BUDDHISM IN BURMA & CHINA
- BUDDHISM IN MYANMAR
- BURMESE HISTORY
- MAIN BURMESE DYNASTIES
- S. E. Asian Buddhist Iconography
- NAT | CULT WORSHIP IN BURMA
- BURMESE BUDDHIST MANUSCRIPTS
- BUDDHA STATUES - BRONZE CASTING | ALABASTER | WOOD CARVINGS
- MANDALAY STYLE BUDDHA STATUE
- JAMBHUPATI ROYAL KING BUDDHA STATUES
- SHAN STYLE BUDDHA STATUES
- MOST COMMONLY USED MUDRAS
- RARE ANDAGU STONE CARVINGS
- CHINESE ZODIAC 12 YEAR CYCLE
- EIGHT IMMORTALS IN TAOISM
- CHINESE IN ANCIENT BURMA
Below are a some interesting articles About Buddhism in Myanmar.
Before King Anawrahta of Pagan took succession to the throne in the 11th Century many people in Myanmar were animists, believing in cult worship, Nats and spirits. After King Anawrahta adopted Buddhism he endeavored to stop his subjects from worshiping Nats and spirits and instead adopt Buddhism as their main religion. Realizing that Nat and spirit worship was entrenched in his people’s belief system, he made the decision to accept some of the more popular Nats.
Although Nat worship in Myanmar today is not as popular as it once was it is still widely accepted and one can find shrines and statues dedicated to the Nats in monasteries and homes in modern Myanmar, and coexists alongside Buddhism. A yearly festival on the outskirts of Mandalay is held each year to honor the Nats.
Articles About Buddhism In Myanmar
Buddhism became the dominant religion in Burma (Myanmar) in the 11th Century when King Anawrahta of Pagan united the whole of Burma into one Kingdom and made Theravada Buddhism the national religion.
Myanmar or as it was formerly known Burma is one of the major countries that follow Theravada Buddhism today Buddhism in Myanmar gives a short history of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar…….
According to the now-ancient Pali-text commentaries written around the 5th century CE, the future Uppalava Ther was born into the family of a wealthy merchant of Savatthi (Skt: Sravasti). She was extraordinarily beautiful like the dark blue uppala lily after which she was named as a fulfillment of her past life aspirations as well as those of the Buddha to have such a disciple……
The first point of difference between the Hinayana and Mahayana schools was noticed by the Sadharma Pundarika, that Buddha makes a show of his existence in the three dhatus and leads us to an examination of the question of the kayas of Buddha as conceived by the Hinayanists and Mahayanists…………
The ways to Neibban and notice of the Phongyies or Burmese Monks. This first complete edition was printed in Rangoon in Burma in 1858, a second and more enlarged version was written in 1866.
The Legend of Guadama is a large file, allow time for downloading.
Written in 2003 by Jacqueline I. Stone – Politics and the Issue of the Ordination Platform in Modern Lay Nichiren Buddhism.
A very nice illustrative presentation on the primary mudras of the major Buddhas by John C. Huntington
A collection of stories from the Jatakas
This article written in 2008 by Sylwia Gil gives an interesting insight into the lives and roles of the Burmese Monk.
From time to time I come across some interesting historical articles related to Burmese history and Buddhism in Myanmar which we like to share with visitors to our web site.
Historical Articles Burmese History
- Palm leaf manuscript record of a Mission sent by the Myanmar King to the Chinese Emperor in the mid 18th century
- The Golden Rock at Kyaikhti--yo
- The ecology of Burman-Mon warfare and the Pre modern Agrarian State 1383-1425
- Traditional high status of women in Burma
- Deep Change - Burmese wall painting from the 11th to the 19th Centuries
- Modern Burmese paintings according to Bagyi Aung Soe
- Specialists for ritual magic and devotion
- Coming of the future king: Burmese MinLaung expectations before and during the second world war
- Min Ko Naing Conqueror of Kings: Burma student Prisoner
- The self conscious censor: Censorship in Burma under the British 1900-1939
Interesting Historical Articles Burmese History was printed in 1900 and written by Max and Bertha Ferrars, there is a diverse range of topics relating Burma in that period. (This is a large PDF so may take some time to load).
- Chronology of Burma
- Structure of the Burmese language—Method of transliteration . . . 208
- Notes on Burmese music, by Mr. P. A. Mariano ...... 210
- Statistical—Area—Population—Fiscal items—Crime—Imports and exports . 211
- Measures—Time and calendar—Length—Capacity—Weight—Money . 213
- Samples of music
Written by the Shan Women's Network
Most of this book deals with aspects of culture which may be unknown to the average tourist. The focus is on Shan culture, but the process of repression is also happening to other ethnic cultures in shan State and other parts of Burma.
This article presents an apocryphal Buddhist text that contains a speech of the Buddha listing the relics linked to his former existences in Arakan, as well as prophecies regarding the historical succession of kings. Looking at various aspects such as the geographical distribution of the relics and the typically Buddhist representation of kingship, the author argues that the text can best be understood in the eighteenth-century context of the political decline of the Arakanese kingdom. As this article shows, apocryphal texts have authority because they build on traditional concepts and beliefs and are still a poorly exploited source of historical enquiry....
Interesting article on the plight of the Rohingya people in Arakan, Northern Myanmar.
This is an informative and interesting article on the history of the Shan people and their culture through the ages.
Burmese Buddhist Imagery of the Early Bagan Period (1044 - 1113 AD) By Charlotte Kendrick Galloway - A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University.
Authored by San Tha Aung - Director- General, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Yangon, Burma until his demise in 1981.
San Tha Aung was a native of Rakhine State, his desire to reveal the hidden ancient Rakhine culture and art resulted in this publication and several others related to Rakhine history and Buddhist Iconography. Unfortunately this publication does not contain the graphics related to the subject matter.
Since 2nd century A.D., sixteen important and influential Main Burmese Dynasties or kingdoms have been recorded in Myanmar history. According to some scholars Buddhism was brought to Burma/Myanmar around 2nd century A.D., others believe not until 5th century A.D. There is some evidence that it could have been as early as 2 A.D., or earlier, although there has been a lack of Buddhist iconography or proof found in Myanmar to support this belief.
Buddhism was first introduced into Myanmar from its northern Indian neighbors through traveling Buddhist monks visiting Myanmar or adjoining countries and through trade.
Animism was the main belief system in Myanmar up until the 9th century when King Anawratha, a devout Buddhist, and the first King of the Pagan Empire ruled from 1014 A.D - 1077 A.D. King Anawratha declared Buddhism the predominant religion of Myanmar.
Although he couldn't persuade his people to give up their animistic beliefs, he decided, in order to encourage his subjects to adhere to Buddhist beliefs he would have to make some of the Nats worshiped by his people official and acceptable. Of the myriad of Nats he chose 37 main Nats. Up until present times nat worship has coincided alongside Buddhism.
The thirty seven Nats are a combination of spirits of the departed, tree or water spirits and ghosts. Every year from the 31st July until August 7th just a a few miles out of Mandalay the Taungbyone Nat Festival is held to honor the Nats.
Main Burmese Dynasties
Beikthano Pyu City State
Located in middle part of Myanmar at the north of Kookogwa Village. 11 miles north of Taung Dwingyee.
2nd Century BCE 9th Century A.D.
Thuwunna Bonmi (Ramanya) City State (AD 100)
Located in southern Myanmar near Beelin, at the foot of Mount Kaylartha.
Tharay Kittarar Pyu City State (AD 400-1000)
Located in lower Myanmar, 5 miles southeast of Pyay.
Hanlin Pyu City State (AD?-832)
Located in upper Myanmar in Shwebo District, Wetlet Township.
Waytharlee Kingdom (BC 500-?)
Located in western Myanmar about 6 miles north of Myauk Oo or Mrauk-U
Bagan (Pagan) Dynasty (AD 107-1287)
Located in Upper Myanmar.
Pinya Dynasty (1309-1360)
Located in central Myanmar.
Sagaing Dynasty (1315-1364)
Located in upper Myanmar in Sagaing.
Toungoo Dynasty (1486-1752) - split by the Shan state in the north and east of Myanmar (Burma).
Located in central Myanmar.
Innwa Dynasty (1364-1555)
Located in central Myanmar.
Located in lower Myanmar in Bago.
Kone Baung Dynasty or Alaungpaya Dynasty (1752-1885) - The last ruling Burman dynasty
Shwebo Palace: built by King Ahlaung Pharar
Kone Baung Dynasty
Amarapura Palace: Built by King Bodaw Pharar - Sanscript name for Amarapura "City of Immortality"
Kone Baung Dynasty:
Golden Palace Mandalay: built by King Mindon 1858
Articles | S. E. Asian Buddhist Iconography
A collection of interesting articles S. E. Asian Buddhist Iconography - Thai, Khmer and Indonesian Buddhist Iconography
THAILAND & KHMER
The Indianized States of Southeast Asia - Written by G. Coedes and translated by Susan Brown Cowing.
Excerpt: It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of George Coedes to the field of Southeast Asian studies. He is revered by other scholars in the field as the unchallenged dean of Southeast Asian classical scholarship.
Since 1904 a truly prodigious and uninterrupted flow of articles, books, and papers on various aspects of early Southeast Asian history has issued from his pen. He has discovered and translated primary materials (inscriptions and annals in Pali, Sanskrit, Cambodian, Thai); he has interpreted the meaning of these materials in approximately two hundred scholarly articles; and he has synthesized his own work and that of his colleagues by writing integrated, readable accounts for specialists and the general public.
Any one of his many epochal discoveries would be regarded as the proudest achievement of many a scholar.Coedes' primary interest has been in the history of the Khmer Empire.
His contribution here has been to supply a reliable historical chronology and an incisive delineation of the nature of Khmer kingship and other traditional Khmer institutions. What we know of ancient Cambodia stems predominantly from the work of Coedes.
In other areas of Southeast Asia, Coedes is most famous for his pioneer depiction of the origin of Sukhothai, the first historical kingdom of Thailand, and his dramatic identification, in 1918, of the name, geographical scope, and importance of the ancient Indonesian empire of Srivijaya.
His discovery of Srivijaya has been called, by Paul Wheatley, "possibly the most significant contribution ever made to the progress of Southeast Asian history."
Buddhist Sculptures of Indonesia
Violence and Serenity - Late Buddhist Sculpture from Indonesia - Written by Natasha Reichle.
Introduction - Excerpt - At the heart of the Museum Nasional in Jakarta lies a remarkable collection of ancient sculpture. One after another, dozens of Hindu and Buddhist statues line the walls of the courtyard at the core of the building, giving the visitor a glimpse of the long artistic history of the region.
Although many of the images are spectacular, when I first visited the museum, I found myself drawn again and again to the same two: an exquisite seated image of Prajñaparamita, the goddess of transcendental wisdom, and a colossal standing demonic figure known as a bhairava. The bhairava sculpture is impossible to miss and difficult to forget (fig. i.1).
It stands at the back of the first gallery of ancient sculpture, looking out at the museum’s courtyard. At almost four and a half meters high, it towers over the rest of the museum’s collection.
Standing on a base of oversized human skulls, the bhairava holds a dagger and skull cup against his hairy chest. A small Aksobhya Buddha depicted in his headdress is the only clue to the image’s Buddhist nature. The statue is described as a portrait of the fourteenth- century Sumatran king Adityawarman
Articles Nat | Cult Worship Burma
In Myanmar/Burma every year on the 5th Lunar month of Wagaung (August) the “Taungbyone Nat Festival” is held in a small town close to Mandalay on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River to appease and honor the Nats.
During this period the monsoon rains reach the upper part of Myanmar and the river is full stretching from bank to bank, a sight not normally seen during the dry season. It is a festive occasion with loud music (ouch) and lots of colourful food, not to mention the colourful variety of people attending the festival.
Offerings of food, sweets and fruits are made to the Nats and Deva asking them to fulfill any type of wish such as good luck, prospects for a good marriage, business success, health of the family and almost anything you can imagine or wish for.
Nat | Cult Worship Burma
Written by Alexandra De Meran – Changes in Spirit Cults in Arakan (Rakhine) State, Myanmar – In Arakan, as in anywhere else in Burma and in many other parts of Southeast Asia, religious practices have been a mix of Buddhism and spirit (nat) worship…..
Revisiting Buddhism and the Spirit Cult in Burma – Stanfor University, “The Spirit-possession Cult in the Burmese religion” Benedicte Brac de la Perriere, CNRS-LASEMA, Paris
The actual complexity of the Burmese religion is concealed by the pervasive conception of Burmese identity as a Buddhist one: to be a Burmese is to be a Buddhist, it is often said. The complexity of the Burmese religion may be initially addressed as the problem of whether we should speak of one or two religions…..
An introduction to Burmese Nat worship in Burma
Articles | Burmese Buddhist Manuscripts
The kammavaca and palm Leaf prayer manuscripts of Burma represent the formal monastic ceremonies or acts as depicted in the Vinaya, the rules and regulations used in the ordination or service of monks.
The Burmese script in the older gilded Kammavaca was usually written in a square bold script using the extract from the tamarind seed, whilst the later Kamavaca's show a bold rounded script.
Traditionally the Kammavaca is considered to be complete if it has sixteen leaves (pages), however, this is not necessarily the rule, they can come in fourteen, sixteen or eighteen leaves but always in even numbers.
Burmese gilded Kammavaca Buddhist Manuscript
The leaves of the traditional Burmese Kammavaca are held together with wooden outer covers, each individual gilded page is incised with pictures and floral designs from Burmese mythology and have a hole near each end for a bamboo stick to hold the pages together.
The gilded outer covers are incised and decorated with mythological creatures or Buddhist symbols, occasionally, the inside cover is also decorated. As a rule the inside cover is a plain red colour. There are a few kammavaca that are highly decorated with thayo lacquer on the outside covers with glass mosaics and gilded and some rare kammavaca made from elephant ivory.
The leaves or pages of the Burmese kammavaca also vary, some are made from palm leaf and stiffened cloth, usually from the robe of a monk, it is then bount together with a long finely hand woven ribbon (sasijyo) with Intricate patterns or Burmese Buddhist script running down the length of the sasijyo, they may also have the name of the donor and the year in which it was presented to the monastery woven into it.
Burmese Palm Leaf Manuscripts - Paysar
Palm leaf manuscripts in Burma are referred to as Paysar, they are sometimes referred to as Parabaik in the West. The Paysar manuscript is found in almost every monastery in Myanmar. Unlike the Kammavaca, the palm leaf prayer manuscript is rather plain and vary in the number of leaves. Some contain more than 200 pages or leaves and are held together with a string or wooden spike passed through holes at both ends of each individual palm leaf.
The wooden ends of the palm leaf manuscripts are usually plain and coloured red, but there are some that are decorated with thayo lacquer, glass mosaics and gilded. Burmese script in the Pali language is inscribed across the length of the palm leaf on both sides with a stenciling tool. The script usually refers to the Pali Canon and monastic rules set down in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition for the monks to follow.
Articles | Burmese Buddhist Manuscripts
This is a large PDF file for those who are really interested in this subject, it can take a few minutes to download depending on the speed of your internet connection.
Edited By: Stephen C. Berkwitz - Buddhist Manuscript Cultures explores how religious and cultural practices in pre-modern Asia were shaped by literary and artistic traditions as well as by Buddhist Material culture.
A List of Inscriptions - A book written in 1921 by Chas. Duroiselle, superintendent, Archaeological survey, Burma
Metal Documents of Antiquity from around the world By H. Curtis Wright
At a time when there is increasing interest in Australia's developing ties with Burma (Myanmar), the death on 31 March, 2015 of Pamela Gutman brings to an end the life of the first Australian scholar to complete a doctorate in Asian art and to do so in relation to Burma.
The Woven word
A Burmese woven ribbon used to bind Buddhist scriptures. In Burmese the word literally means “cord for tying manuscript leaves into bundles.” These pieces have not been woven in Burma for many years, with very few written records about their history; most of what we know of them must be inferred from the objects themselves.
The Pali Literature of Burma By Mabel Haynes Bode Ph.D. 1909
Takes a little time to load but for those interested in this subject worth waiting for.
The Pali literature of Burma owes its existence to the Pali literature of India. It is many years since the latter was first explored by the great scholars and pioneers- Fausboll, Lassen, Rhys Davids, Trenckner, Childers, Oldenberg - whose reward has been a gain to Oriental learning vast enough to content even them.....
The making of a collection: Burmese Manuscripts in the British Library
The Burma manuscripts collection in the British Library by virtue of its size, range of material, and state of preservation constitutes the most significant collection of manuscripts to be found outside Burma. It numbers over 1,000 manuscripts, of which approximately 800 are in Oriental Collections and 350 in the India Office Library.........
Buddha Statues - Bronze Casting | Alabaster | Wood Carvings
The most beautiful Buddha Statues in the world are crafted in Burma, also known as Myanmar, officially renamed in 1989 by the ruling military government of the time. The most common materials used in crafting a Buddha statue in Myanmar are marble, wood and bronze and less common are the hollow lacquer Buddha statues, which are much lighter and more portable. This type is currently enjoying a revival due to modern techniques of manufacture, reducing the amount of time and intensive labour to those that were made up until the early 20th century.
Burmese Antique Alabaster Buddha Statues
The marble and alabaster used in the making of Burmese Buddha Statues is mined in Myanmar (Burma). The art of carving stone and marble is referred to as "Pantamaw", meaning carved and polished by hand. Today this age old method of hand carving and polishing a Buddha statue is being been replaced with modern tools and machinery due to the increased reliability of electricity.
Burmese marble is reputed to be among the hardest marble in the world, with colours ranging from a bluish grey to pure white, and is regarded as one of the finest marbles in the world. The largest marble mines in Myanmar are located approximately 21 miles north west of Mandalay at the foot of Sagyin Mountain, part of a range of seven hills, and an extension of the mountain ranges of Mogok, approximately 200 kilometers north of Mandalay in the division of Mandalay, reputed for the high quality rubies, sapphires and other precious and semi precious stones that are mined in this area.
These marble mines are now controlled by the government of Myanmar which has changed the pace in which marble is being mined, using more sophisticated machinery and dynamite, expediting the process of mining large areas quickly. Prior to this mining marble and alabaster was cut out of the hill by hand by locals, this has increased the price of marble immensely, making it less profitable for craftsmen to obtain and carve a statue using traditional methods.
Marble from Sagyin mountain is highly sought after by China and Thailand for its pure white colour. It is in the Sagyin area where many of the very large Chinese Buddha statues, Guan Yin and other deities are crafted locally on site or crafted in nearby Mandalay, then shipped to countries such as Thailand and China for their domestic market.
Many of our statues are alabaster, a fine grained gypsum which is softer than marble with a lovely translucency not found in marble which is made up of calcite.
Burmese Bronze Buddha Statues
Myanmar has a 3,000 year old history of bronze casting, objects that have been excavated dating to the bronze age have identified as grave goods, bronze axes, spearheads, swords, daggers and agricultural implements.
Bronze objects and other artifacts excavated in and around the Pyu city sites dating to the inhabitants of these areas include glass beads, bronze artifacts related to Hinduism and the animist beliefs of the time, small bronze ritual goddess mother figures and ornaments, thought to be grave objects, other finds include bronze bells, small figures, bronze spears, axes, weights, urns and coins.
Repeated invasions by the Bamar people from the Kingdom of Nanzhao weakened the Pyu race, this resulted in a gradual integration with the peoples of the new Pagan Empire, but their language still existed up until the late 12th century.
Although the structural remains of walls and monasteries have been unearthed on these ancient sites no bronze Buddhist sculptures have been excavated which date further back than the 8th – 9th century. Buddhist iconography at the Pyu site at Sri-ksetra and Halin have however unearthed some sculptures which have given clues to the religious beliefs of the times, which included Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism and Tantric practices from India.King Anawrahta of Pagan (1014 – 1077 AD., formalized Buddhism, making it the main religion of Myanmar, although some exceptions to the animist beliefs of the people were accepted and to this day coexist alongside Buddhism.
The casting of bronze Buddha statues in Burma became popular from the 9th century and were made solely for venerating and worship of the Buddha. In earlier times when casting a bronze statue, precious metals such as gold and silver were often added to the mix of copper and tin to give added reverence to the Buddha, they were then frequently gilded. Today many Buddha statues are often decorated with gold foil rather then gold leaf. These days the alloys used in casting bronze statues is made up of just two ingredients 4 parts of tin to 6 parts copper.
Historical records show that from the Pagan period, Buddha statues were often placed inside stupa’s or temple wall alcoves, not as a means of hiding them but more so to give merit to the donor of the Buddha statue.
Many surviving bronze Buddha statues from this early period have survived, and are in relatively good condition due to the protection given whilst encased in these structures.
Elizabeth Moore has written some excellent papers on the bronze age in Myanmar, these can be viewed on Academia
Teak Wood Buddha Statues
Teak wood has been used to craft Buddha statues in Burma since the Pagan Dynasty, with just a few surviving statues from this period still in reasonable condition, the most famous being the wooden stele dating to the 13th century (Pagan era), showing the Buddha’s descent from Tavatimsa heaven, flanked by the Hindu Gods Brahma and Indra with his disciple Sariputta kneeling at his feet).
Antique and older teak wood Buddha Statues from Myanmar and Thailand are often heavily embellished with mosaics, thayo lacquer decoration, (sap of the tamarind tree) and gilded. Although most new statues are decorated with artificial gold leaf, older statues were gilded with real gold leaf.
The teak wood tree (Tectona grandis) is a tropical deciduous tree growing up to 40 metres tall, once in abundance, it is becoming a rare commodity due to the world demand and long history of logging which escalated during the British colonial period. Illegal logging still persists today in some remote areas of Myanmar; most of this wood is shipped to the international market and often used in the shipping industry due to its hardiness in water.
Natural teak wood forests exist in only four Asian countries, Myanmar, India, Laos and Thailand; with around 75% of the worlds teak market originating from Burma, although this is changing due to government restriction on exporting teak wood to foreign countries in order to allow the teak wood forests to recover. There are currently regeneration programs in place to grow new teak wood forests in Myanmar (Burma), which will of course take many years years to grow into mature trees.
Today many wood Buddha statues in Myanmar are crafted using other types of hard wood and soft wood.
Burmese Hollow Lacquer Buddha Statues
Hollow lacquer Buddha statues in Myanmar are referred to as man phaya – “man” meaning covering with a pasty substance or hnee phaya – ” hnee”, meaning made with bamboo strips, although not all hollow lacquer Buddha statues are made using bamboo strips, many are made using the dry lacquer technique.
The process of creating a hollow lacquer Buddha statue was a lengthy process and could take up to three months to complete. Starting with the clay, it is kneaded and shaped into a rough form of the image, a coating of straw ash and water is then smeared over the clay image, after which strips of cloth usually from the robe of a monk or scarf of an elder of the family is soaked in lacquer and wound around the smeared image. Thayo plaster is then applied up to half inch to one inch over this layer.
The features of the Hollow lacquer Buddha Statue is then carved into the thayo plaster with an iron implement. When the image has dried and hardened the clay is removed by washing. The mold is then cut open to remove the clay from the less accessible areas, it is then rejoined and sealed with lacquer after which another coating of lacquer plaster with straw ash is applied.
When this coating has hardened the finishing touches are applied such as smoothing, polishing, rewashing and varnishing. The preferred ornamentation such as painting, gilding or glass mosaic decoration is then applied.
The weight of these hollow lacquer Buddha statues can be very deceiving, since they can closely resemble wood Buddha statues which are much heavier.
There are two periods from which the Burmese Buddha Statue in the Mandalay Style evolved, "Early Mandalay period from 1853 - 1885 A.D.", and "Post Mandalay period from 1885 - 1945 A.D."
Burmese Buddha Statues - Mandalay style are mostly shown with heavily folded and tiered lapel and monk robe, with glass mosaic inlay and Thayo lacquer decoration intricately worked in scrolls around the edges of the robe, often the body, face and hands are fully gilded. Eyes are set far apart with a flat band high on the forehead running from ear to ear.
Burmese Buddha Statue Mandalay Style
From the early Mandalay period Buddha statues emerged in both seated and standing positions with the most popular hand gesture in the seated position Bhumisparsa Mudra, referred to as "touching earth", symbolizing the Buddha's enlightenment after his defeat of Mara when he called mother earth to bear witness to his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
The demon Mara in her endeavors to distract the Buddha from attaining enlightenment tried to seduce him with visions of her beautiful daughters. Scenes depicting this great event in the life of the Buddha are frequently seen in Buddhist iconography, wall murals and paintings.
Mandalay standing images in Burma are most often seen with the hand gesture in Abhaya Mudra, with either the left or the right arm bent at the elbow and the palm facing outwards. Abhaya mudra symbolizes protection, peace or fear not.
Most of the newly crafted images in Myanmar today are crafted in standing, seated or reclining positions.
Mandalay Buddha statues owe much of its evolution to the influence of the Thai Buddha statues. Craftsmen from Thailand were brought in to Burma in large numbers in the mid 1700's for their expert carving skills. These craftsmen implemented their own styles into the sculptures they created with a mix of Ayutthaya and Arakan styles, thus the Mandalay Buddha evolved into its own unique style.
Burmese Buddha Statues Jambhupati Style - This style of Buddha statue, also referred to as the Royal King Buddha can be seen with varying degrees of embellishments, some have little decoration whilst others are highly ornate.
The Jambhupati style traditionally wears a crown with earrings and jewels around the arms, neck and waist. Large or small flanges flank both sides of the head, with large earrings touching the shoulders or sometimes hanging over the shoulders. Some statues of the wooden type are embellished with glass mosaics and glass beads with rings on one or all of the fingers. Bronze statues are sometimes seen with glass mosaics representing jewels.
In many wooden statues of the Jambhupati style, thayo lacquer, a resin derived from the tamarind tree is applied to the body to represent the outline of the robe. The robe of many Mandalay Buddha Statues dating from the 18th century into the 20th century are decorated with a fish scale pattern, also using thayo lacquer and when dry gilded with gold leaf.
A style unique to Myanmar is the wooden Buddha statue in the jambhupati style with detachable alabaster head, hands and feet with a tiered conical metal crown, flanges and earrings. The Burmese royal crowned Jambhupati Buddha images were and still are made from a variety of materials such as marble, alabaster, bronze, brass, wood, paper Mache, jade and hollow sculptures made from bamboo or lacquer.
The Burmese royal crowned Jambhupati Buddha image originated from the story of the Buddha's encounter with King Jambhupati, whereupon the Buddha adorned royal attire in order to humble the arrogant and overbearing king Jambhupati, who threatened one of his followers. The King on seeing the Buddha dressed in such splendor was overawed and from that day onward he became a follower of the Buddhist teachings and he himself became a monk and realised enlightenment.
The Jambhupati style Buddha images originated in India during the Pala period 750 A.D. - 1150 A.D., they subsequently became popular in most other Buddhist countries such as China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
Burmese Buddha Statues Jambhupati Style
Burmese Buddha Statues | Shan Style
Burmese Buddha Statues | Shan Style - The Shan State in Myanmar (Burma) is the largest state in the country. It occupies around a quarter of the total area of the whole of Myanmar, it shares a border with China, Laos and Thailand and consists of a variety of ethnic groups.
Each of these ethnic groups has developed their own unique style of Buddhist imagery and iconography. Some Shan Buddha statues are in the Jambhupati style, an adaptation of the Arakan style Buddha image seen dressed in royal attire from the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
The Ava style usually shows the Buddha image with a large Usnisha and finial, and often with large disproportionate flange-like ears. The Pinya style often show the Buddha statue with his robe draped over the right shoulder. The most decorative Shan Buddha image is that of the Tai Yai style, fully gilded and decorated with thayo lacquer and glass mosaics dressed in royal attire with decorative crowns.
The people of the Shan state, also referred to as Tai people, originated from Yunnan in the Southern part of China. When Kublai Khan invaded Pagan (now referred to as Bagan) in 1287 CE. Shan usurpers were close on their heals and in 1299 CE burnt hundreds of monasteries. The Shan went on to establish the Ava and Pinya dynasty's and conquered parts of the west and southern parts of Burma.
Two of the most famous Shan leaders Sao Hsam Long Hpa and Sao Hso Hkam Hpa were two brothers from Yunnan province, together they formed the Mao Shan Kingdom until it was overtaken by the Ming court. This led to the Shan venturing into neighboring countries. The final destruction in 1604 of the Shan in China also weakened the Shan powers in Burma, where there they disintegrated into small groups and today can be found in parts of Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Thailand and India.
Although the mudra's mentioned below are the Four Most Common Buddhist Mudra's seen in Buddha statues, imagery and art in Burma/Myanmar it is by no means comprehensive, there are many others but are rarely seen or not so common.
Four Most Common Buddhist Mudra's
Bhumisparsa Mudra relates to the most important event in the life of the Buddha, depicting the moment of attaining enlightenment. This mudra shows the Buddha with the left hand resting on his lap, palm facing upwards. The right-hand palm falls over the right knee with all fingers extending downwards. In images of the Buddha the fingers touch the pedestal or throne on which he is seated and is commonly referred to as “the touching earth mudra”.
The Bhumisparsa Mudra indicates the moment when Siddhartha Gautama ceased to be a Bodhisattva, (future Buddha) and became the enlightened Buddha. This mudra is commonly found in Burmese Buddha statues, paintings, wall murals and iconography depicting the Buddha.
This mudra illustrates the event prior to the Buddha’s enlightenment when the evil demon Mara who thought the seat of enlightenment belonged to him tries to seduce the Buddha through his three beautiful daughters named Desire, Pleasure and Passion, but the Buddha remained steadfast.
Mara then himself attacked the Buddha by shooting arrows at him. After this failed to distract the Buddha from his path, Mara called his army of followers, represented as demons, monsters, whirlwinds, floods and earthquakes. The Buddha still remained unshaken, and in anger Mara proclaimed loudly that there was nobody near at hand to witness his enlightenment, the Buddha remained steadfast and replied by calling the earth to bear witness, and to testify to his attainment of perfect knowledge and enlightenment.
The scene of the attempted seduction of the Buddha by Mara’s daughters is depicted on the bottom front of this Pagan Buddha statues.
ABHAYA MUDRA and VERADA MUDRA
The Buddha's hand gesture in Abhaya Mudra shows the Buddha standing with his right hand bent at the elbow with palm facing outwards with fingers extended at the level of the heart. This mudra is usually seen with the opposite hand representing another mudra and sometimes seen with both hands in Abhaya mudra.
The Abhaya mudra is the gesture of fearlessness, it stands for assurance, tranquillity and protection, as well as devoting oneself to the salvation of mankind. It is shown when the Buddha is in a walking or standing position and in the seated position.
The figure of the standing Buddha's hand gesture in Abhaya Mudra represents the incident of the attempted assassination of the Buddha by assassins at the instigation of Devadatta a cousin of the Buddha.
This mudra is sometimes seen with the opposite hand in Verada Mudra with the right arm lowered and hand facing outwards. This mudra is the gesture of compassion, patience and generosity.
Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness.
Dharmacakra Mudra also referred to as the preaching or teaching mudra, symbolizes the first preaching of the law by the Buddha upon attaining enlightenment in the deer park at Sarnath, in the city of Benares, where he explains and teaches the Dharma, the true knowledge he obtained though his own experiences. This mudra whether standing or sitting suggests setting the “wheel of the law in motion”.
This mudra is depicted in Burmese Buddha Statues, Buddhist iconography and in Burmese art, although not as common as the Bhumisparsa mudra.
Images from India of the Buddha’s hand gesture in Dharmacakra mudra from the Gupta period onward show the left hand held near the heart with the tips of the middle finger and the thumb joined together and palm facing the heart. The right hand shows the tips of the thumb and the forefinger touching each other so as to form a circle with the remaining fingers open. The palm of the hand is faced away from the body with left hand overlapping the fingers on the right hand.
The Gandhara image of the Buddha in Dharmacakra mudra is different. The palm of the left hand held in cup form is turned upwards and that of the right hand turned towards the heart with left hand thumb and forefinger touching the pinkie on the right hand. There are variations of this posture also.
The three extended fingers on the right hand represent the three vehicles of the Buddha’s teaching:
- The pinkie (smallest finger) represents the Mahayana or Great Vehicle
- The middle finger hearers of the teachings
- The ring finger solitary realisers.
The three extended fingers on the left hand symbolize the three jewels of Buddhism - The first of the three is the Buddha, the second is the Dharma and third the Sangha. This mudra is commonly seen in Buddha images and Buddhist art of Japan and China.
The Dhyana Mudra is also referred to as samadhi mudra, meditative mudra or samahita mudra.
This Mudra shows the back of the right hand placed in or on top of the left hand and together they rest on the lap both facing upwards. This is the attitude of ardent meditation. Sometimes a medicament or alms bowl or a vase may rest in the palm.
Unlike the bhumisparsa mudra, this mudra belongs to several events in the life of the Buddha both before and after his enlightenment.
Some of these events:
- After hearing the news that his wife Yasodhara had given birth to a son one morning, he sat up in bed that same night and saw her sleeping as though dead
- When he performed his first meditation after renunciation
- After six years of fasting and penances, he rejected extreme asceticism and accepted Sujata’s rice and alms. This alms bowl can be seen in some of the Dhyana Mudra hand gestures
- When he sat with his alms bowl in his lap under the hood of Muchalinda Naga. It has been said that after enlightenment there was a great storm in Bodhgaya with torrential rain for several days. At this time a Naga king named Muchalinda protected the Buddha by coiling his body around him and spreading his hood to protect him from the rain. These scenes are depicted in many art forms and sculptures of the Buddha
- When sitting in the house of gems (Ratanaghara) meditating on the abhidhamma in the fourth week after his enlightenment. Abhidhamma is the higher teaching of the Buddha, also referred to as the ultimate teaching (paramattha desana)
- On his second visit to Rajagriha after enlightenment when King Bimbisara presented to the Buddha a peaceful and secluded haven called the Veluvana “Bamboo Grove”
- When he reformed the proud and arrogant King Jambupati. In this scene the Buddha is dressed in royal attire with full regalia to humble King Jambupati. In the dhyana mudra he is holding a medicant bowl in his hands.
The majority of Burmese Buddha statues show the Buddha with the right hand in Bhumisparsa mudra and the left in Dhyana Mudra sometimes holding an alms bowl of medicament bowl with a few showing the Dhyani Mudra gesture.
Articles Rare Andagu Stone Carvings from Burma/Myanmar - Thought to be made from a finely grained pyrophyllite Phylite (dolomite) stone in which the various scenes from the life of the Buddha are intricately carved.
The scenes carved into this beautiful ivory like stone vary from just one scene of the Buddha calling Earth to Witness with his right hand touching earth flanked by his two main disciples, to the more intricate and beautifully detailed carvings with the eight main events leading up to his enlightenment at Bodhgaya.
Some of the Burmese Andagu stone carvings have a further seven life scenes representing the seven weeks after his enlightenment.
Andagu stone Buddhist carvings are probably relics that were enshrined in stupas. Many surviving andagu stone carvings in existence today are in relatively good condition, possibly due to the protection offered by the stupa.
According to Claudine Bautze-Picron's article on Andagu stone carvings it is still not determined where the stone originated from or where they were actually carved.
Images depicting the seven weeks after the Buddha's enlightenment is a theme unknown in Pala art, but was popular during the Burmese Pagan period.
If these carvings were created in Pagan, then it made little sense for a pilgrim from Myanmar to convey it to India, hence, they were more than likely made in India for pilgrims from Myanmar, or, that the stone was carried to Pagan from India and carved in Pagan by Burmese craftsmen. There is some suggestion that the stone could also have come from China.
Articles Rare Andagu Stone Carvings
The meaning of the Scenes of the events
in the life of the Buddha
Rare Burmese Andagu Stone Carvings
Professor Luce discusses in this article the Andagu Stone carvings
Claudine Bautze-Picron's article on Andagu stone carvings
THE CHINESE ANIMAL ZODIAC TWELVE YEAR CYCLE
Some scholars believe that the Chinese calendar existed as far back as 14th century BCE., and that concrete evidence of the lunisolar calendar and its existence are written on the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BCE) oracle bones from which it is believed the Chinese script developed.
There are many theories, myths and legends surrounding the origins of the Chinese animal zodiac calendar. One theory is that the philosopher Wang Chong, of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) invented the Chinese zodiac. Another myth is related to the time of the Jade Emperor Yu Huang Shangdi who was also to become the most important deity representing the first god and ruler of the heavens according to Chinese Taoist beliefs.
According to the Qing historian Zhao Yi’s “Yu Yu Cong Juan” in volume thirty-four, it mentions that the twelve phases of the zodiac originated during the Eastern Han period. However, in the bamboo slips excavated from a pre Qin (206BC – 206 BC) tomb in 1975 in Yunmeng County in Hubei Province, a relatively complete zodiac system was recorded in which there were twelve species of animals related to the Chinese calendar.
Dr. Jeffrey Kotyk in his doctoral thesis Buddhist Dissertation Fellowship and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty , writes about the connection between Buddhism and astrology and is considered a specialist in this subject.
Each one of the zodiac animals is assigned to one of the years in a 12-year cycle, each with their own attributes and characteristics, and are associated with one of the five elements, wood, earth, fire, metal and water, as well as the life force referred to as Yang (active) and Yin (passive).
Unlike the Western astrological signs which are based on the constellations, the twelve animals representing the Chinese zodiac do not have a direct link to the constellations, but are linked more so to observations of the sun’s longitude and the phases of the moon.
During the Shang Dynasty Chinese astrologers and cosmologists invented the “10 tian gan”, referred to as "heavenly stems", used in combination with “12 di zhi” referred to as the "earthly branches" for chronological purposes, and are the signs used to designate the hours, days, months and years of a sixty-year cycle.
In ancient times many people were uneducated and illiterate, making these signs difficult to understand. To make it easier for most people to relate to and remember, twelve animals were chosen to symbolize the “12 earthly branches”.
During the Han Dynasty elements of Confucius teachings and beliefs such as the Yin and Yang philosophy, five elements, Heaven and Earth Confucian values and hierarchical social structures were brought together to formalize the philosophical principles of Chinese medicine, divination, astrology and alchemy.
The British historian and biochemist Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham (1900-1995), renowned for his research into the history of Chinese science and technology describes the philosopher, politician, historian, astrologer and naturalist Zou Yan (305BC – 240 BC), a scholar of the Jixia Academy who lived during the Warring States period (5th to 3rd centuries BC) as the original founder of all Chinese Scientific thoughts regarding the five elements and Yin and Yang.
Although Zou Yan’s writings have been lost in time, some of his writings were quoted in early Chinese texts.
The few examples of animal zodiac figures one sees today date to the Tang and Ming Dynasty.
THE TWELVE ANIMALS IN THE CHINESE CALENDAR
ABOUT THE BAMBOO SLIPS FOUND IN QIN DYNASTY TOMB
In December 1975, a large number of bamboo slips were excavated in a Qin tomb in Shuihudi in Yunmeng County, Hubei Province. Each bamboo slips is around 20cm long and 5mm to 8mm wide. The script written on the bamboo was written in the late Warring States period during the reign of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty.
The writings relate to various subjects from fortune telling, the legal system of the day, administrative documents, medical works of the Qin Dynasty, as well as the occupation of good and bad times
In 2002 another 37,000 Qin dynasty bamboo slips were excavated from a well typical of those built during the Warring States Period (475BC – 221 BC). This particular well was apparently not meant to hold water but instead to house these strips
These documents also cover a range of subjects such as memorial service, the recorded number of people living in the country, tax regulation, financial accounts, food stored by the local governments, military personal, court rulings etc.
From the Kangxi period (1662-1722 Qing dynasty), ceramics were frequently decorated with peaches representing long life and immortality and flying bats, with a few rare ceramics with bats being released from a gourd held by the immortal Li Tieh-Kuai symbolizing long life. The most popular decoration on ceramics from the Ming dynasty up until present times is the five blessings of longevity, health, morality, virtue and natural death referred to as "Wu-fu" with five flying bats.
In the paper written by Patrick de Vries on Daoist Symbols of Immortality and Longevity on Late Ming dynasty Porcelain, he mentions on page 19 the immortal Li Tieh-Kuai carrying a gourd from which bats fly.
I mention this in this article because it is generally not known that bats in Daoist mythology were released from a gourd by the immortal Li Tieguai, this immortal is more commonly known to hold and dispense medicines from the gourd.
Porcelain with a scene depicting bats being released from a gourd is quite rare. The vase pictured on the left is 41cm in height, it shows clearly bats, which are more well defined than those seen on the bowl on our website which is only 10 cm in height. This vase which was sold at auction by a famous auction house is stated to be a gift to royalty, so is of imperial quality.
The "Eight Immortals" is thought to have cropped up during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) when a group of figures. some who actually lived and others from Chinese myth were given the title of celestial beings with superhuman powers.
The Eight Immortals In Taoism
Lü Dongbin, (Lu Tung Pin)
- An historical figure who was a scholar and poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty, he is depicted with a fly whisk and his demon-slaying sword (magic sword). He is the patron deity for those who are highly literate.
- A mythological figure, he is often represented with a bare stomach and carrying a fan that resurrects the dead; and can transform stones into precious metals. He is usually shown with a long beard reaching to his naval and drinking wine. He became immortalized during the Han Dynasty, and in turn brought the aforementioned Lü Dongbin to immortality.
Cao Guo Jiu
- patron of the theatre and actors, also believed to be an historical figure. He was a member of the royal family during the Song Dynasty, he is seen dressed in official clothing, carrying the insignia of his office in the form of a jade tablet or castanets.
He Xian Gu
- In the shape of a young woman and was once seduced by Lü Dongbin. She is thought to be the daughter of He Tai and is seen carrying either a ladle or a lotus flower which is thought to improve physical health and mental well being.
Han Xiang Zi
- Whose name translates as "Philosopher Han Xiang", also thought to be an historical person who lived during the Tang Dynasty, supposedly the nephew of the famous Tang writer and Confucian Han Yu (768–824), Han Xiang is usually seen carrying a flute and is the patron deity of musicians.
Zhang Guo Lao
- Also an historical figure, he was a Taoist hermit living in the mountains of east central China between the 7th and 8th century. He is usually seen carrying a drum and depicted as an old man riding a donkey, sometimes backwards – which he apparently folded up like a piece of paper upon reaching his destination. He is regarded the patron of wine and the good life as well as the protector of children.
Lan Cai He
- Depicted in both male or female form, carrying a basket of fruit or flowers, and sometimes a flute. This deity symbolizes a carefree life free of the responsibilities and cares of ordinary life.
- Perhaps the most ancient of the eight immortals was also referred to as Iron Crutch Li, has carries an iron crutch and a gourd from which bats fly or to dispense medicine. He is thought to be ill tempered but also shows benevolence and is the patron deity to those who are needy or sick.
Li Tieguai supposedly lived at the turn of the sixth to the seventh century AD, and attained the Dao, or The Way, at an early age. One day, Li Tieguai was about to attend a meeting with the Master Lao Tze, in order to be instructed in Daoist teachings.
Before leaving he told his apprentice Li Qing to wait seven days for his soul to return, if he didn't return within this time he was instructed to cremate his body. The inevitable happened – the disciple did cremate his master’s body, but he did so early, on the sixth day, because he had to rush home to help his mother who had fallen ill. When Li’s spirit returned on the seventh day, he was understandably distraught at failing to find his body, and had no other choice but to enter the corpse of a beggar who had just starved to death, thus taking on the shape of a crippled man with an iron crutch.
The Chinese Presence in Ancient Myanmar, (Burma) has a long and colourful history. It is known that in the early part of the first millennium that Chinese traders traveled through Myanmar to the Gulf of Muttama (Martaban), in lower Burma where there was a lively trade route to and from India across the Gulf of Martaban. Even before the Christian Era in the second century BC Chinese records refer to a kingdom in what is now Upper Burma and a trade route through the mountain passes of Southwest China linking to Burma, Central Asia India and the Indian Ocean.
The Pyu, a Tibeto-Burmese tribe who founded several city kingdoms in the Irrawaddy Valley prior to the rule of Anawrahta, (1st King of Pagan, coming to the throne in 1044 AD), possibly engaged with the Chinese through trade and exchange of cultures for several hundred years before his rule, and that some smaller states in Burma from the Tang up until the Song Dynasty did likewise.
During the reign of King Anawrahta Buddhism was adopted as the main religion of Myanmar there was a flurry of activity and the Pagan Empire emerged with hundreds of stupas and temples being built to honor the Buddha, as well as a popularity for Buddhist iconography.
THE CHINESE IN ANCIENT BURMA
In this excellent paper written by Bob Hudson in 2004 "The archaeological landscape of Upper Burma to AD 1300" he writes about the existence of the Chinese in Myanmar.
Excerpt from his writings: Ref: page 36
"Chinese historians and geographers began to mention the territory that is now Myanmar as early as the second century BC, focusing on the Pyu kingdom(s) and people. There are references to overland trade or pilgrimage routes linking China, Upper Burma and India from 128 BC, to Pyu migrants settling in Yunnan (before AD 76), to a Buddhist kingdom, Linyang (nominated by Luce as the first textual mention of Buddhism in association with Burma) in the first half of the 3rd century, to a route from Yunnan to the Pyu kingdom (before AD 290), to a “civilised people” called the P’iao (before AD 420) and again around AD 524, to Linyang (Beikthano, or Vishnu City).
Gordon H. Luce's "Old Burma, Early Pagan" Volumes 1, 2 and 3 can be viewed here
During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) a Pyu capital, Shilichadaulo (Sriksetra) was mentioned in AD 646, 648, around 675 (the latter two in relation to Chinese Buddhist pilgrims), and 691. The overland trade route between Yunnan, Burma and India was described in detail in AD 810. Poems of the early 9th century describe performances by Pyu artistes at Chang-an, the Tang capital, in AD 800 and 801-802.
Later historical compilations the Man shu, or Book of the Southern Barbarians (AD 863), the Jiu Tang shu or Old History of the Tang Dynasty (AD 945) and the Tanghuiyao or Important Documents of the Tang (AD 961) all refer to the musicians’ visit of AD 801-802. The Xin Tang shu or New History of the Tang Dynasty contains a detailed description of the Pyu kingdom, even listing the songs performed by the Pyu on their visit to Chang-an.
During the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279), missions to the Song court from the P’u-kan kingdom in AD 1004 and 1106 are recorded in the Zhu fan shi or Description of Foreign Peoples of AD 1225. There is a record of missions from Bagan and Dali, including the presentation of gifts and Buddhist scriptures, to the Southern Song court in AD 1136. The name Pugan appears for the first time in Chinese records in AD 1178. An inscription of AD 1278 describes an incursion by the Bagan army into Yunnan.
From the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1279-1368) the Yuan wen lei or Collection of Literary Works of the Yuan (AD 1334) contains a detailed account of the wars between the Yuan and the Burmans in the period AD 1271-1301 (Pelliot 1904; Luce 1924: 137; Luce 1932, 1937, 1961; Luce 1969: 8, 95-96, Vol 1; Luce 1985: 47-108; Sun Laichen 1997: 9-20; Bhattacharyya 1998: 157-172; Chen Yi-Sein 1999: 65-90).
In the first significant western history of Burma based on Burmese sources, which covered the period “from the earliest times to the End of the First War with British India”, Phayre (1883) was generous to the traditional accounts, relating the history as told in the chronicles in detail, though at the same time pointing out their legendary nature. He accepted that Upper Burma’s Mongoloid tribes, with a language related to Tibetan, had been joined over time by Indian settlers moving across from East Bengal, resulting in “the gradual consolidation of those tribes into a nation, through the instruction of a more advanced race”. He introduced the periodisation that is still generally accepted - “The Pagan period”- “the Konbaung period” etc- and treated the Burmese chronicles as a “rational record with certain magical and non-rational accretions”(Tinker 1961).
The full document "The archaeological landscape of Upper Burma to AD 1300" can be Viewed Here