By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Architectural works, masonry floral works and mural paintings as well as glazed works can be seen in Bagan world’s heritage site where there remain 3,882 ancient buildings including stupas, temples and virgin mounds. In Bagan era, people built temples and stupas decorated with earthen wares coated by glaze and shale wares coated by glaze. As such, glazed earthen wares can be seen at 26 Cetis and glazed shale works at five Cetis in Bagan cultural area.
Art of glaze coating
Glaze wares were used on a wider scale in Bagan in 8th Century AD. Glaze was used not only in making utensils but also at religious edifices such as temples and stupas. An art of coating glaze on shale pieces developed in Bagan era from 11th to 13th centuries to create works of Jataka and make glazed terracotta decorated on the walls of stupas and temples. Mostly, glazed terracotta plaques depicted plots of Jataka from 500 lives of the Lord Buddha. Some plots were captioned. Bagan’s glazed terracotta plaques are tangible cultural heritages and its making art, intangible cultural heritages.
Glaze in Bagan
The UNESCO recognized Bagan cultural area as the World Heritage Site in 2019 as the area has been a focal point of national favours and cultural heritages. Bagan located in NyaungU District of Mandalay Region, takes a position on the eastern bank of Ayeyawady River, four miles from NyaungU. Bagan is located on 13 kilometres long and six kilometres wide. It is 612 kilometres from Yangon along motor road and 468 miles along the water course of Ayeyawady River.
Ancient Bagan City State was ruled by the dynasty from King Pyinpya (846-876 AD) to King Saw Mon Nit (1325-1368 AD) but experts remarked there was no firm historical evidence for early kings of Bagan before King Anawrahta. In the reign of King Anawrahta, Bagan became the united first Myanmar Empire. Bagan was very prosperous in the 10th century AD when kings and people built stupas and temples, religious edifices and monasteries. Bagan flourished after deterioration of Sri Kestra, so Buddhism of Sri Kestra moved to Bagan as a support from Suvannabhumi, according to the remarks of Saya U Bo Kay. Ngakywe Nataung Stupa and other stupas with Pyu architectural works similar to Bawbawgyi and Phayagyi stupas from Sri Kestra can be seen in Bagan till today. At that time, art of sculpture, art of painting and art of construction from India might flow into Bagan so as to emerge an art of Bagan. In Bagan era when cultural works strengthened, glazed ware production much flourished. As such, art of glaze wares developed in Pinya, Inwa, Toungoo, Nyaungyan and Konbaung eras. Some evidences were found that some parts of Rakhine area used glazed wares. After the reign of King Anawrahta, stupas and temples built around Bagan were decorated with glazed wares on a wider scale. As of 11th century AD, stupas and temples in Bagan were seen with glaze works. Glazed wares were used in Bagan era with evidences which showed the ink inscriptions expressed on the wall of the prayer hall of Alodawpyae Pagoda in 556 AD.
Glazed Ceties and pagodas
Saya Minbu Aung Kyaing mentioned that baked earthen wares coated by glaze were found at Kantawpalin Pagoda, Htilo Minlo Pagoda, Mingala Ceti, Dhamma Razaka Pagoda, Shwehsandaw Pagoda, Hsinmyashin Pagoda, Yadana Manaung Pagoda, Grocho Pagoda, Taungtawet Temple, Pha Pagoda, Thayetkyin Pagoda, Ngakywe Nataung Stupa, Glaze Ceti (west of Alodawpyae Pagoda), Culamani Temple, Nagayon Pagoda, Shwegugyi Pagoda, Sintkwet Pagoda (south of Alodawpyae Pagoda), Atwin Ceti (near Lawka Okshaung Stupa), backdrop of Yadanagara Monastery (north of Maha Bawdi Pagoda), Hman Pagoda (near Kutheinnayon Pagoda), Soe Min Gyi Ceti, the temple near Bulethee Pagoda, (southwest of Alodawpyae Pagoda) and the building, southwest of Hman Pagoda near Kutheinnayon Pagoda.
Likewise, glaze-coated shale works can be seen at Shwezigon Pagoda, Htilo Minlo Pagoda, Tayokpyae Pagoda and a temple near Bulethee Pagoda in Bagan cultural area and the glaze-coated tiles excavated from the palace of King Kyansittha. Glaze-coated shale tiles were decorated at the diamond stands on terraces of Cetis in Bagan for having glittering of works under sunray. Green glaze tiles were shaped with square or triangular yellow tiles. Among them, glaze wares depicting plots of 550 Jataka can be seen at Shwezigon, Ananda, Dhamma Razaka, Shwehsandaw and Mingala stupas and temples.
Glazed terracotta plaques at pagodas in Bagan
Although stone inscription on the date of building Ananda Temple taking a position in southeast of Tharapa Gate entrance to Bagan was not found, many experts accepted King Kyansittha (1084-1113 AD) built the temple in 1090. Buildings on four sides of the temple were roofed with tiers. Interior and exterior of the temple tunnel were decorated with Buddha images, statues and pictures of Jatakas. Four standing Buddha images were kept in four dimensions of the cave of the temple. Ananda Temple was decorated with Myanmar architectural works, stone sculpture, masonry, wooden sculptural works and bronze works. Base and roof of the temple were filled with colourful glaze terracotta plaques. More than 920 years old Ananda Temple is the most eminent among ancient stupas and temples in Bagan. The glaze terracotta plaques at Ananda Temple are the best among others in Bagan. Experts assume such kinds of glaze terracotta plaques at Ananda Temple might be made before baking. Moreover, Ananda Temple was not built with ladder leading onto the upper terrace, so things on the terrace could be kept away from touching of people.
Mingala Stupa built by King Narathihapatae called King Tayokepyay is located beside the motor road from Bagan to Chauk, north of Myinkapa Village. Mingala Stupa was decorated with glazed terracotta similar to Shwezigon Pagoda. A total of 1,245 glazed terracotta plaques were used in construction of the brick structure of the stupa and terraces. Among them, 749 plots lost glazed plaque.
Mingala Stupa’s four corners were built with four encircled Cetis. Two of them in southeast and southwest corners were decorated with glazed bricks on which ornamental motif in stucco depicting an ogre were illustrated. Dhamma Razaka Pagoda filled with glazed terracotta plaques takes a position near Thitmahtee Monastery in Phwasaw Village. It was built by King Narapatisithu in 558 ME. Three terraces in pentagonal shape were decorated with 550 Jataka plots on glaze-coated bricks. Most of glaze works were damaged. Glazed terracotta plaques on the fourth terrace were shaped in diamond.
Bagan’s glaze kiln
Seven old glaze kilns were found in Bagan. No 1 kiln was excavated by Senior Research Officer U Kyaw Nyein of Myanmar Research Work Group and Mr. S. D. Strologo of Public Housing Rehabilitation Board-PHRB in July 1963. Such kiln was 150 yards southeast to Myinkapa Village. They found baked soil mixed with glaze, broken pieces of pots and glaze-coated earthen wares. But, it was just a kiln to bake glazed pots and cups, not related to glaze terracotta plaques from stupas and temples in Bagan, according to the year report of the Director of Archaeology (1962-63). Bagan glaze kiln No 1 was unearthed again by a glaze expert from Australia and staff from Bagan branch of Department of Archaeology.
No 2 glaze kiln located in a residence near Nann Pagoda, south of Myinkapa Village, was on the lane of cycling before 1988. So, the Department of Archaeology built a detour to the kiln and excavated it to be maintained. Brims of the kiln were dyed with green and yellow glaze.
No 3 kiln took a position, southwest of Myinkapa Village and south of ShweUmin monastery, 250 metres from No 2 kiln and near the bank of Ayeyawady River. The kiln excavated in 1989 is under maintenance of the Department of Archaeology.
No 4 kiln, east of Laytha monastery which is located northwest of Apei Yadana Pagoda, was in shape of oval, different to other shop. Fire hole of the kiln was built on the east wing. Brim of the kiln was dyed with green glaze pieces. No 5 kiln, 30 metres west of Apei Yadana Pagoda, was formed with fire hole and smoke hold. Broken pieces of glaze pots and glaze lava were found near the kiln.
No 6 kiln was located 137 metres west of Seinnyet Nyiama Pagoda, and pieces of glaze wares were found. No 7 kiln took 18 metres southeast of Apei Yadana Pagoda. Firm evidences proved that glaze wares were produced in Bagan after glaze kilns were found in Bagan. Veteran historian Saya U Bo Kay remarked Ngakywe Nataung Stupa was the most famous one for glaze in Bagan, and glaze became a plane on some bricks of the pagoda, so glaze was coated on the pagoda after it was built of bricks. Not only advanced Myanmar architectural works but also glaze culture polished prestige of Bagan.
Translated by Than Tun Aung
Glaze works and glaze kilns in Bagan (Minbu Aung Kyaing)
Guide to Research in Bagan (U Bo Kay)
Yearly reports on archaeology