Category Archives: Myanmar

Defacing Bagan

CaptureFrontier magazine
27 Aug 2016
The archaeological treasures on the plain of Bagan have suffered many kinds of damage over the centuries, including being defaced by visitors behaving like vandals.


KO THAN Htike, a sand-painting artist in Bagan, once found inspiration for his work in a mural in one of the archaeological zone’s thousands of Buddhist temples and pagodas.

The mural depicted a woman playing a harp on top of an elephant while 10 women danced around the animal. The mural, possibly from the golden age of Bagan, between the 9th and 13th centuries, or perhaps added later, was a popular source of inspiration for many of the artists in the area who work with coloured sand.

“When I went to look at it again, I found it had been destroyed,” said Than Htike, who sells his creations outside Bagan’s 11th century Abeyadana Temple. “Someone had scratched it with a piece of metal; it was heart-breaking.”

Teza Hlaing / Frontier

Teza Hlaing / Frontier







The temples at Bagan have suffered various kinds of damage and destruction in the past 1,000 years, including an earthquake in 1975 and renovation projects during junta rule that were criticised for not respecting the architectural integrity of the ancient sites.

Disrespectful, unscrupulous or ignorant visitors have also damaged temples, such as by stealing bricks, and the condition of the buildings has also deteriorated over the centuries because of the harsh climate of the central dry zone.

Archaeologists from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture say Bagan has 3,122 temples and pagodas, of which about 400 have murals. Continue reading

Buddhist Temples in Myanmar damaged by Earthquake

An Aerial view of Sulamani Temple after an earthquake last week. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

An Aerial view of Sulamani Temple after an earthquake last week. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck central Myanmar on August 24 has caused extensive damage to the area’s Buddhist sites. Read articles at The IrawaddyMyanmar Times, and Radio Free Asia.

Myanmar earthquake: One dead and temples damaged

_90915201_699e1976-ffb5-4ec4-a005-be159fda7a9eBBC News
24 August 2016

A general view shows the damage at the Sulamani temple in Bagan, southwest of Mandalay, Myanmar, 25 August 2016.Image copyrightEPA

The Sulamani temple was damaged by the quake

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake has hit central Myanmar, damaging pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan and killing at least one person.

The quake struck 25km (15.5 miles) west of Chauk, at a depth of 84km, the US Geological Survey said.

Tremors were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and India, sending fearful residents into the streets.

At least 66 stupas in Bagan have been damaged, a spokesman from the department of archaeology told the BBC.

A 22-year-old man was killed in the town of Pakokku due to a building collapse.

Videos posted on social media from Bagan show clouds of dust and the tops of some pagodas crumbling as the quake struck.

The ancient capital is a major tourist site, home to thousands of Buddhist monuments.

Earthquakes occur regularly in central Myanmar and the temples have been damaged and reconstructed before, the BBC’s Myanmar correspondent Jonah Fisher says.

Workers rushed out of their offices in Kolkata, India, after feeling the quake

Bagan’s temples were built between the 10th and 14th centuries

There are numerous reports of buildings being damaged elsewhere in the country, including the parliament building in Naypyidaw.

Tall buildings shook in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, the Thai capital Bangkok and Kolkata in India, where underground railway services were temporarily suspended.

At least 20 people were injured in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, as they fled a building, local media report.


Finding Dhamma in Yangon


The Free Press Journal
— By RUBY LILAOWALA | Jul 05, 2015 07:40 am

RUBY LILAOWALA learns more about Buddhist art and culture from her visit to Yangon.

Although Myanmar has opened itself up to tourism since a decade or so, the old capital city of Yangon and its suburbs can still boast largely unexplored Buddhist art and culture.

Under a scorching Sun and with our bare feet burning from tiled walkways we, a group of Indians with some Thais, entered several pagodas and temples in Yangon and the suburban town of Thanlyin. However, we felt this trip was worth all the effort and expense because we learnt so much about Buddhist art and culture from one Khatha Chinbunchon who is not only a famous fortune-teller but also a PhD student in Buddhism.

We visited the famed Shwedagon Pagoda, Parami Monastery, Botahtaung Pagoda and the temples of Chauk Kyauk Gyi (the huge marble Buddha) in Yangon and the Kyauk Hmaw Wan Yele Pagoda in Thanlyin.

The town of Thanlyin, formally called Syriam, is about 45 km east of Yangon across the Bago River. It is now a major port town. In the late 1500s’, it was the base of Portuguese adventurer Philip De Britto, who first served the King of Arakan, the ruler of Syriam from 1599 1613. More Portuguese settled in Syriam and built forts for defence. He finally declared independence from Arakan but was defeated by the Burmese and executed for demolishing temples, pagodas and Buddhist images in Toungoo. In 1756, Thanlyn was destroyed by King Alaungpaya, who unified and ruled Myanmar from 1752 to 1760.2nd lead 2

Along the way back to Yangon, Katha Chinbunchon talked about Buddhist legends relating to the two pagodas and the Reclining Buddha. Both the pagodas contain Lord Buddha’s hair relics. Two Bamar merchants, Taphussa and Ballika were the first two people to give alms to Lord Buddha after his Enlightenment. Both obtained eight strands of the Buddha’s as a blessing.

On their way back, the King of the Nagas took two of their hair relics. When they finally arrived in Dagon (the present day Yangon), the two merchants were ceremonially welcomed by King Okkapala and his military officers. The King built the Botahtaung Pagoda for enshrining two of the Buddha’s hair relics and later the Shwedagon Pagoda on a hill for keeping the rest.

Throughout the trip, our group noticed the people’s strong faith in Buddhism through their modest ways of life, praying and meditation, while a few Thai tourists who were there sought blessings from Buddha statutes and sacred sculptures. We saw them make a wish before the statues of the Botahtuang Pagoda’s guardian spirits, Poe Poe Gyi and Ahmagyi Mya Nan New.

We learnt that about 90% of the 53 million people in Mayanmar are Theravada Buddhists. Their next door neighbour, Thailand has a similar culture and many common festivals, including water splashing during Songkran and religious ceremonies for Buddhist Lent. On the last day in Yangon, we visited the sacred White Elephant Centre, enjoyed shopping at the Aung San Market, tasted local food and watched a cultural performance at a boat shaped Hall on Kandawgyi Lake. Our hearts were filled with dhamma.

This wonderful trip was sometimes spoiled when the local people tried to cheat us by refusing to return the change against things and souvenirs bought. We also noticed that local women wait inside restrooms at a few tourist attractions to hand over tissue paper and then expect a big tip. Cheating is unacceptable and is especially unbearable at temples where people came to make merit and do good. But except for some such incidents, I had many good experiences, especially at the two main pagodas where I could feel the genuine warmth of the people.


New Book: Buddhist Art of Myanmar

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Buddhist Art of Myanmar
Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Donald M. Stadtner, U Tun Aung Chain, Jacques Leider, Patrick Pranke, Robert Brown, Heidi Tan, Adriana Proser

Asia Society
Publication date: 03 Mar 2015
ISBN: 9780300209457
Dimensions: 272 pages: 267 x 229 x 23mm
Illustrations: 150 color illus.

The practice of Buddhism in Myanmar (Burma) has resulted in the production of dazzling objects since the 5th century. This landmark publication presents the first overview of these magnificent works of art from major museums in Myanmar and collections in the United States, including sculptures, paintings, textiles, and religious implements created for temples and monasteries, or for personal devotion. Many of these pieces have never before been seen outside of Myanmar. Accompanied by brilliant color photography, essays by Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Donald M. Stadtner, and scholars from around the world synthesize the history of Myanmar from the ancient through colonial periods and discuss the critical links between religion, geography, governance, historiography, and artistic production. The authors examine the multiplicity of styles and techniques throughout the country, the ways Buddhist narratives have been conveyed through works of art, and the context in which the diverse objects were used. Certain to be the essential resource on the subject, Buddhist Art of Myanmar illuminates two millennia of rarely seen masterpieces.

Myanmar-China Buddhist art exhibition launched in Yangon

Xinhua News Agency on Apr 8, 2015 @ 3:15 AM

YANGON, April 8 (Xinhua) — A Myanmar-China Buddha Heritage Photo and Painting Exhibition was launched at Myanmar’s Shewdagon Pagoda in Yangon Wednesday.

Jointly organized by Myanmar-China Friendship Association, China-Myanmar Friendship Association and Myanmar Photographic Society, the three day-exhibition features ancient Buddha statues from Beijing Lingguang Temple, ancient paintings which portrait Buddha heritage from Fahai Temple and cave temples of Dunhuang.

The exhibition was made on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Myanmar.

U Soe Win, Vice Chairman of Myanmar-China Friendship Association said the exchange and cooperation on religious affairs between the two countries will help Myanmar people understand the friendly communication between the Buddhist circles .

He also said he believed that the move will reinforce the friendship between the two peoples.

Meanwhile, the painting, which portraits the statue of the Nirvana Buddha at the Mogao Grottoes, was presented to Shwedagon Pagoda last Sunday for public homage.

The painting is about 6 meters long and created by Gao Feng, head of the Dunhuang Buddhist Painting and Calligraphy Academy.

Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China’s northwest Gansu Province, are famous for a huge collection of Buddhist artwork, boasting more than 2,000 colored sculptures and 45,000 square meters of murals in 735 caves carved along a cliff.


Myanmar Buddhism in all its glory

Win Khant Maung
Myanmar Eleven March 23, 2015 1:00 am

When it comes to the Asian art scene in the West, Myanmar seems to play second fiddle to its neighbouring countries. Exhibitions on traditional Myanmar art are few and far between in places like New York City, USA, despite an array of exhibitions staged each month by more than 80 museums there.

Well, the good news is the trend is changing. Some museums are scrambling to grow its Myanmar art collections, with some ancient Myanmar artefacts recently added to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Hindu-Buddhist collection. In terms of grandness, nothing beats “Buddhist Art of Myanmar”, a new monumental exhibition being organised by Asia Society until May 10 at its headquarters in New York.

The exhibition is unique in that it’s not an exhibition of works by a particular artist. Instead it features rare collections related to Buddhism in Myanmar. On display are over 70 artefacts, most of which have never left Myanmar before and are on loan from the National Museum of Myanmar in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, Bagan Archeological Museum, Sri Ksetra Archaeological Museum in Hmawza, and the Kaba Aye Buddhist Museum in Yangon. Other sculptures are from public and private collections in the United States.

The exhibition is spread across three floors of the Asia Society Museum, which is located at the corner of Park Avenue and 70th Street in New York. A curator is on hand to guide the visitors through the exhibition daily at 2pm. What I immediately like on my arrival at the museum is its serene environment and the simplicity of the exhibition layout. Visitors are greeted on arrival by a row of Buddha images, eyes downcast. Continue reading

Buddhist Archaeology in Myanmar: International and Local Landscapes

Speaker: Prof Elizabeth Moore

Date: Monday, 13 April 2015
Time: 3 – 4.30 pm
Venue: ISEAS Seminar Room 2

About the Speaker

Prof Elizabeth Moore is Visiting Senior Fellow at NSC and Professor of Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She specialises in the connections between the past and present in the archaeology, cultural heritage and landscape of Mainland Southeast Asia during the first and early second millennia CE. She is the author of The Pyu Landscape: Collected Articles (Nay Pyi Taw: Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, 2012) and Early Landscapes of Myanmar (Bangkok: River Books, 2007). She has authored a number of journal articles and book chapters on Myanmar archaeology, as well being a member of the drafting team for the UNESCO World Heritage List 2014 inscription of the early first millennium CE Pyu Ancient Cities and the in progress nomination of 9–13th century CE Bagan. She is currently working on publications on the living heritage of ancient Bagan and Kyaukse as well as a co-authored comparison of water management at Bagan and Dawei, Lower Myanmar.

At NSC, she has been working on the role of archaeology in ASEAN in defining sustainable cultural values. The Pyu Ancient Cities 2014 inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List gave the nation its first UNESCO site. Singapore’s first nomination to the World Heritage List, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, will be decided in June 2015, coinciding with SG50, the year-long celebration of the nation’s heritage. The project begins by comparing the relationship between international, national and local archaeology; and tangible and intangible cultural heritage in Myanmar and Singapore and drawing upon case studies in Cambodia and Thailand.

About the Talk

With the 2014 UNESCO World Heritage inscription of the early Buddhist ‘Pyu Ancient Cities’, discussions are underway at the ‘Bagan Archaeological Area and Monuments’ included on the country’s Tentative List revised in 2014. Bagan’s arid environment, with less than 600 mm of rainfall per annum, has helped to preserve mural paintings in several hundreds of the thousands of brick structures of the ancient city. The temples and stupas are laid out across a broad floodplain between ranges on the opposite bank of the river and to the southeast. The traditional rural setting of the temples scattered between village fields has been sustained with cultivation of sugar palms, onions and beans relying on a delicate system of water management. There is the life of the Ayeyarwaddy River as well, with sand-cultivation and boats plying up and down at small jetties. Greening projects plus the infrastructure and water needs of expanding tourism have put increasing pressure on this extraordinary ecology and way of life. The living culture of Bagan includes at least 400 active monasteries. Bagan has a deep and long-lived significance as a pilgrimage destination, where the charitable donation underlying customary repair of pagodas often runs counter to international preservation norms. There is, in addition, the relationship of villages and monasteries to temple festivals and the most popular pilgrimage circuits. Both the rich archaeology and this living heritage of Bagan are part of current research as well heritage activities at international and local levels of Myanmar’s ancient landscapes.


Myanmar Sentences 3 to Prison for Depicting Buddha Wearing Headphones

Philip Blackwood, a bar manager from New Zealand, leaving court on Tuesday. Mr. Blackwood and two Burmese men were sentenced to two years in prison in Myanmar for posting an image online of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote an event. Credit Soe Than Win/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Philip Blackwood, a bar manager from New Zealand, leaving court on Tuesday. Mr. Blackwood and two Burmese men were sentenced to two years in prison in Myanmar for posting an image online of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote an event. Credit Soe Than Win/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The New York Times

YANGON, Myanmar — A bar manager from New Zealand and two Burmese men were sentenced to two years in prison in Myanmar on Tuesday for posting an image online of the Buddha wearing headphones, an effort to promote an event.

The court in Yangon said the image denigrated Buddhism and was a violation of Myanmar’s religion act, which prohibits insulting, damaging or destroying religion. “It is clear the act of the bar offended the majority religion in the country,” said the judge, U Ye Lwin.

The image was posted in December on the Facebook page of the VGastro bar and restaurant in Yangon. After an outcry from hard-line Buddhist groups, the police arrested the restaurant’s general manager, Philip Blackwood, 32, of New Zealand, along with the bar owner, U Tun Thurein, 40, and the manager, U Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26. The three have been held in Insein prison in Yangon.

In addition to the two-year prison term for violating the religion act, the three were also sentenced to six months for illegally operating a bar after 10 p.m. Mr. Blackwood said after the verdict that the men had expected they would be convicted.

The case has added to growing concerns about religious and ethnic intolerance in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where Muslims have faced increasing discrimination and violence. Hundreds of people were killed in sectarian violence in western and central Myanmar in 2012 and 2013. The country’s Parliament is also considering new laws that critics fear will be used to discriminate against minorities.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, who is based in Bangkok, called the verdict “outrageous.”

“This is a clear instance of criminalizing free expression,” he said. “This will resonate in a very significant, negative way internationally when people decide how to engage with Burma.” Continue reading

Buddhist art of Myanmar review: a subtle, sculptural nirvana

 Parinibbana, from the Kubyauknge Temple, Myinkaba village, circa 1198. Photograph: Sean Dungan/Bagan Archaeological Museum

Parinibbana, from the Kubyauknge Temple, Myinkaba village, circa 1198. Photograph: Sean Dungan/Bagan Archaeological Museum

The Guardian

Opening up of Burma has resulted in a beautiful and fascinating exhibition of paintings, weavings and manuscripts – but it’s the sculpture that really shines

Jason Farago
Friday 13 February 2015 13.54 EST

“Beauty is meaningless until it is shared,” wrote George Orwell in Burmese Days – his coruscating first novel of life in south-east Asia during the last days of the Raj. It was truer than Orwell could have realized. For five decades after 1962, when a military dictatorship took power in Burma, the country’s rich cultural legacy was essentially put on ice. (After the widespread protests in 1988 and the emergence of Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta changed the country’s name to Myanmar – a decision that still grates. The Guardian prefers to call the country Burma.)

Museums languished, starved of modern conservation science or even electricity. Looting, already a problem in the colonial era, continued under the kleptocratic military regime. International loans were unthinkable. Tourism was essentially nonexistent. Censorship was standard.

Buddha, Pyu period, eighth-ninth century Facebook Twitter Pinterest Buddha, Pyu period, eighth-ninth century. Photograph: Sean Dungan/Sri Ksetra Archaeological Museum, Hmawza

Buddha, Pyu period, eighth-ninth century Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Buddha, Pyu period, eighth-ninth century. Photograph: Sean Dungan/Sri Ksetra Archaeological Museum, Hmawza

Yet four years ago, the military junta was officially dissolved, and Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. The military still exerts great control – but Burma is opening up. Last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented Lost Kingdoms, a landmark exhibition of early south-east Asian art that included unprecedented loans from Burmese museums. Now comes Buddhist Art of Myanmar, a new exhibition at Asia Society: the first museum show in the United States to look solely at the art of south-east Asia’s least understood nation. Much of the art here has never left Burma.

It’s a bogglingly diverse nation, and its population of 50 million includes dozens of different ethnic groups, though this show looks only at Buddhist cultural traditions. (Theravada Buddhists make up about 90% of today’s Burma, and running conflicts with Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities formed part of the pretext for the junta’s long rule.) Religious, linguistic, and stylistic diversity has been a constant in Burmese history since the establishment of Buddhism by Indian monks around 500 AD. A worn, enigmatic two-sided stele from that era, loaned from the National Museum of Myanmar in Rangoon (it was also included in Lost Kingdoms last year), shows a warrior toting a huge club in both hands, attended by a deputies holding staffs with symbols of Vishnu. But on the back is a throne reminiscent of Buddhist kingship, and earlier documentation suggests that a Buddhist dharmachakra, or wheel of law, once hovered above the scene, as prominent as the Hindu symbols.

Burmese art grew in sophistication as Buddhism took root, especially during the Pagan period of the 11th to 13th centuries, which saw the Burmese language spread across the kingdom. Religious architecture proliferated – its capital, now called Bagan, is studded with soaring, gilded pagodas – and the life of the Buddha provided fertile material for both religious veneration and artistic experiments. There’s a sandstone sculpture here, 900 years old, in which the Buddha sits cross-legged, eyes shut, with a sword in his right hand. He’s taking the blade to his own hair, chopping off his topknot. The long path to enlightenment under the tree in Bodhgaya begins here: the prince turns into a monk, mortality gives way to divinity.

The show features manuscripts, weavings, furniture, and more than a few paintings – including an exquisite illustrated folding book, painted on mulberry paper, that depicts the grand procession of Myanmar’s last king en route to a white pagoda, borne by an elephant. But sculpture is where the Buddhist art of Burma really shines, and its beauty and intensity reflect not only monarchical power but everyday faith. In Burma, devout Theravada Buddhists evince a deep commitment to merit-making – the accrual of karma through acts of charity and self-sacrifice – and donations of up to a quarter of one’s income are not uncommon. A bell whose holding ring is fringed with lions, from the late 19th century, is inscribed on the circumference with the Burmese equivalent of an art donor thank-you: a mother and daughter, “with a clear, detached mind full of good intentions”, donated the bell with the express purpose of attaining nirvana.

Mara’s Demons, Shwegugyi Temple, Pegu, c. 1479 Photograph: Sean Dungan/Bagan Archaeological Museum

Mara’s Demons, Shwegugyi Temple, Pegu, c. 1479 Photograph: Sean Dungan/Bagan Archaeological Museum

Asia Society has been working on this show since 2011, when the Obama administration relaxed sanctions against Burma as the country began reforms. It took years to convince officials to agree to loan the dozens of works on view here, and the resultant show isn’t a blockbuster. It is a quieter, subtler effort, a showcase of diplomacy as much as art history. There are better reasons to hope for political reform in Burma – and the possible ascent of Suu Kyi at this year’s critical elections – than the mere possibility of western art loans. But beauty is meaningless unless it is shared. It would be wonderful to see shows like this more frequently, and even to start sending our Pollocks and Warhols to the galleries of Rangoon.