Glazed Decorative of Bagan Temples  

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Using Chinese sources, a story is made current that it was Pyu who started the making of glazed work in about AD 800. They traded glazed ware and earthen jars with neighboring people. Excavations at Maing Maw, Vishnu Old Town, Sriksetra and Halin produced nothing like ceramic. As the archaeological excavation in these Pyu sites are still in the beginning, we might have the good fortune to get some evidence supporting the fact that Pyu did have ceramic of some good quality. I say this because although the Chinese said that Pyu used coins of gold and silver, we have never seen a gold coin used by them. On 2 March 1999, a monk ( U Tejavantasiddhi) of a Pphyauk, Kawhmu township. South Yangon district, dug a trench around a mound of a ruined pagoda of that village, with an intention to repair the pagoda, unearthed nearly fifty gold coins, bearing the Srivatsa symbol. There was a trade route running east and west from the Funan sea port of Oc-Eo to Vesali in Rakhine (Arakan) through Dvaravati, Madama (Martaban). Tala (Twante), Srikestra. Coins with Hindu Symbols of badapita, conch, moon, srivatsa, sun, swastika, vagra, etc. They had their origin in Funan made in about 2nd century AD. They cannot therefore be truthfully called Pyu coins. Using this route., a Funan army invaded the Pyu land and occupied Visnu Old Town during AD 205-225. Using the northern branch of this route Mahathera Mahasami. Primate of Chiangmai came in AD 1393 to Bagan and gilt the Shwezigon Pagoda(1/la). In the stone inscription (List 764, PPA24, now at Shwezigon) that records the event, the Primate of Chiangmai said that as a student he learnt the Pitaka in Bagan. ( Luce & Ba Shin, 1961, 330 )

From about the 5th Century AD until 8th century AD Pyu built a Kingdom that should be called the First Union of Myanmar from the upper Shweli river in the north to Madama( Martaban ) in the south and from the west of Thanlwin river in the east to the U Yu river and Htilin in the Yaw area at the foot of the Rakhine Ranges in the west. This kingdom was guarded by nine garrison twons of,
Kan Thida ( near Nga O on the Shweli)
Mway Yin ( near Male )
Halin ( near Shwebo )
Thegon (ear Pyay )
Thigyaint ( near Katha )
Maing Maw ( near Kume )

They had trade relations with Champa and Kampuchea in the east, Assam and Orissa in the west, Yunnan in the north and Java in the south. If we could believe what the Chinese said, Pyu would have been selling their glazed ware and earthearn jars to all these Southeast Asians, Southern India and Nanchaos in Yunnan. The Pyu Kingdom fell in AD 832. Myanmar came soon after their fall and adopted the name Brahmavastu ( The Pure Place ) with which the Indians call the Pyu land. Bagan actually was a Pyu place, where Myanmar chose to have their capital. That is one of the reasons why we assume that Bangan had pagodas antedating the arrival of Myanmar.

Pagodas of bulbous type like Bupaya(1687/1961) and Nga Kywe Nadaung (1603/911) are, we believe of Pyu origin. Prototypes of Bagan cetiya and huha are found in Srikestra. Apart from the finials or the topmost part of religious monuments, which are invariably modern. Bupaya, Nga Kywe Nadaung and even Lokananda (315/201) founded by Aniruddha look very much similar in appearance to Baw Baw, Payagyi and Payama. Aniruddha (?1044-1077) similar in size and area to that of the Pyu Kingdom. So far we do not find ceramics, belonging to this king. Like the Pyu, he and his son used to make numerous terracotta Buddha plaques similar to those made by Pyu with Yedhamma hetu stanza written in Deva Nagari script. When Kyanzittha (1084-1113), who was in fact a usurper, came to the throne, he used profusely the glazed work the decorate his cave pagoda and palace.

Kyanzittha started the palace constructions on 4th November 1101. Pegs were fixed on the plan for erecting timber posts on 23 Feb 1102. The new palace was given the name of Jeyabhumi constructions were over on 9th May 1102. The Palace Inscription suggested that this “glass” is the glazed sheathing of the finials of pediments as we find in Htilominlo (Luce 1970-67). In comparison with the designs used in terracotta Jataka plaqwues made by artists of Kyanzittha and other kings right down to the fall of the empire, are inferior. We take Shwezigon (1/la_ to be founded by Kyanzittha in about AD 1102. He took an extraordinary bold by Kyanzittha sand stone. It is the most amazing thing to glaze jakaka plaques and of sand stone was quite an achievement. It was an amazing achievement for the ceramists of Bagan to succeed in glazing sandstone. It remains without parallel anywhere in the world (Kyaw Nyein 1963-203).The Nanda (2171/1465) (popularly known as Ananda) was built by Kyanzittha in about AD 1105 (Luce 1970, 139,357).

All tarrces from top to bottom were once brilliantly inlaid with 1464 green glazed plaques (now mostly matt with white wash). The parapets above the corridors and halls are decorated with 537 Jatakas, each identified by Pali name and number. It is the most complete series of Jataka plaques in Bagan. Above them, plaques of the top four terraces present 375 scenes, each with an Old Mon gloss, to explain the last ten Jatakas. Plaques of the ground-plinth, 533 in all, each with an Old Mon gloss, showed on the west side, the various monsters of Mara’s army, who vainly attacked The Buddha on the eve of The Enlightenment. On the east side, the Gods celebrate the Buddha’s triumph, a procession of Devas and other mighty beings swelling his pomp, holding auspicious emblems ( Luce 1970, 359)

Some of the emblems held by devas are taken from the 108 auspicious signs on the footprint of The Buddha. The Samantabhaddika a Pali commentary on the Anagatavamsa, has a description of all the scenes shown on the Nanda ground-plinth. The common people at the time would still be illiterate and animist. They were only skin-deep Buddhists. The king and his primate knew very well that they should educate the people and encourage them to live a Life of good Buddhists. They found by experience that the most effective way to teach them Buddhism was to give them a large number of images to worship (Lace 1970,361). Thus the temple of Nanda (Ananda) became the first great storehouse of Buddhist sculpture in Myanmar. There are about 1420 images (ASI1914, 69). It has been corrected later that even the interior niches have 1535(Luce 1970,361).

The 552 glazed plaques ( each a square of 14 ½ inches with 3 inches thickness) have never been edited. In the scene of Mara’s attack, his soldiers came riding on
Capricorn (Makara)
Leogryph (Vyala)
Naga (Serpent)
The heavenly and other mighty beings who celebrate the Buddha’s triumph include:
Dataratha ( E-Guardian God )
Kinlok (Mon Clan Sprit)
Kuvera (N Guardian God)
Viluraka(S Guardian God)
Virupakkha(W Guardian God)
Yakkha Senapati (28 General as listed in the Maha Samya and Atanatiya suttas ( Nos 20 & 32 ) of the Digha Nikaya)
These deities carry many auspicious emblems. Some are similar to 108 auspicious signs on The Footprint of The Buddha. But dandadip (Lampstand), bac (vajra thunderbolt) and dnal(mirror) are not found among them. These are also dhajapataka(flags) and kadate are there too, to be used as receptacles of gold, silver and jewelry.

Aa in Nagayon (1192/530), Sulamani(748/369), Dammarajaka(97/412a), Tayokepyay (539/395a) and Htilominlo (1812/1110) temples. Nanda (Ananda) has several dozens of glazed stone squares used on the floor. Mostly they are in three sizes: 18 inches square, 15 inches square and 7 ½ square. Nagayon has stone glazed threshold measuring 91” x 7” x 23”.

The Somingyi Stupa(1145/491) stands on the southwest of Nagayon(1192/530), about a furlong south of A beyadana (1202/540), on the west side of the Nyaung U-Chauk road. It is surrounded by many early temples and pagodas but it is quite conspicuous ofr its magnificent glazed work. The Archaeology Department marks its date as AD 1218 thought Professor G.H.Luce suggested the beginning of the 12th century A.D. and that would be a much more possible date because that was the time when the use of the glaze work was in vogue. The donor’s name would not help. Somingyi means a ssenior queen or a senior princess, an honorific good for quite a number of curt ladies. On the other hand Man, daughter of Pyam Kyi, as the donor of several slaves to The Religion. If that Pyamkhi were the son of Cansu II 1165-1211, his daughter Cuiw Man is likely to be the donor of this pagoda. The pagoda is fairly big with a 100 feet square base and a height of 100 feet. The three terraces are steep and there are no median stairways. The brick is large (16 ½” x 3”x 8 ½”). Each terrace is decorated with glazed bosses, panels and corner-masts of green and yellow colors. These are the chide glory of the monument. It would hot be an exaggeration to call it a Ratana Cetiya.

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March 19, 2011 at 10:53 AM

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