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The purpose of this on-line study-guide and course-outline is to make text and
visual materials on the arts of Burma readily and inexpensively available, in
particular to students and teachers. These materials assume college level reading
skills so that the contents may be used for independent study courses, as a
resource for teachers in secondary schools, as well as anyone interested in
expanding and enriching their knowledge of the Arts and Cultures of Burma. Because
the text is written for a general audience it does not contain the detail or
footnotes that are found in scholarly publications. A select bibliography is
provided at the end of each section for those who wish to pursue topics previously
discussed. The illustrations are digitized from my own collection of color slides
with the several exceptions noted.

The importance of presenting this data electronically, is that published

information concerning the arts and culture of Burma is not easily obtained. To
date, there is no readily available comprehensive survey. Those studies that have
been published are often out of print, expensive, or poorly illustrated. Therefore,
this course intends to offer a summary of the research that has been completed
together with illustrations of major buildings and sculpture. The intent here is
not to be encyclopedic, but to describe and illustrate the major developmental
phases in the arts of Burma. Because religious and cultural practices inspired and
continue to inspire most of the arts of Burma, sections describing the belief
systems and history of Burma are included. These discussions are intended to make
the art forms more intelligible to the novice as well as to the more advanced


The themes of the course follow the chronological development of the major visual
art forms of Burma as they have been reconstructed from an incomplete archeological
record and very limited written records. The study of archaeology and art history
is not well developed in Burma so that benchmark dates and facts are not abundant.
Patterns and themes that are at present discernible will be traced through five
major periods. General characteristics of each period are discussed at the
beginning of each section.

1.The Pre-historic Period - c. 1100 BC to c. 200 BC

Paleolithic and Neolithic sites, Animism, and Karen Bronze Drums

2.The Pre-Pagan Period - c. 200 BC to c.800 AD

Mon and Pyu City states: Thaton, Beikthano, Halin, Srikshetra

3.The Pagan Period - c. 800 AD to 1287 AD

4.The Post Pagan Period - 14th to 20th centuries

The Ava and Konbaung Periods


I thank the United States Department of Education and the National Security
Educational Program for a three-month grant that made this project possible.

I am indebted to Dr. Susan Russell, Director of the Center for Southeast Asian
Studies, Northern Illinois University, for her support and encouragement in writing
the NSEP and Title VI grant proposals and to Professors G.M. Henry and Robert
Zerwekh, Department of Computer Science, Northern Illinois University, for their
considerable effort and patience in putting this manuscript into an electronic

I wish to thank Dr. Thecla Behrens Cooler for her inspired criticism and editorial

Jessica Rhinehart, Nita Purawan and Gregory Betzel gave needed assistance in the
process of slide digitization.

I thank Dr. Michael Aung Thwin for providing me with a copy of his compact disc,
The Making of Modern Burma, before it was available to the general public. In many
ways The Making of Modern Burma (now available from is a useful
companion to this web course on Burmese Art and Culture.

I gratefully acknowledge my debt to the many scholars who have contributed to my

understanding of Burmese Art. Several in particular have been used herein for
information or illustrations:

U Aung Thaw, Historical Sites in Burma (Rangoon, Ministry of Union Culture, 1972);
Sylvia Fraser - Lu, Burmese Crafts: Past and Present (Kuala Lumpur, Oxford
University Press, 1994); Wilhelm Klein, Burma: Insight Guides (Hong Kong, APA
Publications, 1981); George H. Luce, Old Burma, Early Pagan, 3 Vols. (Locust
Valley, New York, J.J. Augustin, 1969-70); Pierre Pichard, An Inventory of
monuments at Pagan, Vols. I�VI (Gartmore, Kiscadale Press, 1993 � 1996);Paul
Strachan, Pagan: Art and Culture of Old Burma (Arran, Scotland, Kiscadale
Publications, 1989); Jane Turner, Ed., The Dictionary of Art, 34 Vols (Macmillan
Publishers, London, 1996);

Geography, Peoples and Languages

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has the largest land mass of any country in mainland
Southeast Asia and in size is comparable to the state of Texas. It is situated
between and shares long borders with two of the world's great superpowers, India
and China, as well as having an extensive border with Thailand. For a relatively
short distance, Burma also shares a border with Bangladesh.

In form, the country resembles a diamond shaped kite with a long tail. From the
peak of the kite in the north to the southern end of its tail, the country extends
1,275 miles. At its broadest extent from east to west, it measures approximately
580 miles.

The dense jungles, long distances, and extended mountain ranges between Burma and
its powerful neighbors, India and China, have provided a natural barrier to foreign
military invasion. (The Mongol incursions around the year 1287, credited with
ending the Pagan Empire, are now thought to have penetrated only into northern
Burma and did not succeed in capturing or occupying the capital city of Pagan. The
incursion did serve from afar to topple an already weakened government.) Therefore,
the Indianizaton of Burma and, particularly the adoption of art forms connected
with Buddhism and Hinduism, was a peaceful and internally motivated process. Burma
and Thailand have often been at war, having regularly plundered each other�s
capitals, and for relatively short periods they colonized portions of the other�s
territory. Otherwise, with the exception of the British Colonial period that ended
with the close of World War II, Burma was not long dominated by foreign powers and
has had a generally continuous development over time.
Burma is a naturally formed geographical unit consisting of a vast central plain
surrounded by three mountainous areas to the north and by the Bay of Bengal and the
Andaman Sea to the South. There are four major land divisions: the large central
plains area is encircled by mountains and plateaus; along the west and northwest by
the Arakan Yoma (mountains) and Chin Hills; along the northern border by the Kumon
mountains; and along the northeast and eastern borders by the Shan Plateau and
attendant mountains.

Two major rivers, the Irrawaddy and the Salween, flow southward across the central
plains. The Irrawaddy is Burma�s longest and most important river and a succession
of Burma�s capitals were built within a short distance of its banks. To the east of
the Irrawaddy, the much shorter Salween River drains the Shan Plateau and empties
into the Gulf of Martaban between the ancient cities of Pegu and Thaton.

Because the Irrawaddy river is navigable for most of its length, it has served
throughout history as the country�s major transportation route for communication,
trade, and warfare. Additionally, it has assisted in keeping alive the memory of
earlier civilizations so that successive Burmese polities up and down the river
have often asserted their legitimacy by demonstrating connections to earlier
kingdoms. Interestingly, the depth of these connections is far greater in Burma
than for other countries of mainland Southeast Asia. The Irrawaddy, including its
considerable tributary, the Chindwin, drains approximately three-fifths of the
country's surface terminating in a broad delta below the modern capital, Rangoon
(Yangon). Fertile silt from the Irrawaddy has continually expanded this delta area
that gained in economic importance over the last two centuries as it was cleared
for the production of irrigated rice. Rangoon�s riverine location near the Bay of
Bengal provided the British with a seaport through which to govern their colony.
Until today, Rangoon has remained the capital and center for political and economic
activity, whereas Mandalay, built in the nineteenth century and the last royal
capital, has continued to be a major center for fine arts and education.

Climatically, Burma is unlike other Southeast Asian countries in that a

considerable dry zone exists in the center of the country where rainfall can be
less than 30 inches a year. This arid area, the dry zone, results from its location
in the "rain shadow" of the Arakan Mountains that are situated between the dry zone
and the Bay of Bengal. The dry climate is the result of the monsoon clouds first
striking the eastern ranges of the Arakan Mountains and then being shunted higher
into the atmosphere inhibiting rainfall until the rain clouds strike the Shan

Paradoxically, irrigated rice was first cultivated in the central dry zone and
until the present day it has continued as a major center for rice production.
Despite the lack of rainfall, extensive irrigation has been possible because water
was diverted into canals and weirs from tributary streams before they enter the
Irrawaddy. Water from the Irrawaddy River itself is not readily available for
irrigation because the water level remains far below the surrounding countryside
for much of its course. The wealth produced by intensive rice cultivation in the
dry zone supported the ambitious building programs and patronage of the arts that
is evident in the remains of the capital cites that were situated along its banks.

The Burmese refer to the dry zone as Upper Burma, even though it is geographically
in the middle of the country. It was here that the Burmese ethnic group first
settled and it was here that most of the Burmese capitals were subsequently built,
including Pagan, Sagaign, Ava, Amarapura and Mandalay. Rangoon and the delta are
referred to as Lower Burma, an area that gained in political and economic
importance during the nineteenth century as a response to Britain�s need for a
seaport-capital from which to govern its colony.
Since Burma stretches into the northernmost reaches of Southeast Asia, much of
central and northern Burma has a temperate climate although the southern third of
the country is quite tropical with heavy rains and high temperatures.

A mere fifteen percent of the soil in Burma is arable. The disparity in soil
fertility between the fertile central plains and the relatively infertile
mountainous areas has defined not only an economic but also a marked cultural,
religious, and language difference between the lowland peoples and hill tribe
groups. The lowlanders typically are rice farmers, speak Burmese (or in the past,
Pyu or Mon) and are adherents of Theravada Buddhism. Eighty five percent of today�s
lowland population practices Buddhism. The hill tribes typically engage in swidden
or slash-and-burn agriculture, speak a non-Burmese language, and practice one of
the many forms of Animism. Western missionaries have been successful in converting
only members of the hill tribe groups, so that today, for example, there are
hilltribe Karen who are Christian as well as animist.

Burma is one of the least densely populated countries in Asia having a population
of 40 million that is concentrated in the arable plains bordering the Irrawaddy and
Salween rivers.

Burma is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in Southeast Asia having
more that 100 indigenous languages spoken within its borders, although Burmese is
the common and official language. Three ethnic groups, the Mon, the Pyu, and the
Burmese have made the greatest contribution to the development of the arts and
culture of Burma and they all settled in the central plains along the middle and
lower reaches of the Irrawaddy or Salween.

The Mons are the earliest identifiable group to inhabit Burma and lived along the
eastern coastal regions centered about the ancient city of Thaton. Although little
is known about their origins or when they first settled in Burma, their language
belongs to the Mon-Khmer family; similar Mon speaking groups settled in Thailand
and Cambodia. Since the Mons occupied areas adjacent to the coast, it is not
surprising that they were the first group in Burma to be influenced by Indian
ideas. The Mons were the first to adopt the Indian religions of Buddhism and
Hinduism. Mon myths tell of two Mon brothers who visited India and received hair
relics from the Buddha. The two brothers returned to Burma bearing their precious
gifts that were encased in what has become the most revered Buddhist monument in
Burma today, the Shwedagon, located at the center of the present capital, Rangoon.

The Pyu Peoples settled areas located inland to the north of the Mons although some
few communities may have been interspersed among the Mon. The Pyu lived in walled
cities, the largest and most important being Srikshetra, located not far from the
Irrawaddy, near Prome. Pyu, the language of these people, belongs to the Tibeto -
Burman family of languages, as is Burmese. Therefore it is believed that when the
Burmese moved south and conquered the Pyu, they were easily absorbed into the
Burmese population. In any event, the Pyu are rarely heard of after the
quadralingual Myazedi inscription of 1113 AD and today there are no Pyu speakers.

At some time after the fifth century, the Burmese people moved South down the
Irrawaddy settling along the Irrawaddy but importantly around the bend of the
Irrawaddy where it makes a major eastward turn. This area, known as Kyaukse, became
the Burmese heartland and is where irrigated rice was first extensively cultivated.
By the 8th century, the Burmese established what was to become their most important
city, Pagan, which was located at the second major bend in the Irrawaddy where it
turns and flows southward to the Bay of Bengal. Today, about 70% of the population
occupying the central plain are ethnic Burmese.

Burma: Geographical Facts and Figures

Location: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal
between Bangladesh and Thailand

Geographic coordinates: 22 00 N, 98 00 E

Area: Total 678,500 sq. km

Land 657,740 sq. km

Water 20,760 sq. km

Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Andaman Sea 0 m

Highest point: Hkakabo Razi 5,881 m

Natural Resources: petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead,
coal, marble, limestone, precious stones, natural gas, hydropower

Land Use: arable land 15%

Total Population: 41,734,853

Ethnic Composition: Burmese 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine (Arakanese) 4%, Chinese
3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, other 5%

Religious Affiliation: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4%, (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%),
Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%

Chapter I: Prehistoric and Animist Periods

A. Prehistoric Sites

1. Introduction

As infrequent archaeological excavations have slowly revealed pieces of Burma's

past, a better but still incomplete understanding of Burma's prehistory has slowly
emerged. Scant archaeological evidence suggests that cultures existed in Burma as
early as 11,000 BC, long before the more recent Burmese migrations that occurred
after the 8th century AD. The conventional western divisions of prehistory into
the Old Stone Age, New Stone Age and the Iron or Metal Age are difficult to apply
in Burma because there is considerable overlap between these periods. In Burma,
most indications of early settlement have been found in the central dry zone, where
scattered sites appear in close proximity to the Irrawaddy River. Surprisingly, the
artifacts from these early cultures resemble those from neighboring areas in
Southeast Asia as well as India. Although these sites are situated in fertile
areas, archaeological evidence indicates that these early people were not yet
familiar with agricultural methods.

The Anyathian, Burma's Stone Age, existed at a time thought to parallel the lower
and middle Paleolithic in Europe. At least six kinds of stone hand tools have been
discovered in the fourteen sites associated with this period. This assemblage of
stone tools in conjunction with additional archaeological evidence indicates that
these people lived by hunting animals and gathering wild fruits, vegetables and
root crops.

The Neolithic or New Stone Age, when plants and animals were first domesticated and
polished stone tools appeared, is evidenced in Burma by three caves located near
Taunggyi at the edge of the Shan plateau that are dated to 10000 to 6000 BC. The
most complex of these, the Padhalin cave, contains wall paintings of animals, not
unlike those found in the Neolithic caves at Altimira, Spain or Lascaux, France.
These paintings may be interpreted as an indication that the cave was used as a
site for religious ritual. Thus, caves were among the earliest sites used for
Buddhist worship in Burma. This is of importance because the use of caves for
religious purposes continued into later periods and may be seen as a "bridge"
between the earlier non-Burmese, Animist period and the later Buddhist period.
Numerous caves around the ancient city of Pagan have been outfitted with Buddha
images or have been incorporated into early temples such as Kyauk Ku Umin or
Thamiwhet and Hmyatha Umin.

A Buddhist temple is referred to as a cave, whether it is naturally formed or, as

is most often the case, architecturally constructed. The Burmese word for cave is
"gu" and has been continually used to refer to Buddhist temples. It is frequently
incorporated into the name of a temple, for example Shwe Gu Kyi or Penatha Gu.
Also, until the twelfth century, temple interiors were intentionally dimly lit.
This effect was achieved by installing permanent stone or brick lattices in all the
relatively small windows. (The Burmese ethnic group has been credited with building
their temples with larger, unobstructed windows and thereby creating more brightly-
lit interiors - a transition that is seen in the temples of the Pagan Period).

By the second half of the first millennium BC a new developmental phase began in
the dry zone of Burma. Referred to as the early Bronze - Iron Age, these cultures
shared practices and methods of production with various neighboring areas. Burial
methods resemble those of Thailand and Cambodia. Iron working technology most
likely came from India or other parts of Southeast Asia, and ceramic forms and
decoration correspond to those of the bronze - iron Age levels at Ban Chiang in
northern Thailand and at Samrong Sen in Cambodia. Numerous beads have been
recovered that stylistically resemble those imported from Andrha Pradesh and Tamil
Nadu in India.

2. Prehistoric: Early man at Taungthaman

The site of Taungthaman is located near the 19th century city of Mandalay, on an
alluvial terrace of the Irrawaddy River within the walls of the 18th century
capital, Amarapura, and was occupied from the late Neolithic through the early iron
age, around the middle of the first millennium BC. Many artifacts have been
uncovered at Taungthaman such as sophisticated stone tools, intricate ceramic
wares, and primitive iron metallurgy. Many of these objects would have been
acquired from the prosperity gained through industrious farming and trade. When
burying their dead, their new affluence encouraged these people to include among
the grave goods fine decorative ceramics produced by specialized potter artisans as
well as the more common household objects such as bowls and spoons. Human and
animal figures discovered at Taungthaman in the 1970's are thought to have been
used for religious practices. If this is so, these artifacts represent the oldest
of their kind found in Burma. Although no building in permanent material was
discovered at Taungthaman, the excavations uncovered a pattern of post-holes that
are the results of buildings having been supported on wooden pilings.

3. Transition to Pre-Pagan Period

From the limited information available at present, the evolution of these early
prehistoric cultures into the later Mon and Pyu societies is not well understood,
although the late Iron Age coincided with the rise of Pyu culture and the creation
of the first cities in Burma. However, there is ample evidence that by the fifth
century AD, the Mon as well as the Pyu peoples had adopted the Indianized cultural
life then widely practiced throughout mainland Southeast Asia which included
elements of both Hinduism (Brahamanism) as well as aspects of Theravada, Mahayana,
and Tantric Buddhism.

Bibliography- Prehistoric Period

Aung Thaw,
'The "Neolithic Culture of the Padah-lin Caves", Asian Perspectives, 14 (1971), pp.

Ba Maw, "Research on Early Man in Myanmar", Myanmar Historical Research Journal,

no.1 (November 1995), pp. 213-220.

Bob Hudson, "The Nyaungyan 'Goddesses': Some Unusual Bronze Grave Goods from Upper
Burma", TAASA Review, vol 10, no 2 (June 2002), pp. 4 �7.

William Solheim, "New Light on a Forgotten Past", National Geographic, vol 139, No.
3 (March 1971), pp. 330-339.

B. Animism and the Arts

1. Animism

Animism is a generic term used to describe the myriad religious beliefs and
practices that have been utilized in small-scale human societies since the
beginning of the prehistoric era and is the earliest identifiable form of religion
found in Burma. This is not an unexpected occurrence because animist beliefs and
practices have been found among early human societies in almost every country of
the world. Animism is a belief that spirits exist and may live in all things,
sentient and non-sentient. The world is thought to be animated by all sorts of
spirits that may intervene negatively or positively in the affairs of men.
Although spirits may live in all things, every object does not harbor a spirit.
If there were a spirit in everything, the daily activities of mankind would be
seriously disrupted because a spirit would have to be addressed or placated at
every step in a day's activities. Spirits by their very nature are thought to be
normally invisible and to assume visible form only on rare occasion. Therefore, it
is a challenge for anyone to contact a specific spirit and be absolutely sure that
the correct spirit was contacted and was present. Therefore, throughout the world,
spirits are often assigned a contact point where they may be enticed for
consultation. Salient features of the landscape often become the "home" of a
spirit by assignment. Spirits are thought to live, for example, on the highest
peak in a mountain range or at the odd bend in the creek but not in every stone or
drop of water. If a landscape is devoid of a salient feature, such as is the case
with a flat rice field, one is created by assignment such as building a simple
shrine in the northeast corner of the field. That the spirits have a recognized
"home" is important since the relevant spirit or spirits must be located and
consulted before important decisions are made or an activity undertaken. Location
as well as "presence" is of vital importance in animism because the spirit must be
agreeably enticed to the location so that the request will meet with a positive
response. A home or locus for consulting ancestor spirits is often created in
animist societies by carving a generic but gendered human image and wrapping it in
a garment or with possessions identified with the deceased. Gifts of all kinds,
often of luxury goods, are ritually presented to the image when it may be wrapped
in any of the deceased individual's possessions.

In virtually all societies that practice animism, there are three broad categories
of spirits: Spirits of the Ancestors, Spirits of the Locale or Environment (often
referred to as genie of the soil) and Spirits of Nature or Natural Phenomenon.
Those individuals who were important in this life, such as patriarchs, matriarchs,
clan leaders, political leaders, or chiefs, are honored after their death because
it is believed that if they were powerful in this life then they will be powerful
in the afterlife and consequently they should be consulted. Security for the living
is achieved and maintained by consulting these important ancestor spirits to
receive advice on major decisions and assistance to bring them to fruition.

Spirits of the locale or environment include, for example, the spirit of the
mountain, the waterfall, the great tree or of each plot of land. In inhabited areas
in Burma and especially within villages or towns, almost every large tree has a
spirit shelf on which food and drink is placed to please the spirit and thus assure
its blessings. The small wayside shrines, typically containing no images that are
found along thoroughfares as well as in remote locations throughout Burma are
dedicated to the spirit(s) of that area, that tract of land or that city plot.

The Spirits of Natural Phenomenon are consulted as needed. These include the sun,
moon, storms, hurricanes, typhoons, winds and earthquakes. These spirits represent
the uncertainty of the world; that which is beyond the understanding and complete
control of the living.

Animism is typically practiced through rituals that are performed by a specially

trained practitioner who serves as an intermediary between a person or group and
the spirit to be consulted. The term shaman - the word used for such an individual
in tribes living along the American Northwest Coast - is today widely employed by
academics to identify such individuals wherever they appear in the world. This
practitioner is called to perform a ritual at an auspicious location in which he
entices the appropriate spirit or spirits to appear and cooperate by flatteringly
calling them by name, performing their favorite music or songs, recounting their
good deeds and offering them the things that they enjoyed when alive, such as food,
drink (frequently alcohol), or things that have an appealing fragrance such as
flowers or incense. These "objects of enticement" are considered by outsiders to be
the Arts of Animism. Since animist rituals often do not require an image, these
arts frequently consist of the objects used for enticement such as fine textiles,
fine basketry or fine ceramics. Typically these items are the best available,
expensive, newly made for the ceremony, or at least refurbished since it would be
offensive to offer old clothing or stale food to a respected individual. Once the
shaman is convinced the desired spirit is present and in an agreeable mood, he goes
into trance and consults with the spirit concerning the critical matter at hand.
He then comes out of trance and shares the wishes of the spirit(s) with his

There are typically three categories of questions that are asked: those that
involve the security of the group or person; the fertility of humans, livestock and
crops; and the health of the group or the individual. All three categories of
questions have to do with everyday life, the here and now, and unlike the "Great
Religions", little attention is focused on the afterlife.

The practitioners of animism, the shaman or mediums, do not belong to an organized

clergy but, instead, learn the rituals and the practices of animism by having been
an apprentice or an acolyte to another shaman. The specialized task of the shaman
requires them to communicate with spirits, whether male or female, while in a
trance. Consequently, an individual of ambiguous gender is well suited to speak
intimately with spirits of either gender. Therefore, shaman tends to be either
effeminate males or masculine females who at their will are capable of going into

In Burma, animism has developed into the cult of the Thirty-Seven Nats or spirits.
Its spirit practitioners, known as nat ka daws, are almost always of ambiguous
gender, and are thought to be married to a particular spirit or nat. Despite their
physical appearance and costume, however, they may be heterosexual with a wife and
family, heterosexual transvestites, or homosexual. Being a shaman is most often a
well-respected profession because the shaman performs the functions of both a
doctor and a minister, is often paid in gold or cash, and is often unmarried with
the time and money to care for their aging parents. Shamans who combine their
profession with prostitution lose the respect of their clients - a universal
conflict and outcome. The reputation of Burmese nat-ka-daws has been generally
damaged by this conflict.
Animism, a generic term for the Small Religions, is a substratum of beliefs out of
which the Great Religions have developed. It is a useful term to describe all of
the small religions that vary greatly in the specifics of their practice. However,
there are general characteristics that are easily recognized. Since animism is
based upon the worship of individuals who once lived in addition to spirits that
dwell in specific environmental locations, there are a myriad number of spirits.
These spirits change in name and function in different physical environments.
Consequently, the names of the spirits change from valley to valley, from one
village to another or from one small group to the next. The worship of numerous
spirits differs markedly from the great religions, which usually have one all
encompassing god or a limited pantheon of gods. By comparison, in Burma and
Thailand there is a spirit attached to every parcel of land.

Since Animism is typically practiced by non-literate groups of people, a written

record of their theology or literature doesn't exist. Practices or beliefs are
passed down orally from shaman to apprentice. Since it is important for the shaman
to preserve the correct order in which chants and genealogies must be recited,
shaman in several societies have independently invented what scholars have come to
refer to as "memory boards". These are boards on which there are a series of
symbols or marks that assist in proper recollection and recitation. These boards
have been found in many small-scale societies including those in Southeast Asia,
particularly in Borneo and as far away as Easter Island. These boards, although
often undecipherable to the uninitiated, are important because they are examples of
the first form of writing.

Art objects used in animism are typically made of perishable materials. The images
are often of wood, cane, feathers, leather, and other materials such as unfired
clay that easily disintegrate. Due to humidity, bacteria, and the foraging of
animals and insects, these art forms do not last for long periods. Art forms made
of perishable materials are suitable for animist ritual since the animist aesthetic
places importance on the new and beautiful because the end goal is to please and
attract the spirits. The sentiment here is that attractive gifts should be new and
not secondhand. Therefore, old images that have been used previously are frequently
repainted, re-dressed or made anew. At times, the "art objects" are discarded
after a ritual since the objects have served their purpose of attracting the spirit
and the spirit by its very nature of being a spirit can not take the objects away.

Animist art obects are created in almost any form. The images may be
anthropomorphic, or just an uncut slab of rock. The object may be adorned or

In Burma, the major Animist spirits were transformed into the Pantheon of the 37
Nats during the Pagan Period. The earliest known images of the brother and sister
nats, Min Mahagiri and his Sister, who lead the pantheon, were painted on two
planks hewn from a their sacred tree that had been thrown into the Irrawaddy and
had floated down the Irrawaddy to Pagan.
2. Bronze Drums - An Animist Art Form

The use and manufacture of bronze drums is the oldest continuous art tradition in
Southeast Asia. It began some time before the 6th century BC in northern Vietnam
and later spread to other areas such as Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and China. The
Karen adopted the use of bronze drums at some time prior to their 8th century
migration from Yunnan into Burma where they settled and continue to live in the low
mountains along the Burma - Thailand border. During a long period of adoption and
transfer, the drum type was progressively altered from that found in northern
Vietnam (Dong Son or Heger Type I) to produce a separate Karen type (Heger Type
III). In 1904, Franz Heger developed a categorization for the four types of bronze
drums found in Southeast Asia that is still in use today.

The vibrating tympanum is made of bronze and is cast as a continuous piece with the
cylinder. Distinguishing features of the Karen type include a less bulbous
cylinder so that the cylinder profile is continuous rather than being divided into
three distinct parts. Type III has a markedly protruding lip, unlike the earlier
Dong Son drums. The decoration of the tympanum continues the tradition of the Dong
Son drums in having a star shaped motif at its center with concentric circles of
small, two-dimensional motifs extending to the outer perimeter.

In Burma the drums are known as frog drums (pha-si), after the images of frogs that
invariably appear at four equidistant points around the circumference of the

A Karen innovation was the addition of three-dimensional figures to one side of the
cylinder so that insects and animals, but never humans, are often represented
descending the trunk of a stylized tree.
The frogs on the tympanum vary from one to three and, when appearing in multiples,
are stacked atop each other. The number of frogs in each stack on the tympanum
usually corresponds to the number of figures on the cylinder such as elephants or
snails. The numerous changes of motif in the two- and three-dimensional
ornamentation of the drums have been used to establish a relative chronology for
the development of the Karen drum type over approximately one thousand years.
The Karens speak several languages that linguists have had difficulty classifying.
Karen groups often speak different languages, some of which are not mutually
intelligible. Hence, the Karen peoples are an exception to the basic assumption
that an ethnic group can be defined by the fact that all its members can converse
in a single tongue. There are at least three major cultural and linguistic
divisions among the Karen: the Karreni or the Red Karen, who cast the bronze drums,
the Pwo Karen, and the Sgaw Karen, as well as a number of other splinter groups who
have scattered into the mountains below the Shan Plateau.
These hillside people practice swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture and speak a
language that is very different than that of the lowland Burmese. The practice of
slash-and-burn agriculture consists of burning the forests and then using the ashes
from the burnt timber as fertilizer for the fields.
The fertilizer lasts for only several years, never more than six, and at that time
the Karen must pack and move everything to a new site where a different section of
the forest is burned. A number of hillside groups practice slash-and-burn
agriculture and periodically move through each other's hereditary territory to new
lands. These people move back and forth across the Thai border with little regard
for the national boundary. Slash-and-burn agriculture is perilous in that after
the forest is burned, seeds must be planted and then rains must occur quickly and
consistently until the plants are well established. If this does not happen, the
plants will wither and die or insects and animals will eat the seeds. It is not
unusual for the Karen to be forced to plant four times in order to reap a single
harvest. For the Karen, the bronze drums perform a vital service in inducing the
spirits to bring the rains. When there is a drought, the Karens take the drums into
the fields where they are played to make the frogs croak because the Karens believe
that if the frogs croak, it is sign that rain will surely fall. Therefore, the
drums are also known as "Karen Rain Drums"

Bronze drums were used among the Karen as a device to assure prosperity by inducing
the spirits to bring rain, by taking the spirit of the dead into the after-fife and
by assembling groups including the ancestor spirits for funerals, marriages and
house-entering ceremonies. The drums were used to entice the spirits of the
ancestors to attend important occasions and during some rituals the drums were the
loci or seat of the spirit.

It appears that the oldest use of the drums by the Karen was to accompany the
protracted funeral rituals performed for important individuals. The drums were
played during the various funeral events and then, among some groups, small bits of
the drum were cut away and placed in the hand of the deceased to accompany the
spirit into the afterlife. It appears that the drums were never used as containers
for secondary burial because there is no instance where Type III drums have been
unearthed or found with human remains inside. The drums are considered so potent
and powerful that they would disrupt the daily activities of a household so when
not in use, they were placed in the forest or in caves, away from human habitation.
They were also kept in rice barns where when turned upside down they became
containers for seed rice; a practice that was thought to improve the fertility of
the rice. Also, since the drums are made of bronze, they helped to deter predations
by scavengers such as rats or mice.

When played, the drums were strung up by a cord to a tree limb or a house beam so
that the tympanum hung at approximately a forty-five degree angle.
The musician placed his big toe in the lower set of lugs to stabilize the drum
while striking the tympanum with a padded mallet. Three different tones may be
produced if the tympanum is struck at the center, edge, and midpoint. The cylinder
was also struck but with long strips of stiff bamboo that produces a sound like a
snare drum. The drums were not tuned to a single scale but had individualized
sounds, hence they could be used effectively as a signal to summon a specific group
to assemble. It is said that a good drum when struck could be heard for up to ten
miles in the mountains. The drums were played continuously for long periods of time
since the Karen believe that the tonal quality of a drum cannot be properly judged
until it is played for several hours.

The drums were a form of currency that could be traded for slaves, goods or
services and were often used in marriage exchanges. They were also a symbol of
status, and no Karen could be considered wealthy without one. By the late
nineteenth century, some important families owned as many as thirty. The failure to
return a borrowed drum often led to internecine disputes among the Karen.

a. Animist Drums and Buddhism

Although the drums were cast primarily for use by groups of non-Buddhist hill
people, they were used by the Buddhist kings of Burma and Thailand as musical
instruments to be played at court and as appropriate gifts to Buddhist temples and
monasteries. The first known record of the Karen drum in Burma is found in an
inscription of the Mon king Manuha at Thaton, dated 1056 AD. The word for drum in
this inscription occurs in a list of musical instruments played at court and is the
compound pham klo: pham is Mon while klo is Karen. The ritual use of Karen drums
in lowland royal courts and monasteries continued during the centuries that
followed and is an important instance of inversion of the direction in which
cultural influences usually flow from the lowlands to the hills.
b. Casting the drums

The town of Nwe Daung, 15 km south of Loikaw, capital of Kayah (formerly Karenni)
State, is the only recorded casting site in Burma. Shan craftsmen made drums there
for the Karens from approximately 1820 until the town burned in 1889. Karen drums
were cast by the lost wax technique; a characteritic that sets them apart from the
other bronze drum types that were made with moulds. A five metal formula was used
to create the alloy consisting of copper, tin, zinc, silver and gold. Most of the
material in the drums is tin and copper with only traces of silver and gold. The
Karen made several attempts in the first quarter of the twentieth century to revive
the casting of drums but none were successful.
During the late 19th century, non-Karen hill people, attracted to the area by the
prospect of work with British teak loggers, bought large numbers of Karen drums and
transported them to Thailand and Laos. Consequently, their owners frequently
incorrectly identify their drums as being indigenous to these countries.

Bibliography - Animism and the Arts

F. Heger, Alte Metalltromeln aus Sudest-Asie (Leipzig, 1902).

H. I. Marshall, The Karen People of Burma: A Study in Anthropology and Ethnology

(Columbus, 1922).

H. I. Marshall, "Karen Bronze Drums", Journal of the Burma Research Society, xix
(1929), pp. 1-14.

Richard M. Cooler, "The Use of Karen Bronze Drums in the Royal Courts and Buddhist
Temples of Burma and Thailand: A Continuing Mon Tradition?", Papers from a
Conference on Thai Studies in Honor of William J. Gedney (Michigan Papers on South
and Southeast Asia, No 25, Ann Arbor, 1986) pp. 107-20.

Richard M. Cooler, The Karen Bronze Drums of Burma: Types, Iconography,

Manufacture, and Use (Leiden, 1994).

Chapter III The Pagan Period: Burma's Classic Age - 11th To 14th Centuries

Part 1

A. Introduction and General History

Pagan, the most important historical site in Burma, lies within a major bend of the
Irrawaddy River where its east-west course turns and flows south. This capitol
city, constructed entirely on the left bank of the river, is in the most arid part
of the dry zone of Central Burma. Founded at sometime before the 9th century AD,
Pagan was the capitol of the first Burmese kingdom from the 11th-14th centuries
after its first great ruler, King Anawrahta, politically consolidated all of
central Burma by conquering both the Pyu and the Mon peoples. Art and Architecture
flourished during the Pagan Period and classic models were established that were
copied by later kingdoms.


Today, the archaeological site consists of 2,230 buildings and mounds scattered
over approximately twenty-five square miles of the Pagan plain. A general pattern
in the displacement of these structures is that the earlier buildings were built
nearer the riverbank while later buildings are found at a distance

Among these structures are 911 temples, of which 347 have conserved to some extent
their mural paintings; 524 stupas; 415 monasteries; 31 other structures including
image houses, libraries and ordination halls; and numerous unexcavated mounds
produced by collapsed structures. All were constructed for religious purposes
except for the �city� wall. This wall was probably built to protect one of the
original cites at this site. However, by the Pagan Period, this small-enclosed area
had become a royal enclave with most of the city�s structures and inhabitants
situated outside the wall.

Although the origins of Pagan go back to before the 9th century, King Anawratha
(1044-1077 AD) was its first historical ruler. He was the first to conquer the
entire dry zone in the middle of the country and he was the first to establish a
single center from which to administer the kingdom. It is important that he and
subsequent Kings continued to develop and expand outlying irrigation systems
because rice became not only a staple in the Burmese diet but also the currency of
the realm in which taxes were often paid.

Theravada Buddhism became the state religion of Pagan as a consequence of King

Anawratha�s successful conquest to obtain Buddhist texts from the Mon state of
Thaton. However, there is evidence that other types of Buddhism as well as Hinduism
and Animism were practiced at Pagan.

During his reign the arts and especially architecture began to flourish. His
greatest accomplishments in architecture were the five stupas he built to delimit
the area of the capital city. These were arranged to approximate the shape of a
square mandala. Four stupas were built at its four corners, including to the north,
the most famous stupa at Pagan, the Shwezigon. A fifth, the Shwesandaw, was built
at the city�s symbolic center. No temples can definitely be traced to his

Most of the major monuments at Pagan were built in the century following the death
of King Anawratha, particularly during the reigns of his son(?) King Kyanzittha
(1084-1112) and King Narapatizithu (1170-1211). In fact so many temples were
constructed that the 12th century is known as the Golden Age of Burmese Temple
Building. The prototypic forms for both the Burmese stupa and the Burmese temple
date to this time, although in later periods the stupa instead of the temple
becomes the preferred building type. Also in the 12th century Pagan became an
international center for Buddhist learning.

During the early Pagan Period, the ideology of the country became more thoroughly
Theravada Buddhist when the major Animist spirits were subordinated to Buddhism
through the creation of a hieratic arrangement that placed a Buddhist deity above
the local spirits. Sakka, known as Thagyamin in Burma, is thought to be a
reincarnation of the Hindu God, Indra, who presides over Tavatimsa Heaven as King
of the thirty-three Gods. In Buddhist belief, Sakka - Thagyamin has become the
guardian-protector of the Buddhist faith after Gautama�s Buddha�s death and thus,
in his absence. In Burma, it was Sakka - Thagyamin who was appointed head of the
official Pantheon of 36 local Nats who were then ranked below him.

Burma became more culturally cohesive under King Anawratha�s second successor, King
Kyanzittha, who was also an ardent Buddhist.. Kyanzittha was a builder of
impressive temples such as the Nagayon, the Abeyadana, and the Ananda - one of the
few temples to remain in constant use since it was created and the object of
national pilgrimage. With in the brick walls of Pagan, he also built a fabulous
palace that he had described in great detail in a lengthy inscription. The third
great king Narapatisithu, constructed three great temples including the Dhamma-
yazika stupa, one of the largest pentagonal buildings in the world.

During the thirteenth century enormous sums continued to be spent on religious

foundations and their upkeep, although the structures themselves were often more
modest in scale. This practice undermined the economy and weakened the power of the
monarchy since all lands and wealth given to the clergy was beyond the taxation and
control of the King.

In 1274, King Narapatisithu constructed the last great building at Pagan, the
enormous and beautifully proportioned Mingalazedi Stupa.


In 1287,when the Mongols appeared on the Northern horizon and threatened to invade
Pagan, King Narathihapati fled the capital and the kingdom fragmented. The
political unity of Burma was thus destroyed and was not regained until the 17th
century, although Pagan continued its role as an important religious center even
when later capitals were located elsewhere.

B. City Plan of Pagan

The city of Pagan unlike the Pyu cities does not have an outer perimeter wall.
Instead, there is a walled compound located in the very bend of the Irrawaddy that
by its small size corresponds to the palace compounds of the earlier Pyu sites.


This walled royal enclosure measures less than a square mile and occupies the
Northwest corner of a twenty-five square mile area over which are scattered more
than 2,000 religious buildings and structures. Within this walled area were
situated the royal palace, court buildings, and a few religious monuments.
Kyanzittha�s royal palace was near the center of the rectangular enclosure, beside
the Thatbyinnyu, the tallest monument at Pagan and, just inside the city wall from
the king�s most famous temple, the Ananda.

The form of the royal compound roughly approximates a square Mandala. However, over
time the river has completely washed away the western wall. Within the remaining
walls, two major streets can be traced that originally connected the four major
gates. A large undated stupa is located at its center where these streets cross.

Recent excavations have shown that the wall was built in several phases and
included massive gates, guardrooms and hidden passages � all of which were
encircled by a moat. Of the city entrances identified, only the Eastern gate, the
Tharaba Gate, is in a fair state of preservation. Here on either side of the
entrance are found nat shrines, probably added by King Kyanzittha, to honor the
brother-sister heads of the Pantheon of the 36 Nats. These two Nats in particular
are thought to live on Mount Popa, a volcanic cone that can be seen - on a clear
day -some thirty miles east- southeast of the gate.


Chapter III The Pagan Period: Burma's Classic Age - 11th To 14th Centuries

Part 2

C. Architecture

1. General Characteristics

a. Major types of Buildings

The remains of a variety of building types are found at Pagan including stupas,
temples, monasteries, ordination halls and libraries.

Stupas are solid structures that typically cannot be entered and were constructed
to contain sacred Buddhist relics that are hidden from view (and vandals) in
containers buried at their core or in the walls. Temples have an open interior that
may be entered and in which are displayed one or more cult images as a focus for
worship. Although this simple distinction between Stupa and temple is useful, the
distinction is not always clear. There are stupas such as the Myazedei that have
the external form of a stupa but are like a temple with an inner corridor and
multiple shrines.


Also, there are temples that enshrine a small stupa instead of an image of the
Buddha while numerous temples have a diminutive stupa atop their tower (shikhara)
or towers.


A third building type of which there are abundant examples is the monastery that
can be either a one-room building or a vast complex of buildings. Libraries and
ordination halls appear to have been infrequently built but are also found among
the structures at Pagan.

Domestic architecture, including the royal palace, was constructed of wood and
consequently, has completely vanished. The only trace of these wooden buildings is
the pattern of the post-holes that were dug to contain the supporting timbers.

The structures at Pagan vary greatly in scale from very small one-room structures
to enormous temples with multiple floors and shrines that soar to 200 feet. The
eleven largest buildings at Pagan are all royal foundations that were built before
1300. Each contains within its mass more than fifty times as much material as the
average temple or stupa. Therefore, the volume of these eleven buildings is
equivalent to one quarter of the building activity during the Pagan Period.

b. Organization

Temples and stupas, even though adjacent to one another, were generally designed to
stand alone as single buildings without planned relationships between one another.
A boundary wall, thought be a protection against fire, surrounded the largest and
most important buildings.

These enclosing walls were usually square with an entrance in the middle of each
side. The main buildings, at times raised on a platform, were located in the center
of this large enclosure with smaller structures placed around them.


c. Materials and Techniques

All Pagan structures were made of brick plastered with stucco except for three
buildings that were made of stone or were faced with stone.


The bricks were kiln fired, regularly shaped and thinner but much larger that the
standard western brick. The average brick measured 36 x 18 x 6 centimeters. It is
known that many bricks were brought to Pagan by boat because the village of their
origin is stamped on the brick and some locations are known today. Many other
bricks were produced at Pagan as indicated by large depressions along the banks of
the Irrawaddy where clay was gathered for brick making. This craft is still
practiced at Pagan at present.

Bricks were laid with great care, especially the outer bricks that were visible.
The only mortar used was clay, at times with a considerable admixture of sand.


If more complex organic binders were used, as mentioned in inscriptions, they have
now disappeared and do not appear in chemical analyses of mortar samples.
Interestingly, the high-quality mortar used as plaster on the exterior of the
buildings was never employed as a binding agent for the masonry itself, even though
this would have created a more lasting and stronger bond.

A remarkable technique used at Pagan for the construction of vaults and arches was
the pointed arch created with voussoirs.


The extended use of this technique is only found in Pagan Period buildings (and
some later Burmese copies) and sets the architecture of Pagan apart from
contemporary monuments elsewhere in Southeast Asia as well as in India. Although
probably originating in India, the technique was never widely used there and was
never employed in complex ways to span broad spaces as is found at Pagan.

The architects in Pagan used the vaulting technique quite differently than their
counterparts in Europe. Bricks used to create arches and vaults were specially
shaped into a trapezium with its two longer sides splayed radially so that these
bricks resembled a slice of pie with the tip cut off. To form an arch, bricks were
arranged vertically with the broadest, flat side towards the viewer � unlike the
western technique where the thin edge of the brick is turned outward. The bricks
would then be fitted tightly together to form a pointed arch and then mortared in
place. Mortaring successive layers of brick voussoirs in front of one another
created a pointed vault that could be put in place with few supports or


The Pagan architects were sophisticated in their use of this technology and
systematically employed relieving arches. These were multiple, free standing arches
that were set above one another in a wall to assure that the wall would hold, even
if one of the arches failed. Difficult features such as sloping vaults over
staircases or voussoired flat arches were also successfully used. In addition, the
corbelled vault or arch was also appropriately used to span narrow openings as is
seen in many monastery buildings.

2. Stupas

A. a. Stupas - General Characteristics

The typical form of the Pagan stupa was clearly derived from earlier examples found
in India and Sri Lanka. Major differences between the earlier stupa prototypes and
the later Pagan structures can be seen in their larger proportions as well as in
the more pyramidal shape of the terraced base. The dome remained the major
architectural element in the Burmese stupa and was made more bell-like, developing
a shoulder and a slight concavity at the base of the bell.


These changes constitute what became the classical model for the Burmese stupa that
has a square base of several recessed terraces provided with a stairway on each
side that leads up to one or two octagonal terraces upon which sits a circular
bell-shaped dome that extends upward into a conical, ringed spire. Although this
model is thought to be typical for most Pagan Period stupas, it appears in only a
few monuments of great size, such as the Shwezigon Stupa or the Mingalazedi.
However, this is the stupa type that is most often copied during later periods, for
example the Kuthawdaw Stupa built in Mandalay in 1857.


Another stupa type rarely found at Pagan has a bulbous profile and dome that the
Burmese see as gourd-like and is considered to be Pyu in origin. The riverine
Buhpaya or �Gourd Stupa� and the Ngakywenadaung are among the few extant examples.


Exact copies of the cylindrical or columnar type of Pyu stupa as seen at Srikshetra
are not readily found at Pagan. An exception, however, might be King Anawratha�s
Lokanada Stupa that marks the southern extent of the ancient city. Unfortunately,
it has been extensively repaired and reshaped(?) with the passage of time.


The crowning finial placed on all stupas, today, as well as during the Pagan
period, is the metal hti (umbrella) or tiered sunshade that closely resembles the
Burmese royal crown.


When stupas fell into disrepair, they are often encased by a later generation of
devotees with a new, thick covering of brick and stucco. The ruined remains of
many stupas at Pagan reveal their earlier encasements that in form, size and
detailing are often markedly different from the visible exterior. Therefore, the
outer, visible surface of the stupa is not a reliable indication of the shape or
decoration of the original stupa.


The exteriors of both temples and stupas were embellished with similarly patterned
carved and molded stucco decorations. Often a frieze consisting of demon masks
(kirtthimukhas) disgorging strings of pearls and foliage was attached to the top of
a temple wall and around the middle of the stupa bell. Plaster ornaments were also
used to cover pilasters and to create the prominent moldings that appear around any
opening on the outside or inside of a building.


b. Stupas - Specific Examples

i. The Lokanada Stupa

The Lokananda Stupa is believed to have been built in 1059 by King Anawratha. It is
located on a promontory above a small bay in the east bank of the Irrawaddy that
probably served as a port for Pagan and marked the southern extent of the city.
Today, the structure displays a columnar bell with vertical sides resting upon
three octagonal terraces, two of which are connected by a short staircase. The
exterior decoration or this stupa has been repeatedly refurbished and changed over
time and has recently been encased in gilded metal plaques..


ii. The Shwesandaw Stupa

The Shwesandaw stupa is popularly believed to have been built by King Anawratha at
the symbolic center of his square Mandala plan for Pagan. It was built to enshrine
the sacred hair relic (= Shwesandaw) that he had taken from the Bawbawgyi stupa in
Srikshetra. This is the first stupa in Burma to have a pyramidal base of tall,
steep terraces connected on each side by a medial stairway. Also, it is the first
instance in Burmese history of a bell-shaped dome that has a concave profile
instead of the convex or vertical profiles of the Pyu types. This bell-shaped dome
with a flared base became an important part of the prototypic stupa that was
replicated in Burma for the following nine hundred years. Important by its absence
from this Burmese prototype is the cubical harmica box situated between the dome
and the finial cone that is found elsewhere in the Buddhist world. Although the
harmica is retained especially in Sri Lanka and Nepal, and is occasionally found at
Pagan (e.g., the Sapada and the Pebingyaung stupas), it is not retained in the
typical Burmese stupa.

The unusually steep elevation of the lower terraces, allows the visitor to view
from the base of the dome the four stupas that mark the boundaries of Pagan. (The
Lokananda Stupa is now obscured by vegetation.)

The outer face of the terraces were inset with glazed ceramic plaques that each in
a single depiction represent one of the many past lives of Gautama Buddha, The
Jataka Tales. The use of such plaques continued an Indian tradition and they
decorate many later Burmese monuments of great size and importance.


Interestingly, the Shwesandaw is also known as the Mahapeinne, or Ganesha Stupa. So

named for the Hindu God, Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva who as a
protector - doorman removes obstacles from the path of those who wish to
legitimately enter. It is probable that stone images of Ganesha originally guarded
the stupa because broken images of Hindu Gods have been found scattered about its
base. The four corners of the base were guarded by the earliest examples of
manoukthiha, images of double-bodied lions made of brick and plaster, that continue
in use till today to protect the foundations of Burmese stupas.


iii. The Shwezigon Stupa

The Shwezigon, a massive stupa built during the 11th century, has aptly been called
the most 'national' of all Burma's pagodas. It became the prototype for the form
and decoration of subsequent Burmese stupas, has received constant devotional and
financial support for a thousand years, and is a principal destination for pilgrims
to Pagan.

This solid stupa, which is 102 feet tall, was built to enshrine several sacred
relics of the Buddha, including his collarbone, frontlet bone and a duplicate tooth
relic brought from the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka. Sandstone was used to
construct, most, if not all, of this frequently repaired structure. King Anawrahta
is credited with constructing the lower three terraces that comprise the square
pyramidal base. A staircase connects these terraces halfway along each side, and
there are small stupas at the terrace corners. The massive bell-shaped middle part
of the stupa, completed by King Kyanzittha shortly after 1086, rises from an
octagonal band above the three terraces. The ringed cone as well as the lotus-bud
finial surmounting the bell has frequently had to be replaced owing to earthquakes
(e.g., after the earthquake of 1975) and general deterioration. Inset in the lower
brick terraces are over 500 stone or terracotta, green glazed plaques that
illustrate in simple terms events from the previous lives of the Buddha (=Jataka
stories). This use of Jataka plaques as architectural ornament first occurred on
stupas constructed by King Anawratha then continued throughout the Pagan and later
periods. At the Southeast corner of the stupa is found an imposing double-bodied
lion, the only remaining stone manoukthiha at Pagan. It is one of four that
originally held guard at the four corners of the stupa�s base. A cult has recently
developed around this image where devotees can be senn making offerings of flowers
and food.


The stupa stands at center of a very large walled compound in which there are a
wide variety of structures including several Nat shrines, rest houses and small


The Stupa could be approached from the Irrawaddy by the north gate. The primary
east gate as well as the south gate have long covered walkways, regularly filled
with vendors.


The beginning of the infrequently used west gate is guarded at a distance by two
stone lions, the oldest at Pagan and in fact, in Burma. This is the continuation of
an Indian tradition of placing guardian lions, known in Burmese as chinthes, at the
entrances to stupas - a tradition that continues until today.


In post Pagan Periods, gigantic guardian lions were erected in brick and stucco on
either side of the entrances on the East, South and West sides of the compound. On
the north side, the chinthes appear along the stairway that leads up from the river
landing, not adjacent to the entrance..


At each of the four cardinal points round the base of the stupa, opposite the
staircases, is a freestanding secondary shrine referred to as a �perfumed chamber�
(gandhakuti) due to the aromatic incense offered there. In each of these shrines
stands one of the four largest bronze Buddha images in Pagan, each towers nine feet
above the kneeling devotee. These images are of interest, also, because they were
created by hammering a thin sheet of bronze to form only the front half the image,
although the visual effect is that they were cast-in-the-round.

It was here at the Shwezigon, according the Glass Palace Chronicle compiled in
1829, that the Pagan kings placed images of the indigenous Nats so that those who
came to pay their respects to the Nats would learn of Buddhism. As part of this
arrangement a Buddhist deity known by several names, Indra � Sakka �Thagyamin, was
appointed as head of a new Pantheon of Thirty Seven selected Nats. Today, images
of the entire Nat Pantheon are housed in a Nat shrine located in the Southeast
corner of the compound. Only three of these wooden images are ancient: a Pagan
Period image measuring 8 feet 8 inches has its own chamber in the east end of the
shrine and is the earliest known image of Indra - Sakka - ThagyaMin.


Archaic images of the Animist brother- sister leaders of the Nats, Min Mahagiri and
Shwemyethna, have also been placed within the shrine and consist of faces painted
on gilded wooden planks.

Most of the carved and molded stucco decoration on the Shweizigon, which became
typical of Pagan stupas, has been replaced or restored.

iv. The Mingalazedi Stupa

The last major edifice to be erected at Pagan , the Mingalazedi, is also perhaps
the most visually satisfying in terms of pleasing proportions and fine details,
such as the glazed Jataka plaques that ring its four lower terraces. King
Narathihapati constructed it in 1284, a few years before the Mongol incursions that
lead to the decline of Pagan. Small stupas that appear at the corners of the
stepped terraces have the form of the kalasa Pot and are covered with white glazed
tiles decorated with a molded kirtthimukha frieze. Atop the third terrace, there
are four larger, conical stupas that together with the subsidiary corner stupas and
the medial stairways enhance the majestic effect of the edifice that culminates in
a tapering finial above the bell.


Chapter III The Pagan Period: Burma's Classic Age - 11th To 14th Centuries

Part 3

3. Temples

a. Temples Types According to Floor Plan

Pagan temples may be divided into two basic types according to floor plan: one type
has an open central sanctuary and the other has a solid core that is ringed by a
corridor. The two types, however, were at times combined in a single structure in
which the solid core was hollowed out to create a sanctuary that was then encircled
by a corridor.

An example of the first type, the most rudimentary temple, of which there are
several hundred at Pagan, consists of a one storey square shrine that is typically
entered from the east by a door which opens into a small vestibule area located
directly in front of the primary cult image that sits against the west wall. The
interior may be illuminated by light from the door or by windows in the north and
south walls.

Larger temples having a sanctuary were often built on a cruciform plan where the
central shrine can be entered from all four sides. At times these temples have four
Buddha images seated back to back at the center or a screen wall is erected inside
against which the major cult image is placed. Often, one of the four entrances is
developed into a hall that may then open directly into the sanctuary.

The second main type of temple has a solid core that is ringed by a fairly broad
circumambulatory corridor that then serves as a continuous sanctuary. These
temples are most often square having a door in each wall with the major images
placed in a niche facing each entrance. These four images may represent by their
differing iconography the Four Great Events in the Buddha�s life � Birth,
Enlightenment, First Sermon, Death � or four identical Buddhas may represent the
four previous Buddhas of our era. When a fifth Buddha, the future Buddha,
Maitreya, is included, a pentagonal plan was devised by adding a fifth side with
requisite door, image and niche while using the same structural devices as found in
a quadrilateral temple.

There are some temples that combine both principal types and hence are almost
always among the larger temples at Pagan. These temples usually have a square
central sanctuary lit by light shafts in the ceiling that is surrounded by a
circumambulatory corridor with an entrance hall and porch on one side. Windows in
the three outer walls illuminate the inner corridor. The primary Buddha image in
the central shrine faces the entrance, and numerous smaller images fill niches
throughout the temple whether they are located in the shrine, in the corridor wall,
or in the entrance hall. Such is the floor plan of Nagayon Temple.

b. Materials and Techniques

Temple roofs were made of bricks that were laid in a slightly curved profile during
the 11th and early 12th centuries but were flat thereafter. A stair-step pyramid of
terraces, usually three, sits atop the roof and forms the base for the massive
tower. These towers were usually shaped like a circular stupa or were square with
a curvilinear profile, a form referred to as a shikhara. These shikhara towers were
also frequently crowned with a small stupa.

The exterior decoration of almost all temples of Pagan consists of stucco applied
to the brick surfaces and then sculpted. Any opening in a temple was bordered by
elaborate stucco decorations that are most ornate around the main temple door. In
temple interiors, particularly after the first quarter of the12th century, the
stucco moldings are replaced by trompe l�oeil wall paintings. The base of the
temple as well as the roof terraces in larger temples may be enhanced with glazed
ceramic or stone Jataka plaques or other ornaments such as glazed tiles in the
shape of lotus petals or leaves.

c. The Evolution of the Pagan Temple

The precise evolution of Pagan architecture is difficult to establish. Only a few

buildings have retained their dedicatory inscriptions, so the founding date for the
majority of buildings is unknown.


A general dating, however, can be attempted by comparing the architectural details

of the few dated structures with those of unknown date but this process is
confounded because some features continued throughout the Pagan Period without
change and other features that did change were later revived as a deliberate
archaism. Also, the buildings did not develop from simplest to most complex because
many of the early building were royal donations and as such were particularly
elaborate and sophisticated. Small, simple temples were built throughout the entire
period, but particularly during the thirteenth century.

A general evolution in three stages for the Pagan temple has been established,
however, and involves a change from the early Mon style through a transitional
stage to the fully developed Burmese style.

The earliest temples at Pagan belong to the Mon phase of development and have the
following features: a one storey structure with a dimly lit interior resulting from
of the relatively small doorways, and windows that are screened with a stone or
brick lattice.


Primary icons are lit by rays of light that are admitted from shafts cut through to
the terraced roofs. Roofs slope downward rather than being flat as in the later
temples. This temple type takes its name from the Mon language captions that
identify the subjects of wall paintings that decorate the inner walls, not from
their having been donated or built by members of the Mon ethnic group.

The Pagan temple changed with the slow evolution of upper floors. The Ananda Temple
is transitional to the new type because even though it is structurally a single
storey temple its external fenestration of two separate rows of windows located
above one the other creates the appearance of two floors. Importantly, these
windows do not employ the lattice-like screens of the earlier Mon temples. It is
unknown what language was used to identify these wall paintings because they have
been completely covered with white wash and only slight traces remain indicating
their existence.

During the twelfth century, the Burmese type fully appears with the development of
a true second floor. Positioning a small shrine on the roof of the entrance hall
was the first step in this development. This small shrine was situated in front of
the main tower and above the central shrine. As additional buildings were
constructed, the small shrine was progressively enlarged and moved back under the
tower to create a large, centered, second storey room capped by the main tower of
the temple. This transformation was structurally possible because the first floor
sanctuary was replaced with a solid core of masonry while retaining the first floor
circumambulatory corridor. The solid core on the first floor then served to
support the second floor sanctuary including its considerable tower. Thus, a
complete second storey developed that for structural reasons was always smaller
than the ground floor. Brick staircases were built into the thickness of the outer
walls to allow access to the roof of the entrance hall and hence to the main
sanctuary and the entire upper story.


Most of the large, two storey temples follow this plan with a solid core and a
circumambulatory corridor on each floor. Only a very few temples were built with
three or four floors and, curiously, always appear to have only two floors when
viewed from the exterior.

3. The Temple � Specific Examples

a. The Mon TempleType - The Nagayon temple - c.1090 AD

The Nagayon temple, built by King Kyanzittha about 1090 AD, is a good example of
the Mon temple type.

It is a single storey structure consisting of an entrance hall and a square,
central shrine that are connected by a circumambulatory corridor which passes in
front of and completely surrounds the inner shrine. The roof slopes upwards to
three broad terraces that are surmounted by a convex shikhara tower, crowned by a
stupa. Smaller shikharas and stupas stand on the terrace corners.

The Nagayon, like other early temples at Pagan, has narrow window openings filled
with a dense brick lattice that allows very little light to enter. The temple or
gu was dimly lit because it was meant to resemble a mountain cave where the
religious might worship and meditate � a concept also found in India. The central
shrine contains a most unusual arrangement of three colossal images of the standing
Buddha that are made not of sandstone but of brick and stucco; they are
dramatically lit by a shafts of light entering through ducts in the roof terraces.
The use of Mon language, and not Burmese, for the captions below the wall paintings
found in these early temples led G.H. Luce and other scholars to refer to this
early temple type as �Mon� as distinct from the later �Burmese� type.

The Nagayon is a testament to King Kyanzittha's love of glazed surfaces and

sandstone. The exterior sandstone garth as well as the floors of the interior have
glazed stone paving while glazed decorative tiles outline each of the roof


Also, there are 70 large sandstone images located in niches in the entrance hall
and along both sides of the ambulatory corridor. Below the exterior entablature is
a Kirttimukha frieze of grotesque heads made of finely carved stucco. A massive
brick wall with impressive gatehouses that retain their original wooden beams
encloses the whole temple compound.

b. The Transitional Temple Type - The Ananda Temple - c. 1105 AD

The Ananda, one of the largest and most imposing of the early Pagan temples is
transitional between the Mon and the Burmese type. Built about 11l2 AD, it is the
masterwork of King Kyanzittha.

Though the Ananda is a single storey building, the external fenestration produces
an illusion that there were two storeys because the inner corridor is so tall as to
accommodate two windows one above the other. Importantly, the two levels of
superimposed windows in the exterior walls lack the lattice filling of earlier
temples and thus more light is allowed into the interior. Window-like cross
passages that cut through the interior walls between the corridors align with the
windows in the exterior wall to provide well-modulated interior light into the
innermost corridor. These cross passages also provide unexpected internal views
through the temple. This feature marks the Ananda as transitional to the slightly
later, well-lit Burmese temple type.


The cross-shaped plan centers on four shrines set back-to-back around a solid core.
Instead of the single inner sanctum of his earlier Nagayon temple, four tall niches
have been cut into the central core. Each niche is occupied by a colossal wooden
image of a Standing Buddha that measures over thirty feet in height. Two to the
four images are original and are iconographically unique in world of Theravada
Buddhist imagery. These two images stand with their hands in the gesture of
Turning the wheel of the Law or dharmachakra mudra. Other than during the reign of
King Kyansittha, this gesture is used to indicate the preaching of the first sermon
for either Gautama Buddha or Maitreya Buddha but only while they are seated.


Each of the four colossal Buddhas face one of the four pillared entrance halls
that form the arms of the Greek Cross plan. The head of each standing Buddha is
beautifully illuminated by a ray of light that shines down through a shaft from a
small false shrine located above each entrance hall. At the feet of the Standing
Buddha in the western alcove are life-size statues popularly believed to portray
the temple�s founder, King Kyanzittha, and the Buddhist Primate of Pagan, Shin


Two footprints of the Buddha (Buddhapada) carved into the top of a stone pedestal
are located in the western entrance hall. Each footprint bears the traditional 108
auspicious marks as enumerated in the Pali commentaries, although they have become
very faint today from being touched.

The Ananda is the most all-encompassing storehouse of sacred images at Pagan.

There are approximately 1,500 images on the exterior of the temple and another
1,500 on the interior. The two circumambulatory corridors provide niches for well
over 1,000 images on as many as seven levels above the floor. Its treasures
include: the four tallest standing Buddha images in Burma; on the exterior plinth,
554 green glazed terracotta plaques depicting the defeated army of the tempter Mara
together with the victorious devas; lining the roof terraces are 912 glazed green
terra-cotta Jataka plaques recounting, in a complex but precise, chronological
arrangement, scenes from the previous lives of the Buddha; and, in the interior
halls and corridors, there are niches for 1535 large sandstone images carved in
high relief that illustrate events from the historical Buddha's life.


One set of 80 carvings located in the exterior wall of the outer corridor is the
most extensive visual account in sculpture to be found anywhere in the Buddhist
world of the events in Gautama Buddha�s life from conception through enlightenment.
This comprehensive visual account is based on a Pali text, the Nidanakatha
narrative, and illustrates a number of events that are rarely depicted in Burma or
elsewhere. Fortunately, these sculptures are among the finest found at Pagan and
are among the best preserved. Since the complete series is rarely illustrated and
today the images have been crudely repaired, painted garish colors, are covered
with dust, and can be seen only through a protective wire screen, a complete set of
beautiful photographs from Duroiselle's 1913 survey is included here (see
Bibliography at end of Part 4). These photographs were taken when the images were
cleaned, unpainted and open for unobstructed view.

The temple measures 160 meters in width and 172 feet in height. On the roof of the
33 feet tall main building, with its two sloping roofs, three terraces rise to a
tall, square shikhara surmounted by a stupa capped by a hti. Small stupas or
diminutive replicas of the shikhara are placed at the corners of each of the roofs.
Double bodied lions, Manukthiha, guard each corner of the base and also appear at
the corners of the roof terraces. Glazed ceramic plaques that depict all 550
Jatakas are inset in the roof terraces .


Unfortunately, the plastered walls are today whitewashed both outside and in, thus
completely covering the original wall paintings. The enclosing compound wall with
four massive gatehouses continues the symmetrical plan of the temple and is the
only compound wall at Pagan with extensive decoration on its outer surface, in this
case, 1,000 stupas in high relief.

Several buildings are located within the walled compound of the Ananda including a
reconstructed temple interior that houses one of the finest crowned Buddha images
from the Pagan Period.


c. The Burmese Temple Type

i. The Thatbyinnu Temple 1150 - 1160 AD ?

Built late in the reign of King Alaungsithu, the Thatbyinnyu, is the most elaborate
temple of the transitional period. This enormous construction, the tallest at
Pagan, soars to 201 feet in height and its square plan enclosing four floors is the
most complex among the 3,320 structures at Pagan.


In plan, two of the four floors are contained within each of two cubic masses; the
smaller cube is set atop the larger.. Between the two cubic forms are three
terraces. Each storey contains one or more square circumambulatory corridors
forming a circuit within the building: the first, third, and fourth storeys have a
single corridor, while the second storey has two concentric corridors. On the
third story is the main sanctuary, encircled by a single corridor. The most
important innovation at Thatbyinnyu was to place the principal image in this
elevated sanctuary, rather than on the ground floor, as in all earlier temples at
Pagan. An entrance hall is located at ground level along with a corridor that
leads to porches on the three other sides and is lit by windows extending to the
ground. A grand, central staircase connecting the first two storeys is aligned with
the building�s main axis and not located in the exterior walls as in earlier
temples. The corridors on the second and fourth storeys are bare and whitewashed
(although with faint traces of wall paintings) and have no pedestals or niches for
images - a marked contrast to the nearby, but slightly earlier, Ananda temple. It
is likely that these two novel storeys are the result of an attempt to save
building materials rather than to create additional space for any ritual or
sacerdotal necessity. In later buildings, such as the Htilominlo, the two extra
storeys are enclosed and sealed within the structure. The structure on the third
storey is entered by a major, bridge-like staircase, which rises from the flat roof
of the main entrance hall. In the main sanctuary on this floor, the principal
image seated in this wide central chamber is bathed in natural light, the tall
windows extending to the floor are completely open. The brick or stone lattices
have completely disappeared. Sets of stairs within the walls of the sanctuary lead
to the fourth storey and then to the tiered roof. Small bell shaped stupas on
cube-shaped bases occupy the corners of the many receding roof terraces. The
temple is crowned by a relatively small, square shikhara terminating in a bell-
shaped stupa, an arrangement that creates an explosive visual tension with the
burgeoning cubic masses below.

The limited use of plaster ornament on the exterior as well as the empty niches
provided for Jataka plaques may indicate that the temple was never fully completed.
A rare feature located just southeast of the temple entrance is a pair of finely
carved stone pillars once used to support a huge bell.

Slide: Thatbyinnu Temple, Stone Bell Pillars - to be added Spring 2003

ii. The Htilominlo Temple c. 1211 AD

The Htilominlo is an excellent example of one of several late Pagan temple types.
It was built about 1211 by King Nantaungmya, known popularly as Htilominlo ('as the
umbrella willed, so the king, he became'). The Htilominlo is a larger version of
the Sulamani Temple built by his father, Narapatisithu, who reigned 1173-1210 AD.
Its outward appearance is similar to that of the Thatbyinnyu: two cubic masonry
masses, one set atop the other, with an entrance hall projecting slightly towards
the east. However, the temple differs in several significant ways. Only the first
and third storeys were designed to be accessible to the public: the second and
fourth storeys were sealed within the mass of the temple. Although completely
empty today, the sealed corridors were originally filled with images and votive
plaques, enabling the donors to make merit and simultaneously to increase the
sanctity of the temple. The main staircase does not follow a medial path as in the
Thatbyinnu because this would have necessitated entering the closed second floor.
Instead, the stairs to the upper floor are located within the width of the external
walls as in earlier temples.


A large image of the Buddha is situated on the ground floor, set against the
central block at the back of a small shrine. This image, although recently painted
and restored, is one of the few extant and intact 12th-14th century images that is
made of brick and stucco rather than sandstone and, even in its 'restored' state,
conveys some of the grandeur of images made by this technique.


Almost every brick-and-stucco image at Pagan has been destroyed by vandals in their
attempts to obtain the contents of the small deposit boxes located in the throne,
and behind the neck and navel. Much of this vandalism was carried out in ancient
times when the Pagan area was a scene of military conflict and individuals were in
search of relics to insert in new images and foundations..


The entrance hall of the main sanctuary on the upper ('third�) storey is reached by
a bridge-like exterior stairway that reaches from the flat roof of the entrance
hall to the second floor sanctuary and in form is similar to that used at the
Thatbyinnyu. The upper terraces slope more steeply, and the shikhara - albeit
restored - is proportionately taller than in the Thatbyinnyu. The stucco
decoration on the exterior is among the most finely executed at Pagan and is
highlighted with small green and yellow glazed ceramic plaques.

d. The Hindu Temple Type

The Nathlaungkyaung is the only Hindu temple at Pagan and except for the exterior
terrace (Mandapa dance platform?) that extends across the front of the temple and
the Hindu images within, it is in plan, structure, and material identical to the
early Mon temple type. Although the temple was dedicated to Vishnu and there are
separate niches for each of his 10 avatars within, a large image of Shiva was found
in the temple when it was cleared of debris. The outer wall of this temple has
completely collapsed so that today the inner wall of the circumambulatory corridor
is exposed and appears as if it were the original exterior wall.



The monasteries at Pagan can be categorized into two major types: the most common
type consists of a single, enclosed, two-storey brick building with a timber
pavilion for preaching and assembly attached to one exterior wall; the second type
is also made of brick and consists of many small, single-cell rooms that surround
and open into a rectangular courtyard. Entry is through a hall at one end that is
directly opposite the main shrine at the other.

The first type is usually found within the compounds of major temples or stupas.
Interestingly, the main shrine is located outside in the center of the main fa�ade
of the building under the timber pavilion. A central block containing a library -
sacristry occupied the center of the first floor around which there was a
circumambulatory corridor with doors opening to the timber pavilion and to the
outside. The second floor was reached by stairs built into the thickness of a
sidewall and usually consisted of a central room ringed by a hallway. A second
staircase led to the flat terraced roof.

The external pavilion, usually located on the east side of the building, was
constructed of wood, and consequently, none have survived till today. These
pavilions are clearly evidenced, hhowever, by their stone foundations and by the
imprint their triple roofs left in the plaster facade of the brick monastery


The second type of multi-cell monastery is quite similar to earlier monasteries

built in India at Nalanda, Ratnagiri, and Mainamati and are referred to in Burma as
kala kyaung or Indian monasteries. This monastery type often had two-storeys and
the main shrine may be enhanced with a circumambulatory corridor.


Or, the central courtyard was roofed over allowing access to the multiple cells
through the corridor.

Slide: Monastery with open courtyard UX 96

The extremely dry conditions at Pagan allowed for the �Indian� type of monastery to
be dug out underground. A rectangular courtyard was cut directly into the soil and
provided with a staircase connecting ground level and the bottom of the courtyard.
Monk�s cells with connecting tunnels were then cut into the vertical walls of the
open courtyard. At times a well was dug in the courtyard.

Slide: Subterranean Monastery, Kyansittha Umin II - to be added Spring 2003

Large monastic complexes began to appear at Pagan after the 13th century that
consisted of many separate buildings usually located within two concentric compound
walls. Within such a double enclosure may be a temple, a stupa, a multiple-cell
monastery building, an Indian brick monastery with timber "teaching" pavilion, a
school, an ordination hall, hostels for students, a residence for a head monk, and
an inscription shed.


Chapter III The Pagan Period: Burma's Classic Age - 11th To 14th Centuries

Part 4


1. General Introduction

The buildings still standing at Pagan are impressive, not only in their numbers but
also in their architectural techniques, size, decoration, and creative floor plans.
This leads logically to an expectation that there would also be a vast number of
extant images since each temple would have had at least one major cult image and no
doubt several secondary images. Surely, there would have been also an abundance of
small images for personal use in household shrines during a prosperous period of
more than two hundred years. Alas, that is not the case. Other than images that
have remained within the temples, there are relatively few images extant from the
Pagan Period numbering in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

This situation is explained in part by the fact that the major image(s) in most
temples were made of brick and stucco and, over time, all of these images were
gutted by vandals while seeking the contents of the small deposit boxes that were
placed behind the neck and navel. If this explanation accounts for the brick and
stucco images, why then are there so few images of stone or metal? (Sandstone was
primarily used for secondary images placed in temple niches for only a short period
during the late11th & early 12th centuries and was then abandoned.) Why there are
so few metal images remains a mystery.

2. A Thematic Discussion of Iconography and Meaning

a. The Enlightened Buddha

One of the peculiarities of Buddhist sculpture is that the most important event in
the Buddha�s life from the point of view of mankind is not the event most
frequently represented in sculpture. Depiction of the Buddha's personal
enlightenment vastly outnumber representations of all other events in his life
including that of his first sermon in which he shared his recently discovered
knowledge with all humankind. The multiple images of the Buddha in Burmese art are
excellent examples of this peculiarity in which the Buddha is most frequently shown
seated with legs folded; left hand in his lap, palm upward; right hand on his shin,
palm inward with fingers pointing toward the earth (bhumisparsa mudra). This hand
gesture is symbolic of his overcoming the last obstacle to enlightenment, self-
doubt. After years of asceticism and many days� meditation under the Bodhi tree,
the Buddha began to doubt that his past lives had been sufficiently perfect to
warrant attaining enlightenment. This was because he believed in rebirth - a belief
that the soul, like energy, cannot be created or destroyed, but instead experiences
changes only from one form to another. Therefore, the Buddha, like all mankind,
had innumerable past lives, all of which would have had to have been lived to
perfection if the Buddha was to achieve Nirvana. His difficulty lay in the fact
that, like other mortals, he could not remember all his actions in all his former
lives. Therefore, he could not be absolutely sure that enlightenment was eminent.
By placing his hand on his shin and pointing towards the earth, he summoned the
Earth Goddess to come to his assistance. Since in his former lives, the Buddha had
participated in the common practice of pouring water on the ground to witness each
of his meritorious acts, the Earth Goddess was able to wring a "tidal wave" of
water from her hair that had accumulated over the Buddha's many previous lifetimes
which was proof of his steadfastness and perfection. The Earth Goddess (Vasundari -
Pali or Wathundaye - Burmese) is presented as a woman wringing water from the
tresses of her hair, which constitutes one of the rare instances where women played
an important role in the Buddha's life. This role, however, was not trivial. It
was of pivotal importance because without her witness and assistance the Buddha
would not have gained enlightenment.


Since the Buddha's complete enlightenment occurred immediately after "Calling the
Earth Goddess to Witness" and since enlightenment takes place within the body
without necessarily any outward indication, the iconographic position of "Calling
the Earth to Witness" has come to be accepted as representing the enlightenment of
the Buddha. To enhance this association, the cranial protuberance (usnisha = cosmic
consciousness or supramundane wisdom) and the enigmatic "smile of enlightenment"
were also employed.

Images of The Buddha seated in bhumisparsa mudra have been endlessly replicated in
the art of Burma and Southeast Asia because it is a reminder to all mankind that
there is a way to end human suffering. Therefore, as such, the creation of every
additional image of the Buddha is a meritorious act that improves the donor's
karma. The multiple images of this event stamped on clay votive plaques evidence
the zeal of ancient donors who at times created forty or even one hundred images of
the Buddha with a single impression of a metal mould. Because of the large number
of Buddha images, these plaques were thought to be especially efficacious in
assuring the ritual purity and power of a specific site and, therefore, were often
placed in underground chambers below the center-most point of the sanctum in a
Buddhist building.

b. The Buddha�s Two Disciples

In Burma, two devotees frequently appear at either side of the Buddha's throne and
are identified by the Burmese as his two chief disciples, Mogallana and Sariputta,
although their presence at enlightenment is not historically (i.e., canonically)
correct. At the time of enlightenment, all the Buddha's friends had abandoned him
and it was not until later that disciples came to learn his newly discovered
knowledge. The insistence of the Burmese to place these two figures at the feet of
the Buddha, from at least the 11th century onward, may be explained in part by the
Burmese belief that Buddhism was introduced into Burma during the Buddha's lifetime
by two of his disciples. This serves to strengthen Burmese ties to the purest
version of the Buddha's message � a particular concern of the Theravada Buddhists -
which is considered to have been pure and without corruption during his lifetime -
although none of the several names given to the early Buddhist missionaries to
Burma is Mogallana or Sariputta.

c. Buddhist Monks and Their Belongings

Most Burmese males are expected to join the monkhood at some time during their
lives, if only for a brief time. Boys, usually between ages 8 and 13, enter a
monastery as a novice after their ceremonial induction or Shinbyu. The entire
community is invited to this ceremony, which re-enacts the various stages in the
Buddha's life up until the "The Great Renunciation" when the Buddha adopted the
restricted regimen of an ascetic (=monk). Ordained Buddhist monks are invited to
perform the induction ceremony for a novice and receive gifts of the few
necessities allowed them by canonical law. The rules and regulations under which
the novice and the monks must live are contained in the Tripitika, excerpts from
which are recorded within the Kamawasa, an especially ornate form of Burmese
Buddhist manuscript that is produced for use during a Shin Byu ceremony. A new
Kamawasa is presented by each novice and is then used to instruct the fledgling
novice how to read aloud the Pali language of the Tripitika text, which is a
required part of the induction ceremony. The manuscript is then donated to the
monastery by the novitiate and his family.

Buddhist monks, as part of their vows, renounce the things of this world including
all personal property. The monastery loans each monk their few personal belongings
that often vary according to sect and country. In Burma the permitted items are an
alms bowl with cover and carrier; three cotton robes (untailored, simple rectangles
of cloth), a belt, sandals, a fan, a staff, a rosary, a razor, and a drinking cup.
Two sheets, Towels, toothbrush, toothpaste, and simple herbal medicines are also
allowed. A monk may travel and carry all these items on his person. This can be
seen in sculptures such as those of the Burmese monk, Shin Thiwali, who is the
Burmese patron saint of travel. His image within the home is also thought to
prevent domestic fires and theft.

In Burma an acceptable, but non-canonical, item a monk may possess is a betel nut
canister, because the chewing of betel is considered to be medicinal and health
promoting and monks are allowed a few, select herbal remedies.


Monks spend all of their time in religious pursuits and therefore do not work at
mundane tasks. They exist entirely on the donations of the laity and leave the
monastery each morning at dawn to collect donated food in their alms bowls. Since
the laity views these donations as a means to make merit to improve their own
karma, on ceremonial occasions monks are invited to ritually receive large amounts
of food. Large, ornate alms bowls are used for this ritual presentation of food
by the laity to the monks.

When worn out, all items are returned to the head monk for disposal and discarded
monk's robes may be used as the foundation from which to make the pages of a
Kamawasa manuscript.


d. Religious Manuscripts and Books

Ancient Buddhist books were written in the Buddhist language, Pali, (or possibly
Sanskrit) on specially prepared fronds that had been picked from the talipot palm.
This produced nearly illegible engraved lines that were then made distinct by
rubbing each engraved leaf with soot and oil. The leaves were then arranged on a
short wooden rod or peg that passed through a small hole in each page. The bundle
of pages was then placed between two wooden covers, often bound with a cord, and
inserted in a cloth envelope. The long, rectangular shape of the palm leaves
determined the shape of a Buddhist book whose proportions are inverse to those of
western books: Buddhist books are much broader than tall, whereas western books are
usually more tall than broad. The format of a manuscript made of palm leaves was
retained when the Kamawasa was created by the Burmese from cloth, lacquer, and gold

The Shan peoples in northeast Burma created religious books from a paper made from
the cambium of the mulberry shrub. Although made of paper that is concertina
folded, the form of these books conforms to that of a stout palm leaf manuscript.
Each accordion folded page is read in succession on one side of the single sheet
and then the book is inverted in order to read the succession of folds on the
opposite side.


All types of books when not being used were kept in wooden chests to prevent damage
from insects, mold, humidity, and light and consequently were among the most valued
objects within a monastery.


e. Creatures of the Himavanta Forest

In Buddhist cosmology, the thirty-three most powerful gods of Hinduism and Buddhism
live on the highest peak of Mt. Meru. Mythical creatures inhabit the Himavanta
Forest that grows on the lower slopes of Mount Meru. When these powerful beings
enter the world of man, they are usually benevolent, if treated properly. These
creatures include the Chinthe, a leonine creature with flaming mane and body, who
is a guardian of Buddhism, and today is the national symbol of Burma. Chinthes are
ubiquitous in Burmese art and often appear in pairs as guardians on either side of
the entrance to a Buddhist temple or stupa.


The Manukthiha is a uniquely Burmese creation that consists of the bodies of two
lions with a single head. Often, in late examples, the torso and head is that of a
human, not a lion

Slide: Manukthiha from Shwedagon Stupa, 20th century - to be added Spring 2003

Another composite creature type that combines human with avian characteristics is
the Kinnara (male) or Kinnari (female) who appear frequently in adoring pairs and
are considered the "love birds" of the Himavanta Forest. It is these creatures that
are used to adorn the walls of temples as well as the pulleys that are attached to
Burmese looms, which are frequently operated by unmarried girls whose thoughts,
when not on weaving, often turn to thoughts of love and their future family.
Excellence in weaving is considered a desirable characteristic to attract a


An inhabitant of the forest with a normal anatomy is the Hamsa (Hintha - Pali) or
brahmani duck, which symbolizes marital fidelity, since this species has a single
mate for life. Hamsas hold a branch of fructifying foliage in their beak as a
symbol of prosperity and fertility .


3. Examples of Buddhist Sculpture

a. Stone and Metal Images

Stone and metal images in Burma most often depict the Buddha seated with legs
crossed on a stylized lotus throne with both soles of the feet visible (=
padmasana). The right hand, palm inward, points downward across the middle shin and
the left hand, palm upward, rests in the lap (bhumisparsa mudra). Depictions of the
Buddha in this position first begin to predominate during the Pagan Period, a trend
that has continued to the present day.


There are, however, a few images that show the Buddha in other body positions - as
dictated by the event being depicted - such a standing, walking or lying down.
These body positions are most frequently used when depicting the Eight Great Events
of the Buddha�s life or the events of the Seven Weeks after Enlightenment, in which
there was a particular interest during the Pagan Period.

The convention used at Pagan to indicate walking is of interest because it does not
show the body or feet in motion (as later, in Thai art). Instead, body movement is
shown by having the Buddha�s robe swing asymmetrically to one side or by placing
one of the Buddha�s feet at a slightly higher elevation than the other.

There are at least two styles of sculpture that date to the Pagan Period.

One style best evidenced by the early stone images found in Mon temples is derived
from the Pala style of Bihar and Bengal of the 8th to 10thcenturies. This style
juxtaposes the bold, smoothly modeled forms of the human body against precisely
detailed ornamentation � often of a throne backing. The body is full and plump
without any indication of the muscle groupings or bones within the body. The
shoulders are broad and round while tapering to a relatively narrow waist. In
standing images the thighs appear as effeminately full and round, a visual
expression of the canonical dictate that the Buddha should have thighs that
resemble the buds of a lotus flower. The head has sharply defined features and may
be triangular to oval with a pointed chin and flat cranium. The hair is
represented by small, snail shell curls. The cranial protuberance or usnisha , sits
well back on the head, is relatively small and may terminate in a small flame-like
finial. The eyes are half closed and look downward (rather than directly at the
worshiper, as is frequently the case with Buddha images in Thailand). The long,
aquiline nose is almost continuous with the broadly arched eyebrows. The mouth is
small and pursed, with the upper lip often slightly protruding. The ears are long,
do not touch the shoulders, and appear concave when viewed frontally. The neck is
of normal length and often has three semi-circular lines or wrinkles considered to
be beauty marks. The fingers are of normal length. The monastic robes, consisting
of two parts, clings to the body and is almost invisible except for the hems that
are lightly incised across the chest and are more boldly indicated around the
wrists and shins. A third robe, folded into a rectangle and draped across the
shoulder terminates, in fish tail folds. This Pala style image is generally
replaced by the middle of the Pagan Period by a Burmese Style of image, and is
revived in later periods only when there is a conscious desire to imitate the
classic age of Pagan.


The second style is evidenced at Pagan by number of seated Buddha images that
typically have a more corpulent body, a head that is tilted forward with a short-
to-non-existent neck, long earlobes that may touch the shoulders, and fingers of
uniform length. This style becomes part of the mainstream of Burmese art and
examples frequently occur during later periods.

Among the objects unearthed among the temples at Pagan are three
elegant bronze lotus buds held upright on elaborately decorative stems. The eight
petals of each open outward to reveal a seated Buddha, a stupa or a shikhakra
temple at its center. On the inside of each petal is depicted one of the Eight
Great Events in Buddha's life. Similar lotuses have been found in Nepal and Tibet
and all were probably used ritually on a temple altar.


The finest caving that has survived from the Pagan Period is found on a series of
over forty-seven miniature stone plaques that are carved from a fine-grained
steatite (andagu � Burmese). These carvings most often represent the Eight Great
Events of the Buddha�s life with the Enlightenment being placed in the center. A
particularly Burmese sub-set of these plaques includes in an inner band of small
images representing the events of the Seven Weeks after Enlightenment. At times,
the central Buddha image is shown wearing a crown.


b. Wood Sculpture

A wooden image depicting the Buddha�s decent from Tavatimsa Heaven, where he had
gone to preach the Four Noble Truths to his mother, is remarkable for a number of
reasons: the subject is not often presented as an independent image, it is one of
the few wooden sculptures to have survived until today, and it is well composed and
sensitively modeled.


Unusually, The Buddha is shown standing in the elegant thrice-bent stance of

tribhanga. Sections of the jeweled tripartite ladder can be seen above his shoulder
and behind his feet. The two Hindu gods that accompany him are: Brahma with three
of his four heads visible holding an umbrella over the Buddha�s head while Vishnu
carries the Buddha�s alms bowl. The small figure seen kneeling at the Buddha�s feet
may represent King Udayana who, according to some versions of The Descent, had a
sandalwood likeness of the Buddha created when he left this world for Tavatimsa
Heaven. King Udayana brought the image with him when he came to receive the Buddha
at his descent, an indication that the Buddha had not been forgotten during his
absence. If this account is true, King Udayana would have been responsible for
creating the first image of the Buddha. (Images of the Buddha were not produced in
abundance until the 1st century AD.) Unfortunately, the hands and anything they
may have held is now missing from this sculpture.

c. Votive Tablets

The most numerous and, perhaps, the most intimate objects from the Pagan period are
the clay votive tablets that were stamped out and signed by many kings and nobles.
The creation of these tablets, each displaying at least one image of the Buddha and
some including over 100 images, was thought to produce good merit for its maker.
The incentive for their creation is not in doubt, like so much concerning the Pagan
Period, because many donors wrote and signed their intentions on the back of the
tablet. King Anawratha�s tablets state that �This Buddha was made, with his own
hands, by Sri Maharaja Aniruddhadeva, with the object of emancipation [i.e. gaining
Nirvanna]�. Anawratha�s tablets had his tablets inserted into religious
foundations throughout his kingdom.

The face of the tablet often displays a Buddha in bhumisparsa mudra seated within a
temple that is similar to the one constructed at Bodhgaya, India, where the Buddha
achieved enlightenment. Two lines of Sanskrit in North Indian characters of the
10th to 11th centuries is often imprinted below the Buddha images. This is a
statement of the Buddhist creed in its most compressed and basic form: �The Buddha
hath the causes told, Of all things springing from causes, And also how things
cease to be, Tis this the Mighty Monk proclaims�.

Although the use of votive tablets at Pagan continued a tradition that

originated in India and some tablets found in the two countries are identical, it
is clear that votive plaques were created at Pagan because bronze and clay molds
have been discovered there. Also, the Pagan donors signed many of the plaques in


5. Painting

a. Wall Paintings

The interior decoration of Pagan temples consisted almost entirely of wall

paintings that covered the ceiling vaults as well as all of the interior walls.
Painted designs were fitted into a framework of architectural moldings that could
be executed three-dimensionally in stucco or two-dimensionally in trompe l�oeil
painting. More than 387 Pagan Period temples preserve some trace of their once
colorful interiors.


The walls were first prepared with several coatings of fine mud or stucco that were
let thoroughly dry before receiving the multi-colored hues produced from natural
colorants. Scenes were created from preliminary drawings whereas stencils were
probably used for motifs that were repeated.

The program of paintings within a temple usually included a Bodhi tree

realistically painted above the brick and stucco image of the Buddha that served to
frame and emphasize this central feature. On the wall on either side of the three-
dimensional Buddha image were painted images of the Buddha�s attendants and
disciples, often Mogallana and Sariputta. A frieze encircling the remaining three
walls of the major shrine might be composed of large tear-shaped Bodhi leaves or
kirtthimukha masks. Below this often appear images of the Twenty-eight Buddhas of
the Past, while lower down are painted scenes of the Buddhas life, usually the
Eight Great Events. Elsewhere within the temple, often on the walls of the entrance
hall, appear small squares each representing one of the 550 former lives of the
Buddha referred to as Jataka Tales. Below each square the chapter number and name
of each Jataka was written in Mon or Old Burmese so that each scene is easily
identified. The decorative programs in a few temples include scenes from the
history of Buddhism, the Buddha�s footprints and horoscope, or a Buddhist
cosmological map. The ceiling vaults were most often covered with small, identical,
endlessly repeated motifs of small seated Buddhas, a motif known as The Thousand

b. Paintings on Cloth

Paintings on cloth from the Pagan Period were unknown until in 1984 when a fragment
was found wrapped around the arm of a stucco figure in temple number 315.
Eventually, with expert restoration, some 30 fragments have been identified as
belonging to the same painting that depicts a Jataka tale in long horizontal
registers that include captions. The style of painting is exactly the same as the
wall paintings found in the Lokateikpan and the Myinkaba-Kubyaukgyi and therefore
can be dated to around 1113 AD. Thus, this is the earliest known narrative scroll
in the Pala style in existence. All Pala style paintings in India have disappeared
due to the more demanding climate.

The style of wall paintings at Pagan was derived from the Pala style first
developed in India. A major characteristic of this style is the outlining of all
forms with a black or red line and the absence of shading and modeling when
coloring the enclosed areas.

F. Pagan Period - Conclusion

The broad art historical significance of the Pagan Period is that

Burmese forms in art and architecture were invented and broadly articulated that
were often copied in later periods. Iit is these forms that have continued as
�classic forms� until today.

Great wealth was spent during the Pagan Period not only on the construction of so
many religious foundations but also in providing for their perpetual upkeep. The
considerable lands as well human laborers donated to the temples and monasteries
escaped in perpetuity royal taxation so as the temples prospered, the state was
progressively deprived of its tax base. By the end of the 13th century, this
process seriously undermined the economy so that when the Mongols threatened to
invade from the North, the king could not mount an effective response and the
kingdom shortly thereafter broke apart into smaller polities.

U Aung Thaw, Historical Sites in Burma (Ministry of Union Culture, Rangoon, 1972,
Reprint 1978).

Michael Aung Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma, (University of Hawaii
Press, Honolulu, ,1985).

Michael Aung Thwin, "Jambudipa: Classical Burma's Camelot", Contributions to Asian

Studies, Vol, XVI (1981), pp. 38-61.

J. Paul Bennett, "The 'Fall of Pagan': Continuity and Change in 14th Century
Burma", Conference Under the Tamarind Tree: Three Essays in Burmese History, Yale
University Southeast Asia Monograph Series, no. 15 (Yale University Press, New
Haven, 1971), pp. 3-53.

Charles Duroiselle, "Stone Sculptures in the Ananda Temple at Pagan",

Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report, Delhi, 1913 - 1914, pp. 63 - 67.

Charles Duroiselle, "The Ananda Temple at Pagan", Memoire of the Archaeological

Survey of India, No. 56, (1931).

D.G.E. Hall, Burma, 3rd edition (London, Hutchinson's University Library, 1960).

Frederick K. Lehman, "Monasteries, Palaces and Ambiguities: Burmese Sacred and

Secular Space", Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. XXI/I (1987), pp.169-86.

U Lu Pe Win, Pictorial Guide to Pagan (Ministry of Union Culture, Rangoon, 1955.

Reprinted 1975).

G.H. Luce, "The Greater Temples of Pagan", Journal of the Burma Research. Society,
Vol. VIII/3 (1918), pp. 189-98. Reprinted in Fiftieth Anniversary Publication,
Vol 2 (Rangoon, 960), pp189-198.

G.H. Luce, "The Smaller Temples of Pagan", Journal of the Burma Research Society,
Vol. X/2 (1920), pp. 41- 8. Reprinted Fiftieth Anniversary Publication, Vol. 2
(Rangoon, 1960), pp.179-190.

G.H. Luce, Old Burma, Early Pagan, 3 vols (Locust Valley, NY, 1969-1970) [Artibus
Asiae Supplementum No. 25; contains comprehensive bibliography till 1969]

Pratapaditya Pal, "Fragmentary Cloth Paintings From Early Pagan And Their Relations
with Indo-Tibetan Traditions", in Donald M. Stadtner, ed., The Art of Burma New
Studies ( Marg Publications, Mumbai, 1999), pp. 79-88.

Pierre Pichard, Inventory of Monuments at Pagan, Vols. I �VII (Kiscadale

Publications, Gartmore, 1993).

Pierre Pichard, The Pentagonal Monuments of Pagan (White Lotus, Bangkok, 1991).

Paul Strachan, Pagan: Art and Architecture of Old Burma (Kiscadale, Arran,
Scotland, 1989).

The Post Pagan Period - 14th To 20th Centuries

Part 1
A. Introduction and History

The decline of Pagan as a political center in the 13th century led to almost three
centuries of internecine warfare and internal division. The former Pagan kingdom
was repeatedly divided among rivals and only rarely was central Burma administered
from a single center. Several competing kingdoms arose, ruled for relatively short
periods to be eclipsed by their adversaries who typically plundered the capitol,
destroyed religious buildings, burned written records, and led the population away
as captives to the new center of power. Additionally, severe earthquakes damaged or
destroyed the few buildings left standing, particularly during the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. Therefore, a great abundance of visual material has not
survived from the 14th through 18th centuries.

From the materials available, it is apparent that after the 13th century most forms
in art and architecture continued those of the Pagan Period rather than expressing
new approaches and concepts. Indianized forms fell from favor and continued to be
replaced by those of indigenous Burmese inspiration. The arts of the Post Pagan
period express nostalgia for the glory of the Pagan. The Shweizigon stupa and the
Ananda temple were copied in creating new capitols as a means of validating the
aspiring king�s claim to the throne. Also, kings from distant kingdoms returned to
Pagan to refurbish ancient structures, to complete wall paintings or, occasionally,
to build new buildings. Many new stupas were built and ancient, revered examples
were enlarged and repaired. Temples, however, became a conscious anachronism. On
the few temples that were constructed, a stupa-like finial or a multi-tiered,
square pavilion, the Burmese payattat, replaced the shikhara tower often seen on
the great temples at Pagan.

Burmese art history after the Pagan Period has traditionally been divided into
segments that employ the name of the then dominant kingdom such as the Pinya Period
(14th century), the First Ava Period (15th century), the Toungoo and second Ava
Periods (16th century), the Nyaungyan Period (17th century) and the Konbaung Period
(18th to 19th centuries). These divisions are not particularly useful in discussing
the arts because styles often continued unchanged from one period to another,
several styles were produced simultaneously, and innovations were not necessarily
repeated, even during the era of their initiation. Therefore, this review of the
development of Burmese arts after the Pagan Period will be divided into two long
periods in which various innovations will be discussed chronologically: The Ava
Period (c. 1287-1752) and the Konbaung Period (1752-1885)

B. The Ava Period c. 1287 �1752 AD


The city of Ava was established in 1364 at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and the
Myitnge rivers, a site of considerable economic importance because it was the
gateway to the vast irrigated rice fields of Kyaukse that lay south of the
Irrawaddy and were drained by the Myitnge. Kyaukse had been first settled and
developed by the Burmese prior to the Pagan Period. Since it was the economic base
for upper Burma as well as the Burmese homeland, control of this area was of
particular concern to the Burmese kings. Consequently, many of the post Pagan
capitols in Upper Burma were located in this area on either side of the major
westward bend of the Irrawaddy. Importantly, the Sagaign hills, just northwest of
the bend, became an important location for monastic communities, a great center of
Buddhist learning that also offered the possibility of sanctuary to townsmen in
case of attack.

Ava did not officially become a capitol of the Burmese kingdom until1636 and it was
not until the period between 1597 and 1626 that it controlled the major part of
Burma. None the less, the capitol was repeatedly established there and until modern
times Burma was often referred to by the outside world as Ava. Its official name
was Ratanapura, the City of Gems, and several foreign visitors have written of its
wealth and splendor. Ava was almost completely destroyed by earthquake in 1838, and
was finally abandoned in 1841 when King Shwebo Min moved the capitol a short
distance east to Amarapura.


2. The City Plan of Ava

The city of Ava was established on an island that was created by connecting the
Irrawaddy on the north and the Myitnge on the east with a canal on the south and
the west. The brick fortifications of Ava do not follow the conventions of the
earlier rectilinear city plans. Instead, the zigzagged outer walls are popularly
thought to outline the figure of a seated lion. The inner enclosure or citadel was
laid out according to traditional cosmological principles and provided the
requisite twelve gates. The inner city was reconstructed on at least three
occasions in 1597, 1763, and 1832.


3. Architecture

Buildings constructed during the Ava Period perpetuate the "Burmese" types of
stupa, temple, and monastery that had evolved at Pagan. However, in comparison to
the interest in building and renovating stupas, very few temples were erected.

a. Temples

There is little that remains of any monuments from the early Ava Period.

One of the few structures that still stand within the walls of Ava is the Leidatgyi
temple that dates from the seventeenth century. Although it was severely damaged by
an earthquake in 1839, it is obvious from its double fenestration, radial vaulting,
the design of its elaborate stucco work and the seated lions above the main portal
that it was intended to be a copy of the Ananda temple at Pagan.

Slide: Leidatgyi Temple, Ava - to be added Spring 2003

b. Stupas

Many large stupas were regularly built during the Ava Period although large temples
seem to have fallen from favor. Also, older revered stupas were often repeatedly
enlarged and reconstructed. Among them is the Htilainshin Stupa in Ava that was
built by the great Pagan King Kyanzittha although its present shape is the
cumulative result of many later repairs and additions. Renovation and refurbishment
became so widespread at this time that the most revered stupas in Burma were
transformed into their present shape, even if the outer surfaces have been more
recently reworked. This includes the Shwedagon in Rangoon, the Shwesandaw in Prome
and the Shwemawdaw in Pegu.


Stupas during the Ava Period continued the Pagan model although there were changes
in proportion and detail as well as the occasional innovation. The pervasive trend
was to merge the separate elements of the Pagan model into a continuous conical
profile. This was accomplished by multiplying the number of small stepped tiers
between the ground and the base of the bell and by giving an inclined outline to
the lower terraces. This change became so pervasive that in more recent stupas the
shoulder of the bell and its concave face were suborned to the overall conical

The Htupayon Stupa in Sagaing, begun in approximately 1460 but never finished,
retains the bell-shaped dome of the Pagan period. The rows of niches, however, that
occur in all three of its circular terraces are an innovation.

Although the Kaunghmudaw Stupa was created in 1636 to commemorate the establishment
of Ava as the royal capitol, it is located across the Irrawaddy from the city,
about six miles northwest of Sagaing. One of the largest and most unusual stupas to
be built during the Ava Period, its broad, hemispherical, lotus bud-like dome set
upon three, circular terraces is a copy of the famous Mahaceti Stupa in Sri Lanka.
The huge dome measures 151 feet in height and 900 feet in circumference. Only the
lowest terrace of the stupa has niches and each of these was filled with one of 120
images of spirits (nats) or gods (devas). Another innovation is found in the ring
of 812 stone pillars, measuring five feet high, that encircle the base, each having
a niche to hold an oil lamp. In late October lamps are placed in each column for
the annual Thadingyut Light Festival that marks the end of Buddhist lent.


c. Monasteries

The Pagan monastery types constructed of brick and stucco were not continued after
the fourteenth century. Although there are numerous written records recording the
construction of wooden monasteries during the Ava Period, little remains today of
these early structures that were built of perishable materials.

4. Sculpture

a. The Ava Style Image

During the Ava Period there were fewer contacts with India and consequently several
particularly Burmese image styles evolved. The typical Ava image was made of marble
and was carved completely in the round. The stele backing so often used at Pagan is
rarely seen. The full and fleshy body is seated on a lotus throne with legs
entwined in the lotus position with the right hand calling the earth to witness
(bhumisparsa mudra). The squarish head has full cheeks and a fig-like finial above
the low usnisha. The ears curve slightly outward and stretch down to touch the
shoulder. A small, thin lipped, puckered mouth is situated just below the long,
broad nose. The eyebrows arch dramatically upward approximating a semi-circle that
may be incised and painted. The half-closed eyes look down instead of outward and
in some images the features seem extremely child-like. This curious countenance is
explained by the Burmese as a way of indicating that the Buddha manifested the
purity of an infant. The fingers and toes are most often all the same length.
Supporting props of marble may appear between the thumb and the index finger of the
same hand or under the hand or wrist.


b. The Jambupati Image

According to accepted Theravada Buddhist practice, images of Gautama Buddha appear

clothed in unadorned monk�s robes with his hair in small curls and his body devoid
of jewelry. The continuity of this visual convention is emblematic of his
renunciation of this would of desire and is a reminder of his having sacrificed his
material heritage as a crown prince.
In marked contrast to this strong tradition, there is a cultist convention in
Southeast Asia, which depicts the Buddha in lavish royal attire and is known as
Jambupati Buddha. One possible explanation for this convention derives from the
meeting of the Buddha with King Jambupati. The haughty King Jambupati lived during
the time of the Buddha and with his boundless power, he terrorized the world. The
Buddha requested that Jambupati forsake evil and practice kindness, but Jambupati
was not moved. Realizing the king�s total reluctance, the Buddha magically appeared
in resplendent royal raiment that so awed Jambupati that he accepted the Buddhist
precepts. In Southeast Asian countries like Burma, where rulers have very high if
not semi-divine status, tales of this type justify the need for the king to worship
the Buddha, the King of Kings.


5. Painting

Ava Paintings continued the major religious themes and subject matter of the Pagan
Period while the settings were given a local context that included contemporary
Burmese architecture, dress, hair-styles, and jewelry as well as local flora and
fauna. Scenes from everyday life included not only court life and palace scenes but
commoners involved in daily activities such as fishing, plowing or making ceramic

There was a change in format away from small, neatly divided panels to long
registers that allowed for the inclusion of more figures, particularly of
subordinate characters or figures unrelated to the narrative. The last ten Jatakas
were most favored and were presented more completely in great detail, at times a
single Jataka covering an entire wall.


New pigments were introduced such as bright reds, yellows, blues but especially
turquoise that produced richer more vivid paintings as seen in the Tilawkaguru
Meditation caves (1672) in Sagaing and the Ananda Brick Monastery (Ananda Ot
Kyaung) and the U Pali Ordination Hall (Thein) in Pagan.