By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Sri Kestra, an ancient Pyu city included on the World Heritage Sites, is located in Hmawza Village of Pyay Township in Bago Region. It is the largest Pyu city in Myanmar. Pyu cultural evidences excavated from ancient Sri Kestra area comprised images related to Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism. The evidences of Theravada Buddhism consisted of stone sculptures such as Buddha images, pagodas and stone plaques bearing pagodas and Buddha images reliefs, celestial being statues, thrones decorated with human statues and Buddhological episodes.
U Sein Maung Oo, who excavated Sri Kestra, wrote that stone sculptures found from Sri Kestra could be roughly identified as statues of Buddhism, that of Hinduism, furniture and created statues.
Two stone plaques to cover reliquary
Two stone plaques covering reliquary found from Khinba mound in 1926-27 are showcased as significant stone sculptural works of Theravada Buddhism at Thiri Khittaya museum in ancient Sri Kestra. A shale plaque, 4.75 feet long, 4.5 feet wide and four inches thick, distinctly bore the relief reliquary of the pagoda. A five-tier umbrella was posted on the reliquary. The base of the pagoda consisted of five archways, each of which bore a Buddha image in Jhana Mudra of hand posture, dedicating to four already-Enlightened Buddhas and forthcoming Arimatteya Buddha.
Each statue of Brahma kept the pagoda under umbrella together with banners. The Sun and the Moon were carved on both sides of the pagoda. The base of the pagoda was carved as throne. The pagoda on the lid of reliquary was similar to Sanchi Stupa in Sanath of India.
The lid of second reliquary was five feet and four inches high and four feet and seven inches wide. The relief on the stone plaque was similar to the first one.
Stone plaques bearing Buddha images
French General Leon de Beylie arriving in Myanmar in 1907 and Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey Mr Taw Sein Kho from Myanmar Archive Department excavated Sri Kestra and found one stone post, one stone plaque and three stone reliefs from the precinct of Kyaukkathein monastery near Hmawza Village. These items were kept in Kyaukkathein museum.
The stone post was 2.5 feet high, 8.7 inches wide and 9.5 inches thick. Stone plaque was 3.75 feet high, three feet wide and 11 inches thick. The inscriptions and pictures on the plaque were invisible.
The first stone relief was eight feet and two inches high, 6.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet thick. The second was three feet and 10 inches high, five feet and two inches wide and one foot and 11 inches thick. The last one was four feet and seven inches high, five feet and two inches wide and 1.5 feet thick.
A sitting Buddha image in Bhumi Phassa Mudra each as relief was carved in the centre of all plaques. A disciple each was seen both sides of the Buddha image. Likewise, three stone plaques bore similar images kept at East Hmawza Monastery.
The stone plaque found near Bawbawgyi Stupa in 1906 bore a sitting Buddha image with Jhana Mudra together with a disciple on right side but relief of the disciple did not pay homage to the Buddha image. The disciple on left side could not be seen.
The sitting relief Buddha image on the stone plaque, eight feet and two inches high, six feet and three inches wide and one foot and three inches thick found from Bebe Stupa was on the double lotus throne. The Buddha image was paid homage by one disciple on both sides. French General Leon de Beylie expressed faces of the Buddha image and two disciples were of Mongoloid and caption was written by unknown letters, in the ASI Annual Report 1909-10. It was named Pyu language.
Reliefs of preaching Dhammacakka Desana
The report mentioned facts about the stone plaque, two feet and eight inches high, 1.5 feet wide and six inches thick, found in East Market Cave. The sitting Buddha image’s left arm was on the left knee and right hand was seen at elbow only. So, it was assumed the right arm might lift up.
Two statues on both sides of the Buddha image were decorated with headdress, so they were assumed as Bodhisattha. Lower part of the plaque bore a Cakka sign flanked by a deer on either side. Two persons holding up their hands were seen beside right deer. So they were assumed as Sangha because their heads were bare hair. The two beside the left deer were seen with hair on heads assumed as layperson. Saya Sein Maung Oo wrote that the reliefs were believed as episode of preaching Dhammacakka Desana by the Lord Buddha.
A plaque of relief bearing the episode of preaching Dhammacakka Desana was excavated from Shwenyaungbin mound near Thaungpyae mound at ancient Sri Kestra city in 1939. The limestone plaque consisted of two portions. The upper portion depicted Buddha image in Dhammacakka Mudra on lotus throne flanked by one monk on either side. The Buddha image’s above the neck was damaged. The lower portion was portrayed with a Cakka flanked by a deer on either side. The right side depicted king of celestial beings and three-head Brahma paying homage to the Lord Buddha.
Another plaque bearing preaching of Dhammacakka Desana was excavated from Nyaungnibin mound in 1977-78. The left top of the plaque was damaged. The centre of the plaque bore a pagoda on a pyramidal spire which was flanked by celestial beings and Brahmas. The Buddha image on lotus throne was carved in Dhammacakka Mudra. The Buddha image was paid by a monk on either side. The Dhammacakka circle and two deer were depicted under the image.
The wall of pivot from southern arch of Laymyethna Pagoda was seen with the Buddha image flanked by embryo Buddhas. The plaque was carved as relief on Buddha image with cross-leg sitting. As the top of plaque was chipped, the head and left hand of Buddha image were lost. ASI Annual Report 1909-10 mentioned the left image was embryo Buddha and right statue might be daughter of Saturn.
The stone plaque on the western wall from Laymyethna Pagoda was carved as Buddha image similar to that of southern wall. Right hand was touched on left instep. Significantly, the Buddha image was flanked by a pagoda in Pyu style on either side similar to that of Bawbawgyi and Phayama.
Phokhaungkan shale plaque, nine feet long, six feet wide and one foot thick, bore two celestial beings wearing headdress flanked the Buddha image on right side. Three persons putting palms together were seen on left side of the Buddha image. Leon de Beylie expressed two persons from the left side might be Indra or Vajrapani in his report.
A Buddha image, 3.5 feet high, in Jhana style was excavated from Nyaungnibin mound in 1906 and one foot and 10 inches high Jhana Buddha image from Kyaukkathein Monastery in 1926. Bhumi Phassa style Buddha images were unearthed from the precinct of Kyaukkathein Monastery in 1906 and 1959. Moreover, four similar Buddha images were also discovered from same venue in 1928 and the Buddha images holding alms-bowl in 1959 in addition to two sitting and standing Buddha images.
A stone plaque from ancient Sri Kestra city in 1938-39 expressed a Buddha image flanked by two monks walking into Rajagaha illustrating victory over elephant Nalagiri. The stone plaque bore the episode of giving birth in which mother Mayadevi holding branch of sal by left hand and hugging her sister Pajapati Gotami by left hand. The Buddha embryo stood on right side of mother Maya.
In 1939-40, the stone plaque bore Buddha image in Dhammacakka Mudra on double lotus throne. Stone sculptural works related to Buddhism found in Sri Kestra were not similar to each other. Stone sculptural works found in Sri Kestra consisted of images in Theravada and Mahayin Sect in addition to a female celestial being. Vishnu statues in Hinduism were also excavated from Sri Kestra. Stone urns, stone thrones, lids of reliquaries and post caps are displayed at Sri Kestra museum. Most of the stone sculptures discovered from Sri Kestra were of shale stones as well as stone plaques bearing Buddhism reliefs. These carving works proved Buddhism might flourished in Sri Kestra in 4th century AD.
Translated by Than Tun Aung
ASI Annual Report (1909-10)
Ancient Sri Kestra City (U Sein Maung Oo)
Studies on stone sculptural fine arts in Buddhism at Sri Kestra (Dr Than Than Si Thein)