By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Among mural paintings illustrated at ancient stupas and temples in various areas of Myanmar, paintings in late-Konbaung era decorated in the cave of Kyauktawgyi Temple in Amarapura are famous among researchers. Amarapura Kyauktawgyi Temple called Taungthaman Kyauktawgyi with the title of Maha Thakyaranthi takes a position, east of Taungthaman Lake and between Taungthaman and Htantaw villages. Its map reference is between north latitude 21°53’ and east longitude 96°03’.
Kyauktawgyi Buddha image was donated by King Sagaing and Gandakuti Chamber by King Bagan. King Sagaing cast a bronze Buddha image on 15 March 1827 to be kept at the four-storey monastery in west of Maha Muni Buddha Image. A marble rock conveyed by King Sagaing from Sagyin Hill arrived in Inwa on 17 May 1830. Under the supervision of Naymyo Sithu and Shwetaung Zeya Nawrahta, the marble rock was carved into Buddha image under the title of Maha Thakyaranthi kept at the prayer hall in front of Bonkyaw Monastery.
King Thayawady who took the throne of brother King Sagaing moved the royal palace from Inwa to Amarapura. He was succeeded by son King Bagan on 17 November 1846. King Bagan laid cornerstones for construction of the walls and tier-roofed brick building at the edge of Taungthaman diplomatic hall to be able to convey the Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image from Inwa to Amarapura. On 18 August 1849, the image was conveyed to Amarapura and kept in Gandakura Chamber. The temple for Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image had been filled with bricks on 29 October 1850 and the umbrella was hoisted atop the pagoda.
Kyauktawgyi Temple was based on the chamber together with pyramical spire. A pagoda each and three Kalasa pots were built at the corners of the terrace. Bhumi Phassa Mudra marble Buddha image was kept at the pivot of the chamber. The temple was formed with 89 elbow-diameter circumfrance and 77 elbows and six mikes high, the prayer cave 20 elbows wide, ladder 10 elbows long and concrete floor and 20 elbows wide.
Kyauktawgyi Buddha image was 11 elbows, two mikes and four finger-breadth high, the rug eight elbows and four finger-breadth wide, its width between two knees was four elbows, one mike and four finger-breadth, throne 21 elbows, one mike and four finger-breadth in diameter and arm three elbows, two mikes and two finger-breadth in diameter. A total of 12 gold Buddha images and 358 silver images were enshrined in the temple, according to the Myanmar Encyclopaedia. The brick chamber for Taungthaman Kyauktawgyi Buddha image was built in design of Ananda Temple in Bagan. Four main arches were flanked by a small arche on either side. The roof of the temple was supported by brick posts in a row shaping a partition in the circular tunnel. Eighty-eight Arhat images were kept in the inner circular tunnel. The Buddha image on the throne was kept in centre of east and west arches.
The upper part of the entances were decorated with masonry crafts and flyingman statues. The backdrops were also shaped with pagodas, celestial beings, lions, crocodile and crayfish. Significantly, the Manusiha statue was supported by a crayfish at the top of ladder to the terrace.
The bridge of the brick tunnels was decorated with mural paintings. The pictures of meritoruious deeds performed by King Bagan were illustrated at four arches in addition to captions. These pictures bore monasteries, lakes, ordination halls and tunnels donated by the king in Amarapura, Inwa, Okkalapa, Shwetaung, Kukhan, Sagaing and Bagan. These paintings are under preservation.
Mural paintings at Kyauktawgyi
The mural paintings at four arches of the temple were in three dimensions with red sketch. The paintings were created with white, black, yellow and red colours. Sketched pictures were drawn by red line at the northern arch.The southern and northern ceilings of eastern arch were illustrated with various kinds of mural paintings such as celestial beings, toddy plantation, mountain ranges, five pagodas in the walls and a part of damaged pagoda, gray lotus flowers, flyingmen, flowers, Buddha images, monasteries and Padethabins from the walls. The southern and northern walls of the western arch depicted stars, mountain ranges and fensed pagoda, Shwephonemyint and Shwephonepwint pagodas from Pyay, Ananda Temple in Bagan, public rest-house, wooden monastery, boats in river, well and cooking rice for alms, toddy plants, stairway of Kuthodaw Pagoda, The-inn Village Kuthodaw Pagoda in Kukhan, pagodas in the walls from Lawka Tharaphu Pagoda in Inwa, lion and tiger, hillside and camping of hunters.
The eastern and western walls of the southern arch bore pictures of asterisms, celestial beings, flyingmen, mountains, Maha Wizayaranthi Waso Monastery, Shwezigon Stupa from Bagan, Inwa’s Lawka Tharaphu brick tier-roofed building, moves of elephants taking a bath, boat race, the monastery with eight brick ladders, Eindawya Pagoda in Okkalapa, Kuthodaw ordination hall and lake, playing of children, novitation ceremony, ships carrying cannons, two older persons and ships in rivers.
The eastern and western walls of the northern arch featured pictures such as celestial beings, flyingmen, offering of flowers, stupa, offering of alms, boat race, building of royal palace, cattle, asterisms, mountins, pagoda, fensed pagoda, 30-tunnel Pagoda in Sagaing, a fensed temple, meditation of hermits, hunting, boats, elephant, tiger and buffalo. The western tunnel wall of the northern arch was decorated with black sketched paintings, buildings of royal palace, orchestra and audiences, and people form the royal palace.
Footprint, stupa, temple and stars
The footprints of the Lord Buddha were seen on the ceiling of eastern arch and northern arch at Kyauktawgyi Temple.
Pictures of stupas and temples at Kyauktawgyi Temple depicted meritorious deeds of King Bagan according to the captions. Actual structures of the mural paintings donated by King Bagan took positions in Amarapura, Inwa, Okkalapa, Shwedaung, Pyay, Kukhan, Sagaing and Bagan.
Moreover, the mural paintings portrayed Maha Thakyaranthi, Lawka Tharaphu in Inwa, Shwephonemyint and Shwephonepwint in Pyay, Ananda and Shwezigon in Bagan, Kuthodaw Pagoda in The-inn Village of Kukhan (Myanaung), 30-tunnel pagoda in Sagaing, Maha Waiyanbontha Monastery, Waso Monastery in precinct of Maha Wizayaranthi Temple, Waso Monastery in Shwekugyi Monastery and Eindawya Monastery in Okkalapa (Yangon). The western arch’s ceiling at Kyauktawgyi Temple bore moves of stars in the sky and the southern and northern ceilings, zodiac circle and locations of stars such as 27 asterisms together with captions, 28 inner stars and 28 outer stars.
Other mural paintings were illustrated with celestial beings, people going to monastery and lakes, taking Sabbaths, offering rice alms, holding novitiation ceremony, monks’ procession of going alms round and meditation of hermits.
Furthermore, illustration of the mural paintings bore daily lifestyle of the people such as taking a bath in river and creek, catching fish, hunting, travelling by boat and cart, walking, climbing toddy plant, sell of goods, and playing of children. These pictures were inserted into the meritorious buildings of King Bagan. Mural paintings found at ancient temples and stupas across Myanmar were significant in Bagan era. Hence, these kinds of mural paintings can be seen at ancient religious edifices in Bagan till today. The paintings in early Bagan era were mixed with Indian style and later ones, with Myanmar own style.
A large number of mural paintings were illustrated in Nyaungyan era. Researchers reviewed that the paintings in Konbaung era consisted of western painting techniques. Moreover, not only episodes of Buddhology but also social lifestyle of the people were impressed in the paintings at Kyauktawgyi Temple. Mural paintings in late Konbaung era at Amarapura Kyauktawgyi Temple were maintained and preserved to have original works till today. New generation people can find historical evidences from the mural paintings and study painting art. Preservation of mural paintings at Amarapura Kyauktawgyi Temple can uplift cultural integrity of Myanmar.
Translated by Than Tun Aung
Myanmar Dated History, Konbaung Dynesty (U Tikkhadhammalankara and Dr. Than Tun)
Historical sites around Taungthaman (Ko Pyinnya, Amarapura)
Myanmar paintings in successive eras (Minbu Aung Kyaing)