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

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

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

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

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

seasite. Western missionaries have been successful in converting only members of the hill tribe groups.htm 7/10 . so that today. for example. there are hilltribe Karen who are Christian as well as animist. and practice one of the many forms of Animism.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. 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 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. although Burmese is the common and official language. the Pyu. The Mons are the earliest identifiable group to inhabit Burma and lived along the eastern coastal regions centered about the ancient city of . Three ethnic groups.niu.Introduction swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture. speak a non-Burmese language.

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

natural gas.Introduction important city.881 m Natural Resources: petroleum. hydropower Land Use: arable land 15% Total Population: 41.740 sq. Burma: Geographical Facts and Figures Location: Southeastern Asia.edu/burmese/Cooler/Intro/BurmaArt_Intro. Pagan. Indian 2%. animist 1%. other 2% Back to Top Back to Table of Contents . Shan 9%. km Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Andaman Sea 0 m Highest point: Hkakabo Razi 5. zinc. Karen 7%. lead. Today.niu. copper.853 Ethnic Composition: Burmese 68%. coal. Mon 2%. limestone. Rakhine (Arakanese) 4%.500 sq. km Land 657. km Water 20.htm 9/10 . tungsten.760 sq.seasite. Roman Catholic 1%). timber. Christian 4%. 98 00 E Area: Total 678. other 5% Religious Affiliation: Buddhist 89%. Chinese 3%. Muslim 4%. (Baptist 3%.3/5/12 THE ART AND CULTURE OF BURMA . marble. tin. which was located at the second major bend in the Irrawaddy where it turns and flows southward to the Bay of Bengal. antimony. about 70% of the population occupying the central plain are ethnic Burmese. bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal between Bangladesh and Thailand Geographic coordinates: 22 00 N. precious stones.734.

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