By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Buddhist people have been keeping Buddha images at their homes as well as religious monuments such as stupas, temples and monasteries for obeisance since yore. These Buddha images were made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, brick and concrete. Nowadays, bronze casting, sculpturing and stone sculpturing industries are being operated to making Buddha images in various sizes.
Currently, not only Buddha images made of gold, silver, bronze, marble, jade, emerald and amber but also the images made of bamboo strips are created for public obeisance.
Background history of carving Buddha Images
In general, Buddha images were made and cast in four body postures—reclining, sitting, standing and walking. Most of the images are made in sitting posture for obeisance at houses, stupas and temples and monasteries. Standing Buddha images can be seen at some temples including Ananda Temple in Bagan. Reclining Buddha images can be paid obeisance at Shwethalyaing, Seinthalyaung and Myathalyaung Buddha images in Bago in addition to some significant pagodas. The Buddha images in walking posture can be seen in some pagodas.
There was no evidence on carving Buddha images for obeisance till BC 308 when the Third Buddhist Synod was convened after the Lord Buddha had attained Parinirvana on 13 May BC 544. Experts assumed carving Buddha images started for paying homage in 75 AD.
Buddha images were not kept in the earliest stupas built in Birhuk, Sanchi and Amaravati of India but symbols of the Buddha such as lotus flower, footprints and stupas were inserted into the stupa in Sanchi.
Although some Buddhism treatises mentioned there were some images in the time of the Lord Buddha, firm evidences showed that Buddha images were made in the 1st century AD. After Alexander, the king of Greek had occupied Gandhara region of northern India, a Buddhist fine art of Greek flourished in India. At that time, Gandhara stone sculptors carved Buddha images in Greece and Roman styles.
Buddha Images in Myanmar
Local people did not have any traditions of carving Buddha images for obeisance in India from BC 72 to BC 25 during the Andhra dynasty. However, experts assumed Buddha images were created in Mahtura region on the bank of Jamuna River in India between 40 AD and 320 AD during the Kushan era.
From then onward, carving Buddha images started around Amaravati city near Krishna River in southeast of India in Amaravati era in the 2nd century AD. As the Buddha images in Amaravati era style were excavated in Pyu regions of Myanmar such as Sri Kestra, Beikthanoe and Mongmaw cities, some assumptions indicated that Buddha images might be conveyed from Amaravati city to Sri Kestra through maritime route.
Works of stone sculpturing, bronze casting and baking earthen votive tablets were produced in Pala era from 750 AD to 1174 AD. Some Buddha images made in Bagan era were under influence of styles from the works in Pala era.
As the relations between Myanmar and India were established long time ago, faith in Buddhism had arrived in Myanmar since Pyu era. A Buddha image with five centimetres in height was excavated in ancient Pyu city state Beikthanoe in 1996 and another image in 14 centimetres in height in 2003.
A Buddha image with a broken head was unearthed together with its throne in ancient Pyu city state Sri Kestra in 1928 and votive tablets from Pyokhingyi mound at the same city. A stone relief assumed as a Bodhisatta image excavated from Kyaukbilu toddy palm plantation ancient Hanlin city state in 1929-1930 is put on display at Hanlin stone plaque chamber for public observation.
Works of Buddha images were identified as eras of Pyu, Bagan, Pinya, Inwa, Nyaungyan, Konbaung and Yadanabon in Myanmar. Likewise, people can observe works of the Buddha image carved in Danyawady, Wethali, Laymyo and MraukU eras in Rakhine State.
Buddha Images made of bamboo strips across the country
It was assumed that the first ever Buddha image made of bamboo strips was created around 700 years ago. Such kind of Buddha image is kept for public obeisance in Monghnon Village, seven miles northwest of Mongkhat in eastern Shan State. The Hsutaungpyae bamboo strip Buddha image under the title of Phra Innsam in Shan language was built by Khuwalonphaw Maha Guru Nanda. The image under title of Zakyaukinsam in Gon Shan language which means the king of celestial beings made a nine elbows high Buddha image.
Currently, similar Buddha images made of bamboo strips can be seen in various parts of the nation including PyinOoLwin, Kalaw, Salay, Kawthoung and Indawgyi.
Among these images, Maha Muni Hnee Buddha image coated by lacquer in Kalaw was found without shelter in Pinmagon Village of Kalaw Township 500 years ago. Although the bamboo strip Buddha image was seen together with many wooden images, there remains only one bamboo strip image at present. The image was conveyed from the village to Kalaw and then offered gold foils.
A bamboo strip Buddha image of PyinOoLwin was made in the precinct of Hsingaunggyi Monastery on 22 May 2005. The 14 feet high image was made of bamboo strips from more than 84,000 pieces of bamboo. The image conveyed to the Gandakuti chamber of Icchasara Pagoda on Padamya Hill in Phaungdaw Village was titled Maha Hsutaungpyae Hnee Pagoda.
The 19 elbows high Hsutaungpyae lacquered Buddha image called Hnee Buddha image in Salay of Chauk Township, Magway Region, is the highest bamboo strip Buddha image in Myanmar. Insam bamboo strip Buddha image from Thakyamuni Pagoda in Zunlikyopan in Pangong of southern Shan State is 12 feet high and another one at Taungpauk Monastery on Kyaikthallan mountain range of Mawlamyine, 17 feet and 109 inches high. A bamboo strip Buddha image built at Shan monastery in 9th-mile of Mayangon Township in Yangon Region is 18 feet and 10 inches high.
The biggest bamboo strip Buddha image of Myanmar is located at the foot of Myathabeik Hill in Thaton. The Buddha Pujaniya festival of the image is held on the full moon day of Tabodwe yearly.
Buddha Images made of bamboo strips and lacquer
The Hnee Buddha images are made of bamboo strips. Lacquered Buddha images are firstly made of bamboo strips wrapped by pieces of textile or robes coated by lacquer.
Veteran historian Dr. Than Tun reviewed that lacquered Buddha images are made with the purpose of easily conveying them due to light weights. Similar Buddha images were made in China and Japan as well as villages around Shwebo and YeU townships in Myanmar.
In the past, lacquered Buddha images made in villages around YeU Township were sold to Shan State. As such, makers created about 18 inches high lacquered Buddha images. Dates and names of well-wishers in Myanmar language were described on the images.
In changing eras, Buddha images were made of metals, alloy called Pancaloha, ashes from flowers, ashes from damaged palm-leaves and ashes of bones.
Both kinds of Buddha images made of bamboo strips and lacquer have advantages such as lack of decaying by insect, resilience of climatic conditions and durability in offering gold foils. As such, the bamboo strip Buddha image has been lasting for 700 years in Monghnon Village of Mongkhat Townships.
Significantly, a Buddha image made of bamboo strips which was not gilt but coated with polishing oils can be seen in Indawgyi region of Mohnyin Township.
Veteran historian Dr. Than Tun noted that creation of lacquered Buddha images flourished in Myanmar from 1750 to 1929. Thazimyay Village, northeast of YeU Township in Sagaing Region, was a focal point of producing the lacquered Buddha images, having a large order of works from Shan State. In 1929, small Buddha images made of marble, paper pictures of Buddha image and glass Buddha images penetrated the market. Consequently, the industries of making lacquered Buddha images faced losses in businesses. Finally, these industries faded out.
The lacquered Buddha images to be sold to Shan State were made in four sizes as 18 inches, 14 inches, nine inches and six inches high ones. These Buddha images bear sitting position and hand postures of Bhumi Phassa Mudra or Jhanasana Mudra. Moreover, some lacquered Buddha images were made in significant sizes and styles under the instructions of offers.
Although there was no expert to make lacquered Buddha images after 1929, the art of making bamboo strip Buddha images are flourishing till today. Only when the experts of making bamboo strip Buddha images including expert Lon Oum Sai of Shan State who created 12 Buddha images made of bamboo strips some of which are positioned in Yangon, Mawlamyine, PyinOoLwin and Panglong hand down the art of making such kind of Buddha images to new generations, will the people across the nation have chances to pay homage to the bamboo strip Buddha images of Myanmar traditional art in successive eras.
Translated by Than Tun Aung
Mobile history (Dr. Than Tun)
Records on bamboo strip Buddha images (U Aung Myint, Thuwunnabhumi)
Studies on Uddissa Buddha images (Maung Maung Thiri)
Caption: The Bamboo strip Buddha image near Nantmeelaung Villagge in Indawgyi Region.