored lacquerware item takes approximately 6 months to complete. This is because the entire process involves more than a dozen of steps to complete. Successive layers of lacquer are applied to the object to eliminate irregularities and then dried for several days. When fully dry, the surface is polished to a smooth finish, and ornamental and figurative designs are added to enhance the lacquerware.
Basically, dried lacquerware is black and to give a touch of colour cheap items are simply painted, while expensive items are embellished by means of engraving, painting and polishing. The most usual colors are red, black, green and yellow. Black painted lacquerwares are mostly incised with gold leaf. Decorative patterns are based on time-honoured designs, although their composition is left to the artist’s imagination.
Lacquerware is found in Thailand and Laos, but the best examples are crafted in the villages around Bagan.

THE IVORY CARVING
Ivory carving has a long and colorful history almost like a fairytale. The origin of ivory carving can be traced as far back as the period when Bodhisatta (embryo Buddha) was the elephant King Saddan Sin Min. Once there was a day when Chulasubhadda, the lesser queen of Saddam was unfortunately pricked by ants from a branch off and King Saddan Sin Min has offered his help. However, the lesser queen, Chulasubhadda misunderstood King Saddan’s good intentions as a deliberate willful attempt to break her heart. In revenge, she prayed that she will become the chief queen of a King in the next existence and that she might adom herself with the earrings made from the tusks of King Saddan.
True enough, Chulasubhadda became the chief queen of the King of Benaras but she was all along unhappy despite of her worldly comforts. The King loves her so much that he cannot stand her loneliness. Upon his asking of how to make her happy, she told her beloved King that having herself adorned with the earrings of the tusks of King Saddan will unlock her happiness. And hence the King of Benaras decided to fulfill her wish. He called on a skillful crafty hunter named Sonuttara to shoot Saddan in the jungle. This was successfully achieved; Saddan was mortally wounded with the poisoned arrow. The elephant King Saddan leamed of the queen’s revenge from her previous existence, and he willingly took off his tusks and gave it to the hunter before he collapsed and died. The goodwill of King Saddan was made known to Chulasubhadda, she embraced the tusks in her bosom and repenting over her sin, and died broken -hearted soon after. This story reveals to us the fact that earrings made of ivory was not an unknown thing and ivory carving must have existed as early as the days of Buddha.
In the Burmese era 470, Alaugsithu, King of Bagan, while traveling to Ceylon and India chanced to see and discovered enormous centipedes that have made their dwellings out of huge elephant tusks. There upon the tusks were brought over to Burma and King Alaungsithu had them carved as figures of Buddha and worshipped them reverentially in his palace.
About eighty years ago, at Moulmein, Saya U Shwe Ko was known to have acquired the craftsmanship of ivory carving through his own experiments and practice. Shan timber traders from Kadoe kawhat usually brought with them elephant tusks which he acquired in abundance. This encouraged him to try his skill in ivory carving. When Saya Shwe Ko died, he left no clue to his craftsmanship. Mter thirty years of research work and experiment, his nephew Saya Nyein
could only attempt to adopt the craftsmanship on a commercial basis.
At Pyimana, where there is an abundance of teak ‘forests and elephants, ivory tusks are often picked up from the forests. Hence ivory carving became an industry in Pyinmana. But there are not many Ivory carvers. The craftsmanship has not developed as much as it ought to. This is due to the fact that the old ivory carvers were not willing enough to share their craft with anyone. An amateur has to undergo at least three years’ training at the end of which period he is allowed to handle only those simple pieces that do not require elaborate carving. In carving a piece of ivory the required design is first drawn on the ivory with pencil. This is then sawn off with a saw. The holes for the outwork are then measured and bored with a hammer made from the antlers of a deer. Many kinds of heavy and light tools, chisels, files and hammers are used. The outline is then shaped with a chisel. And to make the interior of the figures and the floral designs become prominent, the whole carving is rubbed with a smooth fine sand paper. The husks of paddy and soap are used to wash the carving which is then placed in the sun to dry.
Small pieces of ivory are used for making daggers, Buddha figures, table knives, spoons and forks, paper cutters and combs. The larger pieces are made into boxes, frames of pictures, flower-bowl stands, jewelry and ornaments. The craftsmanship has not been patronized to a large extent because of the importation of ivory goods and articles from China and Western Europe. However, the local craftsmen believe that their own local products are more detailed in designs and has finer finishing compared to those foreign products.

THE WORK IN MARBLE
Marble carving was introduced into the old Burma 235 years ago during the reign of Thalumintragyi, the builder of Kaunghmudaw pagoda at Sagaing, and the industry was developed in the Konebaung dynasty of King Alaungpaya.
The most venerated of all images in Burma is a marble image carved under the orders of King Bagyidaw soon after he ascended his grandfather Bodawpaya’s throne at Amarapura. It is at Taungtaman just outside Amarapura and is known as Taungtaman Kyauktawgyi.
A huge marble image of Buddha at the foot of Mandalay Hill was carved under orders from King Mindon in imitation of Bagyidaw’s image at Amarapura, and was given the same name Kyauktawgyi, or great royal stone). Although much larger in size, the image is not as well proportioned as that of King Bagyidaw’s. Marble of very good quality is quarried from Sagyin Hill, 21 miles north of Mandalay. The quarries have been worked for several generations and the work is difficult and dangerous. Sometimes workers have to excavate from the face of a steep cliff, or in a deep cave, or on the edge of a precipice.
Marble is usually extracted in cubes a yard square. The block is cut out by chisel and hammer, and one man can only extract two blocks a month. Once the block of marble is extracted, it laboriously rolled down the hill and often blocks are chipped during this roll. The blocks are then taken by boat, and cart or lorry to Mandalay. Sometimes purchasers buy blocks directly at Sagyin and sometimes the blocks are brought to Mandalay to be sold.
Marble now fetches high prices, depending on the size and quality of the stone. Marble of very good quality is carved into Images of Buddha. A few images of Rahantas or Arahats are still carved today. Marbles is also used for stone slabs for inscriptions, such as those in the Maha-Ioka-Marazein pagoda enclosure, and for dedicatory inscriptions at pagodas.
Some of the Buddha images are carved at Sagyin, but the Mandalay carvers are much more skilful and most of the images are made just south of the Maha Myat Muni or Arakan pagoda). Majority of these skillful carvers live and work in a street called Kyauk- sic-tan or Carver Street). The same name is given to another locality in the west of Mandalay where there are also marble carvers. A great many Buddha images are made without prior order, but really good Buddha images have to be specially ordered. The demand for images has increased lately.
The wages of carvers depend entirely on their skill. Their carving tools are few and very simple. They consist of chisels and punches of various sizes made by the carvers from old files bought from saw-mills. The metal of old files is especially hard and suitable for carving. Marble carvers never use iron hammers, only wooden mallets they make from the heart wood of cutch or tamarind trees.
After carving is finished the figure has to be filed (with new files), and then rubbed with different kinds of stone in succession for several days. The first kind of stone used is a coarse stone, the next is a medium stone for another day, and finally a smooth stone.
Rough and medium stones come from Katha. The smooth stone is a jeweler’s touch stone. Finally the figure is rubbed with sandpaper for a day and it is then finished. Figures other than Buddha images are not so carefully finished – they are merely filed and then rubbed with a coarse stone.

Leave a reply