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MyanmarTravel.Info  - amigo tour, myanmar travel, myanmar travels, myanmar tour, myanmar tours, myanmar tour operator, myanmar tour guideArchitecture

 Traditional temple architecture brings together all the pan seh myo (ten types of flower), the traditional Burmese arts schemata:
-Gold and silversmithing (ba-dein)
-Blacksmithing (ba-beh)
-Bronze, copper and brass casting (ba-daing)
-Woodcarving (ba-bu)
-Lathe-work (pan-buq)
-Painting (ba-ji)
-Lacquerware (pan-yun)
-Stucco work (pan-daw)
-Stone carving (pan-ta-maw)
-Masonry (pa-yan) and stone-cutting (pan-yweh)

It is in architecture that one sees the strongest evidence of Burmese artistic skill and accomplishment. Myanmar is a country of stupas, or Buddist reliquaries, often called 'pagodas' in English. The Burmese seem unable to see a hilltop without wanting to put a religious monument on top of it. Wherever you are - boating down the river, driving through the hills, even flying above the plains - there always seems to be a stupa in view. It is in Bagan that you see the most dramatic results of this national enthusiasm for religious monuments; for over two centuries a massive construction program resulted in thousands of shrines, stupas, monasteries and other sacred buildings.

The Paya The Paya (pa-YAH), the most common Burmese equivalent to the often misleading English term pagoda, literally means holy one and can refer to people, deities and places associated with religion. For the most part it's a generic term for what students of Hindu-Buddhist architecture call a stupa. There are basically two kinds of paya: the solid, bell-shaped zedi and the hollow square or rectangualr pahto. A zedi or stupa is usually thought to contain 'relics' - either objects taken from the Buddha himself (especially pieces of bone, teeth or hair) or certain holy materials such as Buddha images and other religious objects blessed by a famous sayadaw (Burmese Buddhist master, usually chief abbot). Both zedis and pahtos are often associated with kyaung (Buddist monasteries).

The term pahto is sometimes translated as temple, though shrine would perhaps be more accurate since priests or monks are not necessarily in attendance. The so-called Mon-style pahto is a large cube with small windows and ground-level passageways; this type is also known as a ku or gu (from the Pail-Sanskrit guha, or cave). In later Bagan structures, indoor passages led to outside terraces on several levels, a style usuaslly ascribed to the Mayan and Aztec pyramids of Mesoamerica; both architectural styles are designed so that worshippers climb a symbolic mountain while viewing religious reliefs and frescoes along the way.

If all this seems too confusing, just remember that the generic Burmese term for all these structure is paya. The famous Mon zedi in Yangon is called Shwedagon Paya, and Bagan's greatest pahto is known as Ananda Paya.
Payas function basically as a focus for meditation or contemplation. In the case of solid payas (zedis), if there is a need for some sheltered gathering place or a place to house images or other paraphernalia, then this will usually be an ancillary building to the paya. There may be small shrines, pavilions, covered walkways or other such places all around a major paya. These are often more heavily ornamented than the zedis themselves. Hman-si shwe-cha, which describes the combination of giltwork with coloured glass mosaic, is one of the most popular types of ornamentation in Mon and Bamar temples.

Zedi Styles

Zedis go under different names in other Buddhist countries; they may be called dagobas in Sri Lanka, chedis or jedis in Thialand, stupas or chaityas in India, but basically they all refer to the same idea. Although at first glance all zedis may look alike, you'll soon realise there have been many, often subtle, design changes over the years. Early zedis were usually hemispherical (the Kaunghmudaw at Sagaing near Mandalay) or bulbous (the Bupaya in Bagan), while the more modern style is much more graceful - a curvaceous lower bell merging into a soaring spire, such as the Shwedagon Paya in Yangon. Style is not always a good indicator of a zedi's original age since Myanmar is earthquake-prone and many have been rebuilt over and again, gradually changing their design through the centuries.

One thing many zedis seem to have in quantity is an air of tranquillity. Even when it's noisy around a zedi, when some sort of festival or ceremony is going on, the atmosphere is still changed with that tranquil magic that seems to pervade everything bells tinkling from the hit, the decorative metal 'umbrella' that tops the structure. Around the base, people are meditating, strolling around, or simply chatting. Zedis have a warmth; an easygoing feeling of friendliness that is quite unmatched by any other religious building.

Other Buildings

Traditionally, only the zedi, gu and pahto have been made of permanent materials; until quite recently all secular buildings - and most monasteries - were constructed of wood and thus there are few old wooden buildings to be seen. Even the great palaces were made of wood, and with the destruction of Mandalay Palace during WWII there is no remaining wooden Burmese palace. There are only a few reminders of these beautifully carved buildings remaining in Myanmar, and even these are deteriorating today, due to lack of protection.

Although so little remains of the old wooden architectural skills, there are still many excellent wooden buildings to be seen. The Burmese continue to use teak with great skill, and a fine country home can be a very pleasing structure indeed. Unhappily, the Burmese have proved far less adept with more modern materials, and Myanmar boasts some appalling corrugated-iron-roofed buildings and concrete monstrosities. Even with finer, older buildings the emphasis has always been more on quantity than quality - Myanmar boasts no great buildings of meticulous artistry like India's Taj Mahal. But when it comes to location - balancing a delicate stupa on a towering hiltop or perching one on the side of a sheer precipice - the Burmese have no match.

Although historical monuments in the Bamar-majority areas are fairly well preserved, elsewhere in Myanmar this is sadly not the case. An extraordinarily beautiful, 100-year-old Shan-style palace in Kengtung (Kyaingtong) was razed to build a 14 storey hotel on the new Thailand-China route. Other palaces in this area are also in line to be demolished.

Buildings erected during the British colonial period feature a variety of styles and materials, from the rustic woo-and-plaster Tudor villas of Pyin U Lwin to the thick-walled, brick-and-plaster, colonnaded mansions and shophouses of Yangon, Mawlamyaing and Myeik. Much of the ornamentation found on these old colonial dames was inspired by local architecture, replacing, for example, the 'gingerbread' typical of British Victorian rooflines with the Burmese equivalent found on Buddhist monastery buildings. Until recently scant attention was paid to preserving colonial architecture - for political as well as economic reasons - but nowadays many are being restored.

Buddhist Sculpture

Remarkably little research has been carried out on the topic of Burmese religious sculpture other than that from the Bagan and Mandalay eras. A rich Buddhist sculptural tradition in wood, bronze, stone and marble existed among the Shan, Mon and Rakhaing peoples but these have received short shrift from both Bamar and foreign scholars. Even Bamar sculpture is hard to come by in the country.

Compared to the inhabitants of neighbouring countries, the Burmese have had a difficulg time preserving historical, non-architectural art. Seldom does one come across any Buddha images older than 100 years in Burmese payas or kyaungs - after a few weeks of looking one gets the definite impression that most such sculptures have been sold or stolen. This may be partially due to the Burmese belief that images from old kyaungs or payas may be unlucky, so Buddha image, a Rakhaing sculpture, is just about the only famous image of any age-probably because it's too heavy to steal! Unfortunately the years of war and poverty have taken their toll on the arts and you'll easily find more Buremese religious sculpture on display in Hong Kong, San Francisco and London than in Myanmar.

Painting

Early Burmese art was always a part of religious architecture - paintings were something done on the walls of temples, sculpture something to be placed inside them. Since the decline of temple-building, the old painting skills have deteriorated considerably. Modern Burmese paintings in the western style reflect only a pale shadow of the former skill, and the one painter of any renown, U Ba Kyi, paints murals and canvases commissioned for the larger hotels and government offices. Many contemporary artists in Yangon and Mandalay work in modern international styles, even when painting traditional subjects.

Woodcarving

Burmese woodcarving was reserved mainly for royal palaces, which were always made of timber and became showpieces for the skilful woodcarver. When royal palaces ceased to be built, woodcarvings skills rapidly declined, although the new construction boom has brought about a small but growing woodcarving renaissance - again mostly seen in hotels.

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