Myanmar Arts

10 Myanmar Traditional Arts

There are 10 Myanmar traditional arts which are metaphorically called "Ten Flowers".

Besides the above arts there are

as Myanmar traditional arts.

Panbe ( the art of blacksmith )

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The art of Panbe ( black smith ) is the tempering of iron in the furnace to make necessary items. The artisans make ox cart axle. ox cart iron. tyre. scissors. hammer. adze. pickaxe. knife. hatchet. axe. digging hoe and mattock. The Myanmar’s traditional blacksmith craft emerged in the early of Bagan period (11th century A.D) and it had improved in the mid Bagan Ava and Yadanapon period. Myanmar’s traditional blacksmith craft. from Inlay region were famous in the Yadanapon period.Many types of blacksmith craft articles are available. such as military armour. weapons. file. pickaxe. mattock. hoe sword. etc. The Myanmar’s traditional blacksmith craft is very famous in the South East Asia and constitute one of the artistic wonders of the world.

Panbu ( the art of sculpture )

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The art of Panbu ( Sculpture ) means the one which produces figures and floral designs made of wood or ivory. The artisans make the figure of human beings and animals and floral designs. Myanmar’s traditional sculpture emerged before the Bagan period and it improved in the middle of Bagan Era. Myanmar’s sculpture base the religion of Buddhism which arrived from Southern India in the 11th century A.D.Most of the wood sculptures of Bagan and Ava periods have been lost under various circumstances and only a few are left today. One outstanding wood sculpture belonging to the Bagan period is the one at the old portal of Shwesigone pagoda at Nyaung-U. Those who want to see wood sculptures of Yatanapon (Mandalay) or latter Yadanapon periods should visit following places:
  • Shwe-inbin Monastery. Mandalay
  • Bakaya Monastery. Inwa

Myanmar’s traditional sculpture contains wood sculpture stone sculpture and plaster sculpture but more wood sculptures will be seen in many arts and crafts shops. in many cities of Myanmar. The wood sculptures are liked by many people in the world to-day.

Pantain ( the art of gold and silver smith )

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The art of Pantain ( gold or silver smith ) is an enterprise of making items of gold or silver. Silver smith is the art of making drinking bowl. receptacle bowl. prize-cup. shield and belt. Gold smith is the art of making ear-plug. ear-drops. ear-ring. with a screw-on back piece. finger-ring bracelet . Pendent and necklace. Myanmar’s traditional arts and crafts artistic creation of gold and silver wares come under the genre (ba-dain) art of making items in gold or silver. Creating silverware had been with Myanmar for the past one thousand two hundered years. and judging from the workmanship of the silverware that belong to those early years. it is indeed something for the Myanmar’s to crow about. According to the crystal palace chronicles. during the reign of King Anawrahta the relices of Buddha and the three repositories of Buddhist scriptures were brought to Bagan from Suvunna Boumi. the mon capital. along with them came mon artisans and works of mon arts and crafts. gold and silverware etc. Going further back into the past. we find Pyu silver works of art discovered from the mounts of old shrines of Sri Ksetra.

Pantin ( the art of bronze casting )

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The art of Pantin is an enterprise producing materials of copper. bronze or brass. The artisans make triangular brass gong. gong. and brass bowl for monk. weights in the shape of brainy ducks. tray. copper pot. cup bowl. cymbal. bell jingle bell and small brass gong. Myanmar’s traditional coppersmith’s craft emerged before Bagan period and it improved during Bagan and Ava period. Every pagoda in Myanmar has bells. which were struck to tell the people of good deeds done. They are triangular bells which twirl when struck and ring with a sweet rising and falling tone. which gradually fades away. Moreover there are gongs. slung from carved ivory or wood elephant trunks. which are prized as dinner gongs. Different sizes and shapes of bells. all unmistakably Burmese in design. are popular as souvenirs. So are other castings such as weights and cow bells.

Pantaut ( the art of making floral designs using masonry )

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The art of Pantaut ( stucco sculpture ) means a handicraft of making decorative floral designs in relief with stucco. The artisans make the figures of lions. dragons and floral designs with stucco. Myanmar traditional stucco carving emerged before the Bagan period and it improved in the Bagan. Ava. Amarapura and Yadanapon period. According to the historical records. Stucco works were very famous in Bagan period. Stucco works of Bagan period have detailed decorations. After Bagan we had Stucco carvings of mid-Konbaung or Amarapura period. which are very Burmese in style and very fine. The curled leaves and buds. though few. look very beautiful. The buds and flowers in bunches in the centre of the portal at U Kin-danke are unique. Menu’s brick monastery at Ava stands magnificently today with wooden pyathad durrets above it. The great building itself is a work of art to command our admiration.

Panyan ( the art of bricklaying and masonry )

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The art of Panyan ( mason ) is an enterprise which constructs the buildings using bricks. stones and cement. The masons build brick houses. Pagoda. bridges. Myanmar’s traditional masonry works enjoys world wide renown for the ancient Pagodas and other religious buildings around the Bagan region. The Myanmar’s traditional masonry of Bagan period is the highest developed of all the historical periods. Their works are remarkable for their strength. grandeur beauty of form. immensity of volume. detailed and appropriate decorations and the power to hold the spectators in awe. The masonry of mid Amarapura period is beautiful and lively but to be placed only in the second order. behind Bagan. The Myanmar’s traditional masonry have derived from the mon’s culture of Suvanna Bhumi and in the Southern Indian’s culture flun the 11th century A.D. In Fact - Masonry in Myanmar emerged since the Pyu period in the 1st century A.D.

Pantamault ( the art of sculpting with stone )

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The art of Pantamault ( stone sculpture ) is the one stones curving. The artisans make Buddha images pole for sima. pillar. leograph. elephants. deer. circular flat stone. pestle and mortar and table. Sculpture in stone is a significant feature of Myanmar fine arts. has to this day been the pride and honour of Myanmar people. There are sculpture studios or workshops in Yangon. Mandalay and other towns in the country. but the majority of studios are concentrated in Mandalay. Very fine works of art in stone are to be seen at plaques depicting the life of the Buddha at Ananda. Bagan. Flower designs in the interior of the portal at Kyawkku-U min. Naung-U Nanhpaya. Myinkapa plaques partraying the 550 Buddhist birth-stories at Puhtotawkyi. Amarapura and the great image at Kyauktawkyi. at the foot of Mandalay Hill.

Panpoot ( the art of turning designs on the lathe )

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The art of Panpoot is an enterprise to make wooden utensils turning on turners lathe. Such as making shaft of umbrella. table legs. and legs of bed and turnery posts for Pavilions and railings. Myanmar’s traditional crafts of a turner emerged in the Bagan period in the 8th century A.D. The craft of a turner is an art which is made by rubbing the woods on the turner’s lathe. Craft of a turner artists based on the traditional styles of Bagan. Ava and Yatanapon period. Besides that. Myanmar’s craft of a turner artists is very interesting. Diversity in the shape of the craft of a turner. food containers. boxes. bowls. taunglon tables. chairs etc. all makes them attractive. The Myanmar’s traditional arts and crafts owed a great deal of influence of Mon. the people of suvanna Bhumi-artists and artisans the Southern India’s culture in the early Bagan period.

Panchi ( the art of painting )

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The art of Panchi ( painting ) is the one which illustrates living animals and inanimate objects using different colours. The artists paint the figures of human beings. animals. objects. scenery designs and cartoons. Myanmar traditional painting developed with the religion of Buddhism in the Bagan Region. Thus. Bagan become a repository of ancient Myanmar traditional paintings and sculptures in the 11th century A.D. Because of Myanmar artist’s achievements. we have more paintings of Konbaung period than those of Ava. they are more colourful and lively. During Yadanapon of Mandalay period more painting was done in folding books called purapaik and on canvas than on the wall. The wall paintings at Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay were executed in later Yadanapon period. Most of these paintings have been copied and collected by the Archaeological Department. Myanmar.

Panyun ( the art of making lacquer ware )

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The art of Panyun ( Lacquerware ) means a handicraft which produces materials made of bamboo. wood and thick black varnish (sis-se). Lacquerware artisans produce alms food bowl. bowl for monk. and bowl of pickle tea. lacquer vessel. drinking cup. betel box. and cheroot box. Myanmar traditional lacquerware emerged in the early part of Bagan period. Myanmar traditional lacquer ware drawing styles derived from many stories of Buddha’s life. Burmese lacquerware is one such product. whose art goes back to the 11th century. On a framework of woven. finely cut strips of bamboo. mixtures of thit-see resin with clay and ash are carefully built-up and finally polished with the ash of fossil wood. The designs are then etched or painted by hand. The most traditional Burmese lacquerware is of a unique terracotta colour. with scenes from the jatakas. the Buddha’s former existence. etched and then filled in with green pigment. More modern designs are in deep. velvet black. with simpler figures laid on in gennine gold leaf. Many types of Burmese lacquerware articles are available. such as boxes. vases. trays. bowls and even coffee tables. Bagan. site of the architectural wonders of the East. is the home of this craft.

Pottery

About 2000 years ago the Pyu people. a Tibeto-Burman tribe settled in the upper part of Myanmar. their first capital established in Sriksetra near present day Pyay. Since the city was located near the great Ayeyarwaddy River. the economic and strategic use for migrating the pots became an important role at that time. Around the 8th century the Pyus relocated their capital north to Halin in the region of Shwebo. The making of the pots with clay and decorations were descended from such a time. The ceramic trading had been a popular and interesting deal. The Mottama harbour on the seacost. formerly known as Martaban. have been an important link in the ceramic pottery trade with the Southeast Asian countries.
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Pottery has been the earliest craft in the history of human civilization. People in the terrain area had began to make use of pots. which could be easily and cheaply produced. Although pots are fragile. these can be made use in many useful ways. Pots were not only used to store or cook food but also as burial urns to bury gold and jewelries. The remains of some old pots used during the Pyu civilizations were discovered. giving evidences that pots had been used since then. Remains were also found in Bagan and Mrauk-U regions. Today. the main pottery works in Myanmar are situated in Nwe Nyein village near Kyauk Myaung. a river-side town near Shwebo and Twante near Yangon.
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The making of Pots

Thick clay is mixed with the silt from the river to make a suitable consistency. then it is allowed to dry after which it is pounded into a fine powder. After sieving several times. the powder is allowed to seep in water for some days. After the silt has settled. the clear water is poured away and the remaining clay worked over until smooth. After that. lumps of it are rolled and given over to the potter.
Even though plastic. steel. aluminium wares are available. hand-made pottery is still very much preferred by Myanmar and still in use in the cultural traditions.

Tapestry

The art of tapestry or "Shwe Chi Hto" (gold embroidery) as we call it. is said to have originated in Myanmar about a thousand years ago. It is a form of needlework to create a variety of pictures and patterns so delicate and detailed that it requires skill. artistry and patience. It is a highly decorative embroidery that employs gold thread as its name indicates. but in fact silver and colored threads as well as other materials such as tinsel. sequins. semi-precious gems. colorful cut glass. seed pearls and beads go into the making. The earliest record of such embroidery is the Pyu Period during the reign of King Mahayaza. circa AD 800. The centre of this craft was and still is Mandalay. the long-standing hub of Myanmar culture and art. The ancient ceremonial royal raiment known as the "Maha Latta". worn from time immemorial by kings and queens is a very heavy gold-embroidered and gem encrusted robe. The Maha Latta was worn by King Thibaw and Queen Suhpayalatt. the last reigning monarchs of Myanmar. Their robes were the creation of skilled seamstresses. goldsmiths and other artisans of Mandalay. These raiment are on display at the National Museum in Yangon. The embroidery of gold thread and gems is so fine and intricate that it defies the imagination of an unskilled layman. The most outstanding artisans became court craftsmen by royal appointment. They sewed and embroidered all kinds of royal raiment for the monarch and the royal family. ministers and generals. from headgear down to footwear as well as other furnishings for the royal palace such as wall tapestry. fans. cushions. pillows and so forth.
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The national ethnic groups also favor gold embroidered garments and headgear. The ceremonial dress and headgear of the Mon. Rakhine. Shan. Palaung. Kachin. Kayah. Padaung. Akhar and many others are heavily embroidered in gold and silver thread and encrusted with silver ornaments and beads. They are really gorgeous.

It takes a lot of time. practice and perseverance to become skilled in this decorative art of embroidery. To create an artistic piece of traditional Myanmar gold thread embroidery one needs a piece of white cloth of suitable proportions that has to be stretched and tightened on a square wooden frame. Then on the rigid and smooth surface the figures or patterns desired are sketched in outline with charcoal or pencil. In ancient times the basic design were floral patterns. vines and curlicues. The sketched outlines are then stitched over with gold. silver or colored thread. This is the edging or border of the central picture of the embroidery. Then comes the ornaments that are sewed on such as silver stars. sequins. cut glass. beads and seed pearls to bring the picture to life. This part of the embroidery is called "ayoke cha gyin". which literally means "laying down the figure". Then the stitches are brushed over with glue on the underside to strengthen and prevent the threads from breaking. It also makes it easier to cut out the figures separately. The cut figures or pictures are then appliquéd on the piece of velvet or satin or silk which will form the background of the embroidery. However an opening is left through which cotton is later stuffed to make an embossed figure. Then other adornments such as sequins. beads. seed pearls and semi-precious and even precious gems are added around the figure which is the central theme of the embroidery to form a backdrop. Depending on the main figure or theme this backdrop could be a palace or a pond. a forest glade or a galaxy of stars or just patterns pleasing to the eye. Some of the more elaborate tapestries bring to life tales from the Jatakas. tales of velour and historic events. Sometimes a color painting or a patchwork of colored velvet is worked into the picture. Whatever it may be. it certainly requires great skill and artistry. The gem studded embroidery has to also call upon the work of gold and silver smiths. So a picturesque Myanmar tapestry is hardly the work of a single craftsman but a cooperative effort.

The patterns and names given to the small colored cut glass are equally fascinating. Some of them are called Diamond Dome. Rhomboid. Emerald Square and Banyan leaf. The sequins used in the embroidery for royal wear was made of genuine gold or silver and the artisans who made them lived in their own colony known as "Kyaikhat Win" as their descendants still do today. The ward where the gold embroidery is famous for is still known as "Shwechi Hto" ward to this day.

In creating gold embroidery. the size. color. designs and patterns as well as the materials to be used depend on the object it is intended for. and in the days of the monarchy the place or person intended for.

A whole range of objects was adorned with gold and silver tapestries including monasteries and palaces. Some tapestries were used to adorn the ceiling of a shrine hall or used as room dividers and wall hangings in monasteries in palaces. Sometimes an entire wall would be hung with heavy tapestry. Other smaller objects such as fans were edged with gold embroidery. Then there were cushions and pillows and even palm leaf manuscripts that were ornamented with delicate gold embroidery. Royal crowns and coronets. headdresses and turbans. cuffs and sashes were embroidered with suitable insignia of rank and royalty. Other apparel for royalty were embroidered with pure gold thread and gems right down to the footwear. The harnesses and saddles of elephants and horses were also decorated with such embroidery for auspicious and ceremonial occasions.

The traditional designs and patterns were usually based on the Jataka tales and historic events or were depictions of celestial bodies and nature at different seasons of the year. There were also animals from elephants and lions to birds. Nowadays. Myanmar tapestry has become an attraction for tourists from abroad and there is a wide range of objects in gold embroidery. The traditional tapestries are still available but there are many eye-catching novelties like clutch purses. handbags. cushion covers and even baseball caps. But the basic figures and illustrations and the techniques remain about the same. Because of the huge popularity of Myanmar gold embroidered articles the previously small cottage industry has now spread to Yangon and other places. This has opened up employment opportunities for women with a skill and talent for needlework.

Mosaic

Myanmar mosaic art was off to a good start by the time of the Bagan period. as scholars and researchers. now testify. Historians also agree. This noble art is seen mainly on royal and religious items and buildings. But sometimes mosaic is also used in artifacts and household objects of the common lay people to achieve a new sense of beauty and splendor. In this art there are four main disciplines on which the workmanship is based. The four types are Knut (flower style). Kapi (monkey shape). gaza (elephant base) and nari (femininity). These four basics also apply to Myanmar painting and drawing. The materials have shining glorious colors mostly embedded with various precious gems and stones. The glass is lit with colorful. shining objects in mosaic art. Valuable precious gems and semi-precious stones are used to invest ordinary utensils and other household articles with glory and splendor to make them unique and attractive and thus fit for royal use. So they are bedecked with pearls. coals. jade. rubies. etc. The Nine Noble Gems also decorate several items for royal use. Remarkable beauty is thereby achieved. These items decorated with mosaic were used only by royalty and persons of great wealth.
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When brilliant gems and fine stones are put on glass by means of starches from the barks of certain trees. in various styles and designs. this art reaches a high state of workmanship. Light. splendor and brilliance is achieved to bedazzle the eyes of all on-lookers. Glory is also attained. So Myanmar mosaic is also termed the "art of systematic order on glass" (hman-si-shwe-sha) with gold for further embellishment. This is a subtle art to be practiced only by the most skilled specialists. Experts make the glass that is to be embossed or embedded in various sizes and shapes in the forms of circles. squares. triangles. ovals. etc. according to the dictates of harmony and artistry. Even valuable gems and pearls are embossed or embroidered or bedecked in suitable ways.

Making Mosaic Painting In this fine art lacquer starch. is the main essential ingredient to give it a permanent final shape. This essence or substance (glue) is called "thit-say" in Myanmar. It has many different colors and tinges. such as green. black. red-green (all three main colors of "thit-say"). The starch is very sticky and heavy and is a good and effective glue so that the components of the mosaic remain in place for a long time.The "thit-say" is usually mixed with ashes of cow-bone burnt by fire. This is a process that requires the highest standard of skill. Finally what is called "the-yo" that is the mixed "thit-say" glue is obtained. Sometimes ordinary ashes softened from husks (saw dust) are mixed with thit-say (sap). But the best mixture is charcoal ashes produced from "Mayo" seeds because this results in a very soft and smooth substance for the purpose of fashioning mosaic. When the "tha-yo" is fashioned into strands of rope the resulting effect is in the form of soft candles. with the greatest of smoothness. After the ash and "thit-say" are mixed thoroughly. the "tha-yo" that is produced is like very thin fine strings. which can be used as thread for embroidery. To get the best "tha-yo" the materials used must be totally free from dust. dirt. stones etc.

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The procedure of making the best "thit-say" includes half of the fine "thit-say" substance (essence/juice) of half a tin which is equivalent to 10 viss. This "thit-say" is cooked with suitable heat with great care and method. If the method is wrong and care is not taken. the "thit-say" strings may break during boiling and the mixture may emit a foul. So a person should remain at a distance to avoid the very foul loathsome smells. Without using the right method of boiling. the outcome will be failure and the strings shredded and useless. A worker should cleanse his or her hands thoroughly with fully cooked rice-water in order to cleanse the stickiness. When "tha-yos" become subtle and soft a little pounding by hand is necessary in order to make them pliable for handling. These "tha-yo" must be made into small marble like balls by rolling it on a rock. When tiny rolls or strings appear. they are called "coils of tha-yo" or "tha-yo coils" in proportionate sizes in bright colors. Non-glass mosaic work needs materials of beaten crystal. rope-spreadings and crystal spreadings. There are technical terms with clear meaning for expert-workers in Myanmar.

Techniques are handed down from father to son and there are technical works such as "Kanutta embroidary". embossed with the correct use of pearls. precious gems. multi-colored glasses in wonderful shapes and hues.

However linking and placing of glass and gems etc. are not so difficult like the artistic work of "spreading stings" or "spreading crystals". Yet great attention must be given and each step has to be taken with an artistic eye. For artistic harmony "give and take" is essential. The artistic worker must fully known his or her particular art to put things in the right places when the work of "spreading strings" starts. The choice and exactness of placement are essential for correct design and style.

These artist and experts in the fields of "kyo-kin spread". or "flower spread" placement of valuable gems. polishing etc.. make their best endeavor for the sake of artistic harmony and proper arrangement. Finally the finished products and items look wonderful and unique. The weights especially must be in harmony. So persons who see Myanmar mosaic works feel intense joy and high appreciation.

If gold gilding is necessary. quicksilver is mixed with "thit-say" pulp. Then only gilding work is dine with success. Sometimes thin gold leaves must be put on with black "thit-say" as base. In the days of Myanmar kings this fine mosaic art belonged to the sphere of royalty to be preserved by Department of Royal Treasures. Indeed this subtle work of art has many related artistic disciplines so that the Myanmar kings used to give high rewards and titles to these artists. Therefore in the modern age. artists should strive to preserve these fine old artistic works. Mosaic art should not disappear. Myanmar's cultural heritage must be continued and preserved well.

Lapidary

Methods used by gem cutters have hardly changed in hundreds of years. but in Myanmar. the development of the gem industry means there are now more companies exporting expertly cut gems out of the country. The lapidary (someone who is skilled in cutting and polishing jewel and valuable stones) has become all - important be - cause the quality - and value - of a gem is determined by the cut. People used to cut gems by hand. but now people use a gem cutting machine. Many gem cutters keep their cutting methods secret from other lapidaries.

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There are two steps in gem cutting

First a rough cut is made before the second. which is the final cut. People used to use sapphire powder to polish the gems but now people use diamond powder. which gives the diamonds more beautiful color. and hopefully a high price.
Mr James Firmin. a leading gem trader from London. agrees that gem cutting has become a more refilled art. The cutters would use a lap (circular polishing wheel) coated with diamond or sapphire powder. if available. which would usually be turned through the use of foot pedal. A primitive example can still be seen in use in Sri Lanka today. in the form of a stick attached to the wheel axis by a rope.

On a modern machine. the stone is held by a 'dop' (the part of the machine that holds the gem). which is turned for accurate symmetry. The angle of cutting is important to ensure the gem sparkles; each mineral has its own specific angle. For example. a diamond must be kept shallower then an amethyst. Some stones - especially rubies and sapphires - must be cut in the correct direction of the crystal since the color changes With the direction.
There are two styles of cutting: A 'cabochon' cut is the oldest form of cutting in which the stone is smoothly rounded; while the faceted cut. which produces symmetrical plain surfaces on the gem. is a popular method for cutting diamonds. The most common cut is the brilliant. In addition to the round brilliant. stones are cut in a variety of square. triangular. diamond-shaped. and trapezoidal faceted cuts. The use of such cuts is largely determined by the original shape of the stone.

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