HISTORY OF BURMA
Myanmar (formerly Burma) is the largest country in SE Asia. Its
capital is Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The country was always named
Myanmar, but the local people referred to their land as Bamar, which
slowly turned to Burma.
Burma had a long history of independence, before the British troops
traveled up the Irrawaddy River and overtook the city of Rangoon
during the third Anglo-Burmese war. After this invasion took place,
the last of Burma was claimed as an English colony. Burma was under
British rule for over fifty years. It then had a brief period of
being ruled by Japan and finally regained its independence in 1947.
The Burmese government officially changed the countrys' name from
Burma back to Myanmar in 1989.
TATTOOING IN BURMA -
It is customary for the Burmese to be tattooed from waist to knee
as a sign of courage and strength. The tattooing process involves
being tapped repeatedly with a heavy bronze tool dipped in ink.
The subject matter often being, animals, zodiac imagery, or intricate
geometric designs. Natural red vermillion ink is used occassionally
to signify luck and bravery. Another body modification practice
of the Shan tribe and other Burmese, is the insertion of silver
and gold discs under the skin as a charm against bullets and cuts.
This practice is attributed to a Burmese King who allegedly tried
to disguise his leprosy in this manner.
BUDDHISM AND BURMA
Burma has a wealth of art and culture influenced by Buddhism. Buddhism
was believed to arrive in Burma around the 2nd century AD when the
Indian Emperor Asoka from India sent out monks to spread the Buddhas'
teachings to neighboring countries. Burma is called the "golden
land" and it is believed to be the only county to maintain
the true teachings of the Buddha in its entirety for over 2000 years.
Buddhist art in Burma is some of the most valued in the world.
Each region of Burma had its particular style of Buddha image and
religious art work. The 17th century Buddha of Bagan (formerly Pagan)
was often represented as the standing crowned Buddha. Theravada
Buddhists believe this image derives from the story of when the
Buddha transformed himself into "rajadhiraja" or "king
of kings" to humble the King Jambupati. This Bagan Buddha holds
his hand downward with the palm extending outward in Varada mudra
[the gesture of the bestowing of gifts].The Mons, scattered over
the southern region of Burma, have a very distinct image of the
Buddha with a plump face with downcast eyelids in the shape of a
The “Mandalay Buddha” is the image that represents
what most people think is a "Burmese Buddha". This reclining
Buddha is adorned in heavily folded robes accented with mirrors
and colored glass. It is carved from wood and covered in lacquer.
The broad band around the head, the tight curly hair, and the slightly
upturned smile are also characteristics of the well known "Mandalay
This Shan style Buddha sits in the vajrasana posture or the "seat
of stability" which the Buddha assumed in his final meditation
before he became enlightened. His hands are in a symbolic gesture
called the Bhumisparsa mudra. Bhumi means "earth". His
hand touches the ground to ask the earth to witness his enlightenment.
The Shan style Buddha's are often seen sitting upon fully bloomed
lotus flowers. The lotus is a symbol of enlightenment and mental
purity. The flower starts its life in the mud and grows up through
the murky waters until it reaches light and purity. It is only when
it is above water that the lotus representss possible enlightenment
(closed lotus) or full enlightenment (open lotus).
Gongs have been used since the bronze age for cerimonial purposes,
prayer, meditation and ritual. In Burma the gong holders were often
more elaborate than the gongs. This gong holder is created in the
shape of a Pyinsayupa, [a mythical creature comprised of
five different animals]. They were typically finished in gold leaf
and color painted glass spangles and adorned with Pyinsayapa or
Naga heads [mythological water snakes].
Art from Each ruling dynasty brought its unique crafts and artifacts
to the country, such as the bronze casting from the Konbaung Dynasty.
It is often difficult to detect if art or objects are from Burma
or Northern Thailand as the hill tribes moved freely and easily
back and forth in the mountains of the border areas.