About The Book
Myanmar, that is Burma before 1989, is known world wide as the 'Land of Pagodas'. Far about a millennium the country's dominating religion is Buddhism, and the people are following a way of life inspired by the humanizing teachings of Gautama Buddha. Their arts and crafts, motivated by the spirit of the same religion, bear certain characteristics which are distinct from those of the other southeast Asian countries. The Indian Museum possesses one of the richest collections of Burmese arts and crafts outside Myanmar. The collection, accumulated in course of about one hundred years since the Museum's foundation in 1814, was mostly so long languishing in the secured reserves. Now, for the first time, the Museum is exposing it in its entirely to the art lovers of this and other countries by publishing this monograph. The monograph introduces the objects in the following categories : sculptures, textile, lacquerwork, ceramics, metal-work, musical instruments and miscellaneous objects. The survey not only deals with their techniques and styles, but also relates them to the socio-religious life of the Burmese people. A comprehensively illustrated catalogues of the objects has been added to provide the reader with ready reference. More significantly, the monograph amply marks the personality of Burmese creative genius as expressed in orderly forms and luminous colour of their art and crafts.
Dr. Asok K. Bhattacharya, formerly of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture. Calcutta University, is an eminent art historian, specializing in the area of Indian art and architecture. He writers in Bengali and English, both for general readers and experts in the subject. He has served many Universities and Central and State Government institutions as an expert in the art and antiquity. At present he is a vice-president of The Asiatic Society, trustee of Indian Museum and Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, member of West Bengal Heritage Committee, and adviser of the Directorate of State Archaeology and Museums. He has published many books and articles in learned journals and volumes, including A Comprehensive History of India (Vol. III., Part-II), Jaina Art and Architecture (Vol. III), Bangalapedia or encyclopaedia of Bangladesh and Bengal : Sites and sights (Marg). Some of his monographs are Chitralakshana : A Treatise on Indian Painting (1974), Technique of Indian Painting (1974), Technique of Indian Painting (1976), East Indian Bronzes (Co-author) (1979), The Jhewari Bronze Buddhas : A Historical and Stylistic Study (1987), Calcutta Paintings (1994), Banglar Chitrakala (in Bengali) (1994), Jamini Roy (An Album) (1996) and Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay (1999).
I feel honoured to have this precious opportunity of introducing a wonderful collection of Burmese arts and crafts to the art loving people of India and abroad. The collection was mostly languishing in the secured corners of Indian Museum's reserve stores. The credit of bringing it to light goes to Dr. S.K. Basu, the Director of the Museum. Just after assuming his responsibility he planned to give an exposure to the objects of the collection by holding an exhibition and publishing a catalogue of the exhibits. He thrust upon me the onus of preparing the catalogue with an informed introduction. As I started examining the objects I instantly became enchanted by the brilliance of their luminous colours and diverse forms. So I proposed to the Director to make the catalogue a comprehensive one by covering the entire Burmese arts and crafts in the possession of the Museum. I am happy that the Director readily agreed to my proposal, and the catalogue, as such, is being published. In the catalogue section the objects are enlisted with relevant information, and in the introductory chapters I have attempted to provide in brief the historical and stylistic background of the objects with reference to their religious and social inspirations. The materials and techniques, used by the artists and artisans to shape and embellish their creations, have also been attended to.
It is unfortunate that during the last fifty years our contact with the neighbouring state of Burma, now Myanmar, has become very irregular, in spite of the fact that there had been an age old cultural, religious and economic relations between the two countries. In pre- independent days the Bengali scholars took special interest in the studies of religious and cultural history of Burma. Several celebrated teachers of the Calcutta University made major contributions to the history of its religions and arts. I still cherish the memory of those afternoons when as a post-graduate student I had been fortunate to listen to the lectures on the classical art of Pagan in relation to Eastern Indian art by Prof. Niharranjan Ray. As a post-graduate teacher of the same university I have taught classical art of Burma to my students for many years. With this background I approached the Burmese objects in the possession of the Museum. But to my surprise I found the collection chiefly consists of arts and crafts of the late medieval period, and in their stylistic character they are quite distinct from those of classical Pagan. So I approached them with a fresh mind and a different aesthetic criterion, though not severing them altogether from their classical roots.
In the different stages of this publication I have received enthusiastic support of many persons. I have already mentioned the role of Dr. S.K. Basu, the Director, in the initiation of the project. Besides, I have received encouragement and help of Dr. Shila Kundu Poddar, Keeper of the Museum's Anthropological section, and her Technical Assistant, Dr. Mita Chakrabarti. Srn. Nita Sengupta and Sri Arnab Basu, both Technical Assistants, and Dr. Debyani Mitra Dutta, Dy. Keeper of the Art section extended me lively support in examining the objects under their care. Same can also be said about Dr. Mangala Chakrabarti of the Archaeological section. The catalogue of the objects, categorised section wise, has been primarily prepared by the sectional staff and therefore the publication owe much to their credit. Sri Debashish Gayen, in-charge of the Photography section, took special care to photograph the objects so that the illustrations should be of desired quality. My student Sm. Rajashri Mukhopadhyay helped me during my study in the library of the Asiatic Society, while Dr. Chittaranjan Patra, the Librarian of the Museum also cooperated with me all through. Prof. S.c. Bhattacharya, formerly of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Calcutta University, gave me a friendly service by reading the inscriptions of the seals for me. Last but not the least is my obligation to Sri Pritam Adhikari of the computer section, whose ungrudging services made it possible for me to complete the work in a comparatively short span of time. In a sense this publication is a corporate work of the Indian Museum as a whole, of which I am a member of the Board of Trustees.
I believe that the publication would enable to draw fresh attention of the present generation of art lovers towards the arts and crafts of Myanmar, and inspire them to know more about the unique contributions of the Burmese people to the culture of mankind.
Union of Myanmar, the official name of Burma since 1989, is known world over as the 'Land of Pagodas'. Situated in mainland Southeast Asia, the country is bordered by India in the north-west, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal in the west, the Andaman sea in the south-west, China in the north, and Laos and Thailand in the east. A 1,400- mile-long coastline, a horse-shoe-shaped ring of mountains which provides a natural border of about 4,000 miles with her neighbours, and the four rivers, namely, Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Salween and Sittang, flowing from the north to south, are the basic geographical features of the land. Burma can be broadly divided into four topographical regions: northern and western mountaineous region, the central belt, the eastern Shan plateau and the long southern 'tail'.
The northern and western mountaineous region stretches from the extreme north down to the western side of Burma. Some of its highest peaks are here. The Kachin, Chin and Arakan states are located in this region. The central belt is somewhat a dry zone. But it has also the rich valleys and plains of the rivers - the mighty Irrawaddy, its tributary the Chindwin, and the Sittang. The valleys are flanked by low mountain ranges. The Shan plateau is a table land about 3,000 feet above sea level. The Salween river rises in Tibet and flows down the plateau to meet the sea in the south. The Shan state is in the northern part of the plateau, while the Kayah state is in the southern part. The coastal strip, comprising the states of Mon and Tenesserim, is the long 'tail' of Burma. The strip of land extends from the Shan plateau down to the Isthmus of Kra in the south. The mountain ranges in the east form a natural border with Thailand.
For natural diversity in the character of the land, Burma's agricultural products are numerous. The deltic regions being very fertile, the chief product in the ceritral and lower parts of the country is rice. In central region beans, pulses, cotton, onions, chilli, oil seeds and tobacco are produced. Teak and other quality hard woods cover the slopes of mountain ranges, where jute and sugarcane also grow. The Arakan range in the west is largely covered by bamboo forests. Canes also grow abundantly in these regions.
A tropical and sub-tropical country, Burma has three seasons, the rainy season or monsoon, from July to October; a winter season, from November to February; and a summer season from March to June. Rainfall varies from 200 inches in the coastal, 100 inches in the plain and to only 29 inches in the central part. Temperature also varies from the highest 113° F in central Burma to lowest 32° F in the north.
The population of Burma, estimated to be about 40 million and above, seems ethnically and linguistically the most diverse in entire Southeast Asia. The indigenous inhabitants, who entered the land from the north and east, speak languages of the Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer and Tai groups. The languages are indicative of the ethnic sources of the people now known as Burmese. The important non-indigenous are the Indians and the Chinese. However, Burmese is the official language. The majority of the population (85 %) are Theravada Buddhists. Besides, there are small minorities of Animists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians. The Buddhists control the central plain and the capital city of Rangoon (Yangon), and also dominate the state. As a contrast, in the mountains there are various ethnic communities with different languages, dresses and cultures, including the Karens, Shan-Tai and Kachins, and many other small tribes, such as the Chins, Lahus and Nagas. Apart from them there are smaller ethnic groups like Palaung, Padaung, Lisu and Sashi. They all create a cultural mosaic that still continues to add colour and diversity in the life of the people in Myanmar.
The wide variety of styles and forms, techniques and skills, materials and methods, chosen for and developed in the arts and crafts of Burma through centuries, has been to a great extent determined by the cultural diversity of the ethnic communities. The spirit of Therabada Buddhism as well as the humanizing teachings of Thathagata, played catalyst in the final development of Burmese civilization.
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