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THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA - Introduction

THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA
In rod c ion Back to Table of Contents Purpose 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 student. Contents
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M.14th to 20th centuries The Ava and Konbaung Periods Acknowledgements I thank the United States Department of Education and the National Security Educational Program for a three-month grant that made this project possible.niu.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . I wish to thank Dr. 1100 BC to c. General characteristics of each period are discussed at the beginning of each section. for their considerable effort and patience in putting this manuscript into an electronic format. Jessica Rhinehart. 200 BC Paleolithic and Neolithic sites.c.The Pre-historic Period . 1.Introduction 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.htm 2/10 . Henry and Robert Zerwekh. Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. and Karen Bronze Drums 2. The study of archaeology and art history is not well developed in Burma so that benchmark dates and facts are not abundant.seasite. Beikthano.The Pagan Period .The Pre-Pagan Period . 200 BC to c. Department of Computer Science. 800 AD to 1287 AD 4. Halin.The Post Pagan Period .c. Animism.c. Susan Russell.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. Nita Purawan and Gregory Betzel gave needed .800 AD Mon and Pyu City states: Thaton. Patterns and themes that are at present discernible will be traced through five major periods. I am indebted to Dr. Northern Illinois University. for her support and encouragement in writing the NSEP and Title VI grant proposals and to Professors G. Srikshetra 3. Thecla Behrens Cooler for her inspired criticism and editorial assistance. Northern Illinois University.

the country resembles a diamond shaped kite with a long tail.J. 1969-70). Old Burma. Luce. Sylvia Fraser . it . The Dictionar of Art. In form. 3 Vols. 1989). Pagan: Art and Culture of Old Burma (Arran. Michael Aung Thwin for providing me with a copy of his compact disc. Burma also shares a border with Bangladesh. Ed. Scotland. London. At its broadest extent from east to west.275 miles.seasite. Historical Sites in Burma (Rangoon.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . 34 Vols (Macmillan Publishers.edu) is a useful companion to this web course on Burmese Art and Culture. as well as having an extensive border with Thailand. J.Introduction assistance in the process of slide digitization. Burma: Insight Guides (Hong Kong. Peoples and Languages Burma. has the largest land mass of any country in mainland Southeast Asia and in size is comparable to the state of Texas. Wilhelm Klein. Vols. India and China. (Locust Valley. I VI (Gartmore. 1981).Lu.htm 3/10 . It is situated between and shares long borders with two of the world's great superpowers. For a relatively short distance.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. 1994).. From the peak of the kite in the north to the southern end of its tail. New York. I gratefully acknowledge my debt to the many scholars who have contributed to my understanding of Burmese Art. Oxford University Press. Earl Pagan. Several in particular have been used herein for information or illustrations: U Aung Thaw. before it was available to the general public. I thank Dr.niu. the country extends 1. Pierre Pichard.Paul Strachan. The Making of Modern Burma. Jane Turner. George H. 1972). Geograph . also known as Myanmar. An Inventor of monuments at Pagan. APA Publications. Kiscadale Publications. 1996). Ministry of Union Culture. 1993 1996). Augustin. Burmese Crafts: Past and Present (Kuala Lumpur. In many ways The Making of Modern Burma (now available from cseas:@hawaii. Kiscadale Press.

(The Mongol incursions around the year 1287. . along the west and northwest by the Arakan Yoma (mountains) and Chin Hills.) Therefore. with the exception of the British Colonial period that ended with the close of World War II. and along the northeast and eastern borders by the Shan Plateau and attendant mountains. There are four major land divisions: the large central plains area is encircled by mountains and plateaus.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. was a peaceful and internally motivated process. long distances. the Indianizaton of Burma and.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . are now thought to have penetrated only into northern Burma and did not succeed in capturing or occupying the capital city of Pagan. The dense jungles. particularly the adoption of art forms connected with Buddhism and Hinduism. Burma was not long dominated by foreign powers and has had a generally continuous development over time. having regularly plundered each other s capitals. and for relatively short periods they colonized portions of the other s territory. credited with ending the Pagan Empire. India and China. Burma and Thailand have often been at war.seasite. Otherwise. have provided a natural barrier to foreign military invasion. 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.htm 4/10 . and extended mountain ranges between Burma and its powerful neighbors. along the northern border by the Kumon mountains.Introduction measures approximately 580 miles.niu. The incursion did serve from afar to topple an already weakened government.

The Irrawaddy. built in the nineteenth century and the last royal capital. the depth of these connections is far greater in Burma than for other countries of mainland Southeast Asia. the dry zone. Interestingly. Rangoon has remained the capital and center for political and economic activity. and warfare. results from its location in the "rain shadow" of the Arakan Mountains that are situated between the dry zone and the Bay of Bengal. 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. Additionally.seasite.htm 5/10 . To the east of the Irrawaddy. trade. the much shorter Salween River drains the Shan Plateau and empties into the Gulf of Martaban between the ancient cities of Pegu and Thaton. 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.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . flow southward across the central plains. Until today. This arid area.niu. including its considerable tributary. the Chindwin. has continued to be a major center for fine arts and education. 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 . 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. Rangoon (Yangon). it has served throughout history as the country s major transportation route for communication.Introduction Two major rivers. Rangoon s riverine location near the Bay of Bengal provided the British with a seaport through which to govern their colony. Because the Irrawaddy river is navigable for most of its length. drains approximately three-fifths of the country's surface terminating in a broad delta below the modern capital. Climatically.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. 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. the Irrawaddy and the Salween. whereas Mandalay.

The hill tribes typically engage in . Sagaign.niu. Since Burma stretches into the northernmost reaches of Southeast Asia. Rangoon and the delta are referred to as Lower Burma. 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. The lowlanders typically are rice farmers. Ava.htm 6/10 . Despite the lack of rainfall. and language difference between the lowland peoples and hill tribe groups. extensive irrigation has been possible because water was diverted into canals and weirs from tributary streams before they enter the Irrawaddy. Pyu or Mon) and are adherents of Theravada Buddhism. 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. speak Burmese (or in the past. It was here that the Burmese ethnic group first settled and it was here that most of the Burmese capitals were subsequently built.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. including Pagan. 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. 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. 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. religious. even though it is geographically in the middle of the country. Paradoxically. 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.seasite.Introduction inhibiting rainfall until the rain clouds strike the Shan Plateau. The Burmese refer to the dry zone as Upper Burma. Amarapura and Mandalay. A mere fifteen percent of the soil in Burma is arable. Eighty five percent of today s lowland population practices Buddhism.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA .

for example. speak a non-Burmese language.Introduction swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture. so that today.htm 7/10 . 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.niu.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. the Mon. 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. there are hilltribe Karen who are Christian as well as animist. Karen man planting dr rice Slash and burn field for cultivation Karen famil Karen women 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.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . and practice one of the many forms of Animism. The Mons are the earliest identifiable group to inhabit Burma and lived along the eastern coastal regions centered about the ancient city of . the Pyu. Western missionaries have been successful in converting only members of the hill tribe groups.seasite. Three ethnic groups.

similar Mon speaking groups settled in Thailand and Cambodia. Mon myths tell of two Mon brothers who visited India and received hair relics from the Buddha. Pyu. near Prome. it is not surprising that they were the first group in Burma to be influenced by Indian ideas. 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. belongs to the Tibeto . The Mons were the first to adopt the Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. 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. Therefore it is believed that when the Burmese moved south and conquered the Pyu. the Shwedagon. In any event. they were easily absorbed into the Burmese population. the Burmese established what was to become their most . Although little is known about their origins or when they first settled in Burma. located at the center of the present capital. known as Kyaukse.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA .Introduction Thaton. This area. the Pyu are rarely heard of after the quadralingual Myazedi inscription of 1113 AD and today there are no Pyu speakers. became the Burmese heartland and is where irrigated rice was first extensively cultivated.Burman family of languages. Rangoon.htm 8/10 . the language of these people. located not far from the Irrawaddy.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. Since the Mons occupied areas adjacent to the coast. as is Burmese.niu. By the 8th century. The Shwedagon Stupa. their language belongs to the Mon-Khmer family. The Pyu lived in walled cities. 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 largest and most important being Srikshetra.seasite.

Introduction important city.htm 9/10 .881 m Natural Resources: petroleum. tin. timber. Roman Catholic 1%). which was located at the second major bend in the Irrawaddy where it turns and flows southward to the Bay of Bengal. Indian 2%. antimony. Muslim 4%. km Land 657. about 70% of the population occupying the central plain are ethnic Burmese. zinc.740 sq. lead. coal. other 2% Back to Top Back to Table of Contents .niu. other 5% Religious Affiliation: Buddhist 89%. (Baptist 3%.853 Ethnic Composition: Burmese 68%. bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal between Bangladesh and Thailand Geographic coordinates: 22 00 N. natural gas. Burma: Geographical Facts and Figures Location: Southeastern Asia.500 sq. km Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Andaman Sea 0 m Highest point: Hkakabo Razi 5. precious stones.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . marble. Shan 9%. Christian 4%. Today. hydropower Land Use: arable land 15% Total Population: 41. Chinese 3%.760 sq.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. Karen 7%. 98 00 E Area: Total 678. Rakhine (Arakanese) 4%.734. km Water 20.seasite. animist 1%. copper. Mon 2%. Pagan. limestone. tungsten.

Introduction .htm 10/10 .edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro.seasite.niu.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA .

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