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Object - Harp, Saung gauk
Place of origin - Prome, Burma (possibly, made)
Height: 61 cm Length: 72.5 cm
Date - 1875-1900 (made)
Materials and Techniques - Carved hollow wood, coated with black thitsi lacquer and gold leaf, enriched with relief moulded lacquer and glass inlay work.
Current Location - Victoria & Albert Museum
Museum number - IM.234-1927Gallery location - In store
Credit Line - Bequeathed by the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston

Physical description
The resonance case is in the form of a curved boat of which the prow is carried up in a long arc curving inwards. The "deck" is of animal skin, pierced with four round sound-holes. Along the middle of this drum runs a blade of wood drilled with thirteen holes through which are tied the ends of the strings, originally of varnished silk but now of string. The other ends of the 13 strings are tied round the front of the arc and they are tuned by means of red cotton tasselled cords looped in a special way round each string and round the arc. Black and gold decoration runs all the way around the sound box. This takes the form of six scenes from the Ramayana amid scrolling foliation, and bears five kite-shaped panels of inscription commenting on the action (two on one side, three on the other). The inscriptions on the first side read (descriptions of the action are given in square brackets):

1. `Prince Rama pursues Kambi disguised as a hind, shoots an arrow and hits her'. [A male hunter comes upon the Golden Deer who is shown as a human-faced quadruped, with no bestial features or ogre headdress.]
2.`The royal younger brother Lakshmana goes off (?to help) Prince Rama.' [Lakshmana draws a line in the ground with his bow and heads off into the forest.]
3.`Ravana disguised as a mendicant accepts a gift of fruit offered by Lady Sita.' [Ravana disguised as a beggar with an alms bowl approaches Sita who, kneeling, offers him fruit piled on daung lan stand. Ravana's aerial chariot is parked, ready for escape, at the far end of this panel]. On the other side:
4. `Prince Rama, his younger brother Lakshmana and Lady Sita are attacked by ogres, the elder and younger brother, Duthagara'. [A male figure,Lakshmana (?), brandishes a bow, or instructs its use; a male and a female figure close by.]
5. No inscription. [The two ogres are attacked.]
6. `Shot by prince Rama's arrows, the Duthagara brother lid dead. The lady Meme Kambi having followed, comes up to the place [The two ogres lie dead in a pit with arrows through their chests; a female figure comes upon them.] A peacock, the national symbol of Burma, is depicted in gold on black at the end farthest from the arc, between the Ramayana episodes. The "deck" and the arc have raised gilded scroll-work and red, green and white mirror-glass arranged in rosettes and lines.
Carved hollow wood, coated with shwe-zawa work ( black thitsi-lacquer and gold leaf) enriched with small patines of thayo (moulded) and hman-zi shwe-cha (glass inlay) work.Descriptive lineSaung gauk, Burmese boat-shaped harp of thirteen strings and red silk tuning cords. Made of carved wood, coated in shwei zawa (black & gold thitsi-lacquer) work and enriched with small patines of thayo (relief moulded) hman-zi shwei-cha (glass inlay) work of red, green and white mirror-glass. With scenes from the Ramayana amidst foliate designs. ca. last quarter of the 19th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)John Lowry Burmese Art London Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1974; Pl. 38
Sylvia Fraser-Lu Burmese Lacquerware The Tamarind Press Bangkok 1985; p. 138

Ralph Isaacs & T. Richard Blurton Visions from the Golden Land - Burma and the art of lacquer. British Museum Press 2000; Catalogue number and plate 128; p.177; (Catalogue of Exhibition of Burmese Lacquerware at the British Museum; Summer 2000).

Historical significance
The beautiful saung-gauk has a long history in Burma - from 10th century Pagan or earlier to the present day. Valued as an instrument that is played in a solo performance or popularly to accompany vocal presentations or purely as an ornament placed on its stand.
NoteRalph Isaacs is of the opinion that this harp was possibly produced by the master craftsman, Hsaya Pa of Prome for the Indian Art Exhibition; Delhi 1902. See References below.

This entry was posted on Apr 6, 2010 at Tuesday, April 06, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Hi i work for the International Harp Museum in orlando and we are LOOking for a Burma harp antique is posible can you please call us or email us with some info
(917) 353- 1820

May 4, 2011 at 11:39 PM

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