Category Archives: Burma

Mandalay restores stone plaques

inside-no-213TR Weekly
November 23, 2015 by Wanwisa Ngamsangchaikit

MANDALAY, 23 November 2015: Myanmar Ministry of Culture’s Archaeology and National Museum is collaborating with Sydney University’s Buddhist Studies Programme in Australia to restore stone inscriptions at Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay.

Global New Light of Myanmar reported the collaboration started since the beginning of the year.

According to Archaeology and National Museum’s Mandalay branch, technicians and experts are undertaking preservation works of stone plaques and pagodas, taking photo records, translating stone inscriptions from Pali-Myanmar to English and publishing academic articles about the stones and inscriptions.
Translation and publishing are being carried out by Sydney University.

The stone plaques depict Myanmar as it was in the 19th century as well as cultural aspects related to the Buddhist faith.

Kuthodaw Pagoda (also known as Maha Lawkamarazein Pagoda) was built by King Mindon in 1859. The pagoda, enclosed by high walls, was a repository for 729 stone plaques on Buddhist Pitaka.

The Buddhist stupa lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill contains the world’s largest book.

In 2013, the stone plaques from Kuthodaw Pagoda were included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.


Review: Shwe Man Thabin at Asia Society

Shwe Man Thabin Members of this Burmese troupe offered an abridged two-hour version of zat pwe, a traditional all-night performance, at Asia Society. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Shwe Man Thabin Members of this Burmese troupe offered an abridged two-hour version of zat pwe, a traditional all-night performance, at Asia Society. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The New York Times

Zat pwe, an outdoor Burmese performance dating to the late 1800s, is a busy, all-night affair in which Buddhist offerings mingle with court and folk traditions, acting, opera scenes, a percussion-and-gong ensemble and dancers who melt onto the stage like marionettes. In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, such events end at sunrise, which is ushered in by the hna pa thwa, an unbroken, improvised sequence of dance, singing, acting and clowning.

For its weekend engagement of Shwe Man Thabin, a troupe formed in 1933 by Shwe Man Tin Maung, the Asia Society in New York offered an abridged two-hour version as part of Myanmar’s Moment, a series that coincides with the institution’s museum exhibition “Buddhist Art of Myanmar.” On Friday, 18 endearing musicians and dancers appeared from Shwe Man Thabin, a 75-member multigenerational group, affording audiences a rare taste of Myanmar’s culture.

Marionettes were used in the royal courts to dramatize Buddhist jataka tales, about the lives of Buddha. The influence of marionette movement is fascinating today, as agile dancers bound into the air and then collapse on the floor like wilted dolls with one leg stretched forward and the other bent behind. Continue reading

Berlin Film Review: ‘Golden Kingdom’


‘Golden Kingdom’ Review: An Intimate Look
February 19, 2015 | 03:52AM PT

Brian Perkins’s exploration of four young Buddhists’ coming of age fuses docu-style observation with transporting spiritualism.

Guy Lodge

A cultivated sense of calm — no more or less than you’d expect from a study of Buddhist practice — permeates “Golden Kingdom,” an impressively disciplined, occasionally transporting debut feature from globe-trotting American helmer Brian Perkins. Blending documentary-style observation with supernaturally embellished storytelling, this picturesque portrait of four child monks in Myanmar forced to fend to themselves in the absence of their mentor adds a bracing spiritual dimension to an otherwise universal boys-to-men arc. Premiered in Berlin’s youth-oriented Generation strand, the film may only resonate with children of a particularly patient persuasion, but international auds will find keys to this particular “Kingdom” via ample festival travel and niche arthouse bookings.

The Portland-born Perkins is hardly the first visiting filmmaker to shed some light on a religion still subject to exoticization and commercial exploitation in Western culture, but “Golden Kingdom” is a more intimate appreciation of Buddhism than Martin Scorsese’s rapturous “Kundun” or Bernardo Bertolucci’s earnest but misguided “Little Buddha.” The first feature film shot in Myanmar since the civil war-blighted region was opened up to the outside world in the last decade, “Kingdom” has been conceived and constructed with painstaking dedication to authenticity: Three of the film’s four young leads are real-life apprentice monks, while the director’s own extensive research into the history, traditions and language of the territory is evident in the final product.

There’s less focus in Perkins’s film on ritualized spectacle, but beauty emerges anyway from the finer details of everyday religious custom: Under the steadily focused, pristinely composed gaze of Bella Halben’s camera, the mere lighting of a match gains acquires a hushed sense of consequence. That, indeed, is the image that bookends this placidly paced adventure; everything in between has a folkloric air to it, as if viewed in the eye of the flame. Furthermore, it’s difficult to identify quite when the narrative takes place, given the spartan, convenience-free state of the remote monastery in which it is set, and glimpses of conflict that has been raging in Burma since the country attained independence in 1948. Yet such imprecision seems paradoxically calculated in a film dedicated to the constancy of inner faith amid outer turmoil.

It’s the stabilizing influence of spirituality, as much the seclusion of the jungle, that appears to shelter these four young ko yin (junior monks) from harsher realities. When the monastery’s chief abbot (U Zaw Ti Ka, himself a real-life Buddhist sayadaw) is called away on a mission to the distant city, however, the boys are left to face practical obstacles that place greater demands on their faith than their routine of peaceable piety. The most resourceful and charismatic of the boys, Witizara (Shine Htet Zaw), is placed in charge, and the film’s focus gradually shifts to his own internal quest for maturity and serenity — not, for most boys, a complementary pair of objectives. The only non-monk of the quartet — though a similarly unaffected non-pro presence — the young actor is an engaging, visibly thoughtful guide for viewers into the pic’s esoteric reaches; Perkins keeps a respectfully objective distance from Buddhist tradition itself, but doesn’t shy away from uncanny incursions on the narrative.

At a little more than 100 minutes, “Golden Kingdom” might benefit from an even more slender frame; a handful of lulls and repetitive tests of resilience within Witizara’s journey to self threaten to break the film’s meditative spell. Even at its most languorous, however, the film’s shimmering imagery never palls: Working with soft natural light and an earthy palette, Halben’s lensing doesn’t feel obliged to sweeten the wonder of the location, but provokes a number of gasps anyway. David C. Hughes’s score is similarly sympathetic to the pic’s organic approach, seamlessly fusing traditional instrumentation with the avian chirrups and wind-rustled foliage of its sound design.

Berlin Film Review: ‘Golden Kingdom’
Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Generation Kplus), Feb. 9, 2014. Running time: 103 MIN.

A Wide presentation of a Bank & Shoal production. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Brian Perkins, Matt O’Connor. Executive producer, Jessica Ballard. Co-producer, U-Than Htay. Co-executive producers, Marshall Brandt, Alfred Dong.

Directed, written by Brian Perkins. Camera (color, Arri widescreen), Bella Halben; editor, Sebastian Bonde; music, David C. Hughes; sound, Alex Altman; supervising sound editor, Doug Winningham; re-recording mixers, Kent Sparling, David C. Hughes; visual effects supervisor, Miles Lauridson; visual effects, Extrinsic Media; associate producer, John Belitsky; assistant director, Matt O’Connor.

Shine Htet Zaw, Ko Yin Saw Ri, Ko Yin Than Maung, Ko Yin Maung Sein, Sayadaw U Zaw Ti Ka, U Kyar, Ma Nan Yunn, Thein Ngwe, Ma Moe Aye. (Burmese dialogue)


Burmese Buddhist art premieres in New York

Plaque with image of seated Buddha. Pagan period, 11th–13th century. Gilded metal with polychrome. Bagan Archaeological Museum (Photo: Sean Dungan)

Plaque with image of seated Buddha. Pagan period, 11th–13th century. Gilded metal with polychrome. Bagan Archaeological Museum (Photo: Sean Dungan)

18 January 2015

An exhibition that will showcase Buddhist art from Burma – the first of its kind in the US – will open in New York on 10 February and run for three months.

Around 70 exhibits in Buddhist Art of Myanmar, ranging from the fifth- to the 20th-centuries, will “highlight the long and continuous presence of Buddhism in Myanmar [Burma] since the early first millennium, as well as the unique combination of style, technique, and religious deities that appeared in the arts of Buddhist Myanmar,” according to Asia Society Museum, the event organisers.

This display is significant at a time when interest is growing in Burma after years of economic and cultural detachment. Tom Nagorski, executive vice-president of the Asia Society, told DVB that, “The exhibition comes at an unprecedented time for Myanmar, after a long period of isolation. A few years ago, exhibiting this artwork across the world would have been impossible.”

Continue reading

A Buddhist Tradition: Boating Through Bago Paddy Fields

July 16, 2014

People make offerings to the statue of Kamae Phyin Bo Bo Gyi . (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

People make offerings to the statue of Kamae Phyin Bo Bo Gyi . (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

KA WA, Bago Division — Once every year, this sleepy provincial town in Bago Division sees a throng of visitors.

Under cloudy skies on the Full Moon Day of Waso, thousands of Buddhists from Rangoon and the divisional capital Bago descend upon the town of Ka Wa to pay homage to Khamae Pyin Bo Bo Gyi, a local guardian spirit long believed to offer blessings of safety, prosperity and good health.

The town is about 22 miles from Bago, and when visitors arrive for the holiday, they look forward to another joyous activity: throwing water at each other during a boat-ride through flooded paddy fields on the way to the guardian spirit’s shrine. Continue reading

Book: Sazigyo, Burmese Manuscript Binding Tapes: Woven Miniatures of Buddhist Art

ISASAZSazigyo, Burmese Manuscript Binding Tapes: Woven Miniatures of Buddhist Art
HARDCOVER (9786162150739)
PUBLISHED: June 2014
BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 304 pp., 920 color illus, 9 x 11 in.

[from publisher’s website]

Sazigyo are fine, tablet-woven Burmese tapes used to bind the palm-leaf manuscripts of an earlier era. Tiny images and extended texts were deftly woven into the long, colorful bindings. These Buddhist “textile texts” were commissioned by donors to make merit in the hope of attaining a better rebirth and ultimately nirvana.

This beautiful book elucidates the religious and social context of sazigyo and describes in detail the weaves, texts, designs, and images. It contains stunning, full-scale reproductions and enlargements of many hundreds of sazigyo segments found in collections throughout the world and presents translated excerpts from 150 sazigyo texts.

The book is a celebration of a craft now vanishing and a tribute to the skill and flair of Burmese women weavers. It will appeal to weavers and textile designers and to all admirers of exquisite craftsmanship.

RALPH ISAACS is coauthor of Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and the Art of Lacquer.

‘We Wanted to Convey Through This Film That Nobody Wants Conflict’

July 3, 2014

human rights culture Myanmar

Phyo Zayar Kyaw, 28, is one of the three filmmakers who made “The Open Sky,” a 20-minute documentary shot in Meikthila, a town in central Burma that witnessed horrendous, deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in March 2013.

The film was supposed to be screened at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival in Rangoon on June 15-19, but was cancelled after criticism on social media from Burmese Buddhists, who claimed that it was too sympathetic to the predicament of Muslims. It was one of five films produced by students of Rangoon’s Human Dignity Film Institute.

The film follows the life of a Muslim woman whose house was burned down during the anti-Muslim violence, but who refuses to leave Meikthila as she considers it her home. A Buddhist friend helps the woman during the conflict and the documentary shows their views of the conflict, and of each other.

Phyo Zayar Kyaw spoke to The Irrawaddy about the film’s cancellation, the idea behind the documentary and the challenges he faced during its production. Continue reading

This Film Is About the Remarkable Friendship Between a Buddhist and Muslim in Myanmar. So Why All the Hate?

Global Voices
Thant Sin
25 June 2014

open sky

Film poster from the official Facebook page of the festival.

The second ‘Human Rights Human Dignity’ Film Festival held in Yangon, Myanmar, on June 15-19 featured a total of 67 films, including 32 local films, dedicated to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the late U Win Tin, Myanmar’s longest-held political prisoner.

A noble cause, but one that was overshadowed this year by the last-minute cancellation of the screening of ‘The Open Sky’, a 20-minute documentary film about a friendship between a Buddhist woman and a Muslim woman amidst the communalviolence that gripped the town of Meikhtila last year. Those riots spread to other towns in central Myanmar and left more than 40 people dead. Continue reading

Japanese techniques saving murals in Myanmar’s ancient temple complex

Asahi Shimbun
March 19, 2014

A temple in Bagan, Myanmar, where murals have sharply deteriorated. Paint and plaster have peeled off in places, exposing the bricks underneath. (Eijiro Morii)

A temple in Bagan, Myanmar, where murals have sharply deteriorated. Paint and plaster have peeled off in places, exposing the bricks underneath. (Eijiro Morii)

BAGAN, Myanmar–Japanese specialists who helped restore murals in ancient Japanese tombs are working with Myanmar to preserve centuries-old Buddhist images at the sprawling Bagan temple complex here.

The site ranks alongside the grandeurs of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia.

Of the many thousands of Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, more than 3,000 survive in Bagan.

Richly colored murals have deteriorated in many places due to rain seeping into cracks in walls caused by earthquakes and weathering. This has damaged the plaster on which the works were painted. Continue reading

Will the ancient Buddhist temples of Bagan turn into Disney World?

March 17, 2014


The sun rises over the ancient city of Bagan and its Buddhist temples and pagodas. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks/PBS NewsHour

Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown is writing from Myanmar (formerly Burma) as part of a new series “Culture at Risk.” Learn more about why Brown is there in his reflections “Is culture at risk in Myanmar?

Five-thirty in the morning and we are climbing the narrow steps up to the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda in the dark. That, of course, is the point if we’re to be there in time to watch the sun rise over a plain of pagodas and temples that date back a thousand years — Shwesandaw itself was erected in 1057. But, still, dark, barefoot (no shoes allowed on the temples), steep and yours truly is not a fan of great heights. It is, at least, cool. The coolest time of the day, before temperatures on this dry, dusty plain top a hundred degrees. Continue reading