Myanmar Culture

Myanmar Culture, Pagoda, Buddha & Temple

This has always something to do with Buddha, Buddhism, Nats, pagoda and temples and other interesting stuff from long time ago. Since the country covers a large area in south east Asia with around 130 different ethnic groups this was creating automatically a wide culture spectrum. Considering the influence of China, India and the British and Portuguese colonists it it is visible that culture has been grown to very diverse directions. Only when the military banged the whole country into the communist prison all development stopped almost instantly.

After Burma became Myanmar and there are continuous attempts to improve the life of the people and revive culture. A typical example is Bagan which is a showcase of dedication to Buddhist religion and is probably the hallmark of history.

Unfortunately the country hasn’t recovered yet from this lunatic communist system imported from a country saturated with madness,

means USSR and mixed up with some military ideas. It was not much different to the mentally sick groups around Pol Pot in Cambodia, but everyone hopes that golden times will be back soon

Traditional culture is also centered around the dedication to the Nats, this are animistic ghosts which are virtually everywhere but have never been seen, means they are only existing in the imagination of the relevant people. Tourism is steadily growing in resent years and travel also became less complicated.

The firm believe in Buddhism and deep roots grown over centuries will show the way into the future. Unfortunately the continuous meddling of old colonialists, the British who still think they are superior to the and the usual arrogance of the new colonialists, the USA whose culture is “wild west”, Rambo and Rock’n Roll.

Connected to the Nats

Nats Shrine at Yangon
Nats Shrine at Yangon in front of a house
Nats spirits
The Nats were worshipped with orgiastic ceremonies
They were worshipped with orgiastic ceremonies
Nats at Mount Popa
Mount Popa an extinct volcano near Bagan
Mount Popa abode of them
Burma Myanmar

Nats at Mount Popa

Teakwood carved by Myanmar sculptors
Teakwood carved by local sculptors

Nats figures at Mount Popa
Figures at Mount Popa
Myanmar Nats
The 32 of the Nats
The 32 of the Nats
Buddhist Temple or Pagoda
Buddhist religion and Buddhist Temple or Pagoda near Mandalay

Myanmar Dancer
Local Dancer in beautiful old costume
Nat Number 4
Number 4 ghost

Tempel at Bagan
Temple at Bagan with the Irrawaddy in the back

King Anawrahta (Indian form : Aniruddha) was of Myanmar stock, and ruled at Bagan in the old Pyu kingdom. He captured the venerable Mon capital of Thaton and carried off its royal family, many skilled craftsmen and most of the Theravada monks, to Bagan. The superior culture of the Mon captives was recognized. They were honored, and given the task of organizing and civilizing the new kingdom.

Under Anawrahta’s successors,

links with the Buddhist homeland were forged. Embassies were sent to Bodhgaya in Bihar, and the great Mahabodhi temple there ‘ marking the spot where the Buddha  achieved enlightenment ‘ was restored with local money, perhaps even slightly in local taste. And although Theravada was the officially established form of religion, tolerance was extended to other forms, and it is clear that the form of Theravada adopted was itself impregnated with elements from other doctrines. The Mahayana had its devotees, and there are some tenth-century frescoes on a temple at Bagan suggesting that the Tantric. Buddhism (Vajrayana) of Bengal was popular for a time. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century was the ‘golden Age’ of Myanmar art. In 1287 the country was sacked and garrisoned by the Mongols. Thereafter art traditions petrified but is is continuously changing.

Shri Kshetra Pyu Pagoda Ruins from the 15th century
Shri Kshetra Pyu Pagoda Ruins from the 15th century

The art of the epoch before Anawrahta, however, in the Pyu region of Upper Myanmar, must have had its own splendor. The one Pyu city to have been investigated archaeologically, the old Shri Kshetra, now Pyi – Prome – Pyay, was enclosed in a massive wall. It was larger than Bagan or even Mandalay, and Mon inscriptions refer to it as the capital even after Anawrahta’s death.

Near the city are three huge ruined pagodas, the largest one a hundred and fifty feet high; a number of small, vaulted, brick chapels probably formed part of the religious complex. The pagodas are tall, brick cylinders, mounted on shallow, stepped circular plinths. Their apices already have the characteristically concave bell-like pinnacle tapering to the central point.

New Myanmar Pagoda Architecture Maha Wizaya Pagoda Yangon
Pagoda Architecture at Maha Wizaya Pagoda Yangon

The later course of pagoda architecture

can be described generally as the gradual elimination of what was the main body of the Pyu pagoda ‘ the cylindrical drum ‘ and the progressive amalgamation of the forms of the flange-molded apex with the stepped plinth. The Pyu chapels follow two patterns. One is a simple rectangular hall, with massive walls, buttresses and a single framed entrance door. The other is square in plan, set upon a square central plinth, with entrance doors on each of the four sides. This latter pattern follows a familiar Indian type.

The works of art found at Shri Kshetra today Pyi or Pyay are extremely varied, and little order can yet be introduced into them. There are plenty of stone images of the Hindu god Vishnu ‘ who is, incidentally, the Hindu deity most often encountered in Southeast Asia. As, he represents the central principle of existence, lie travels more easily than other Hindu deities who are more closely involved with the native Indian social structure.

The Ari religion is probably represented by a few works of art based on the Mahayana form of Buddhism. There are bronze images of Bodhisattvas, who were especially cultivated by the Mahayana. These are enlightened, compassionate beings, entitled to Nirvana, who yet abstain from their own release in order to save the suffering creatures who are still in bondage to the world. They are able through their great virtue to perform miracles. They appear in art as beautiful persons, wearing the crowns and jewels of kingship. There are orthodox Theravada Buddhist images, as well, and inscriptions.

The Pyu evidently used to burn their dead and place the ashes in pottery vessels which were kept in rows in the precincts of the shrine, sometimes on brick platforms covered with earth.

Unfortunately, little is known of the earliest phases of Western Mon art. Its achievements are known from a later phase when it was exercised in the service of Anawrahta’s Theravada Bagan, and it produced a splendid profusion of architecture and other art.


Bagan Pagoda Architecture
Bagan Pagoda Architecture

Bagan Pagoda remains

At Bagan architecture

is definitely the dominant art, and except for the big icons, sculpture and painting have only a subordinate role to play. Carving and ornament never take the prominent role they do in the origin it Indian buildings, or in other parts of Southeast Asia.

The materials of the structures are brick and stucco, and they have lasted pretty well. A single Hindu temple, and a few remains of Mahayana inspiration, survive among the mass of Theravada structures belonging to the two hundred years of Bagan’s greatness, before the Mongol conquest. They have, of course, suffered neglect, damage, and some ‘ perhaps worst of all ‘ from restoration in debased style. Even so, Bagan still contains the largest surviving group of the brick buildings which once stood in many parts of south Asia.

There are thousands of remains and the relatively dry central weather must have much to do with this. Similar to India, the surviving monuments are only the remains of an great volume of building, most of which must have been made of wood but wood is prone to fire and other natural decay.

Only sacral buildings where made from stone and bricks. Teak was abundant in the jungles and bamboo grows everywhere means most of the structures from before were gone over time.

The wide area extended far beyond the limits of the known city walls, and it is likely that the surviving brick monuments remains were surrounded by dense building in perishable materials. About these, however, it is possible only to spectacled and assume that they supplied patterns and prototypes for what can still be seen standing in brick and stucco.

From the inscriptions we know that royal devotees frequently turned their teak palaces over to the uses of religion. So it is probable that monastic and palace architecture were at the very least compatible.

Bagan Monastery
Monastery made from teak wood at Bagan
Tharabha Gate
Tharabha Gate, the only piece of the city wall left.

And what is more, monasteries

were ‘ and still are ‘ adorned with a splendor worthy of the palaces of divine kings ‘ gilded, painted, and carved with lavish ornament. The monks are committed to a life of absolute poverty, but their laity, to whom they symbolize the saving Truth, ensure that the glory of this symbolism is made apparent in the monastic environment.The most important early buildings at Bagan are the two shrines flanking the Tharabha gate to the city, which contain damaged images of the Mahagiri Nats, and the early monastic library, the Pitakattaik. All are built in brick, with solid walls. The gate shows the relics of the flat pilasters and molded architrave which are a common feature of buildings, particularly at the corners of the structures. The shrines themselves are very simple, and have obviously lost their original ornaments.

The rectangular library, however, retains its five-tiered roof, from which sprout flamboyant, curvilinear flanges, and which is crowned by a central spire. It is reminiscent in its proportions of Indian prototypes. A library, of course, is an important building in a monastery, for books are vehicles of the doctrine.

The most numerous and important buildings however, should be classed as cetiyas. They have a history and line of evolution of their own, from a stupa into huge structural temple. The normal pagoda is a tall structure incorporating on a plinth a solid dome, which is surmounted by a member called the harmika. Originally, on the oldest Indian pagodas, this harmika was a small railed enclosure, inside and below which the relic-chamber was set into the dome.


Ananda Temple and Pagoda
Ananda Temple and Pagoda


But in pagodas

the harmika has become a large decorated die. Above is a circular pointed spire, flanged, in memory of its origin, as a range of honorific umbrellas of decreasing size, set one above the other, over it and relict chamber. In practice this and umbrella-spire become a single architectural unit. Basic cetiyas are the true focus of the Buddhist faith. The shrine and its Buddha image is a direct functional derivative of the final Nirvana. This structures are related to the old Pyu pagoda at Shri Kshetra.

The earliest, the Bupaya Pagoda , at was actually built by the Pyu. It stands on a high platform; its own plinth is simple, low, and octagonal. It’s umbrella-spire form a single, tall concave-sided cone.

Bupaya Pagoda
Bupaya Pagoda at Bagan on the Irrawaddy banks

This type usually attributed to Anawrahta is similar to this old Pyu pattern. The main point of evolution is in the greater elaboration of the terraced plinths. These pagodas stand on a series of stepped octagonal terraces, which may themselves stand on what are virtually sacred mountains ‘further terraces with staircases mounting from terrace to terrace up each of the four sides. In this they resemble monuments in other parts of Southeast Asia. The domes are tall, bell-shaped cylinders, often with bands of ornamental molding half-way.

Two versions, both reworked, of the type of majestic pagoda associated with King Anawrahta. The high plinths which resemble sacred mountains carry terraces around which pilgrims can walk up.

Bagan Myanmar Pagodas

Pagoda and Buddha image

Their crowning spires vary in pattern. Some resemble a series of diminishing built-tiers, others more closely resemble piled-up flanges. The most significant characteristic of some of these pagodas attributed to Anawrahta for example the


Shwesandaw Pagoda
Shwesandaw Pagoda in the center of the plains

Shwesandaw Pagoda

is found on the series of rectangular terraces forming the sacred mountain on which the pagoda stands. At the corners of these terraces replicas of  themselves are given horizontal bands of molding. In the earlier instances of this type of pagoda at least two of the five or six octagonal plinth-terraces can be used for circumambulation. But with the development of huge rectangular terraced storey’s of the sacred mountain at the end of the eleventh century, the octagonal terraces atrophy, and become no more than molded flanges round the lower rim of the bell-shaped dome. By the twelfth century the pattern of the pagoda has changed into the form from which the true Myanmar temple was to spring. The dome has become highly ornate, the bands of ornament found on the older Pyu type having become wider and deeper, with Buddha’s in framed cartouches facing out in the four cardinal directions.

Pagoda and Temple Bagan

The old octagonal plinths have become an elaborate e series of flanged moldings round the base of the dome. The spire has become a massive conical molded and flanged crown to the dome, while the lower, square tiers of terraces have become fewer in number and individually higher, so that each presents a tall wall surface. The miniature spires at the terrace corners have become virtually miniature pagodas. The epitome of this style is the Seinnyet Nyima cetiya at Myin Bagan.


On monuments

of this last type, decorative figure sculpture comes very much to the fore. There can be little doubt that this respects the actual form of the pagoda, notably in the new weight of the conical spire ‘ there is a strong reassertion of Indian influence. For it was about the time when this development was taking place, on their own account, established relations with the heartland of Buddhism in Bihar. There the late Pala style was flourishing, and it would be entire natural for the locals to wish to attach themselves to the expressive modes of the country which was the source of their religious inspiration. It is likely that at the same time the Burmese were prompted to a further architectural development it by what they saw in contemporary India.

Mount Popa
Mount Popa in the center of the country

Mount Popa Nats
Various Mount Popa Nats


This involved the opening up of the terraced base of the pagoda into a temple interior. The sacred mountain was a piece of natural symbolism, for Mount Popa was the home of the great Nats, and hollow shrines, described above, had been made. In India the symbolism of the temple as sacred mountain had been very highly evolved, and the whole interior of the massive pile of the temple had been opened up, on the analogy of the cave in the hillside. Within the sacred mountain the germ of its sanctity could be made visible in its hollow depths. In the eastern regions of India where they were making contact under Anawrahta’s successors, the centrally planned brick temple was a standard architectural pattern. It was crowned by a molded spire, raised on a high plinth, with staircases at the centre of four sides. Under the spire was the main cell where the chief image was housed.

Buddhist cave sanctuary
Buddhist cave sanctuary in Shan State

Rock cut pagoda at powintaung
Rock cut pagoda at Powintaung

In India, too, it had long been conventional for the rock-cut pagoda within a Buddhist cave-sanctuary to bear on its face a carved figure of the Buddha.

This was to demonstrate that the Buddha nature dwelt inside the monumental emblem of Nirvana,the Buddhist Truth. By a combination of these two conceptions they arrived at the idea of their own pagoda-temple. By burrowing into the undercroft of their pagodas, as into the sacred mountain which the terraces suggested, they could open up an internal temple area, in which the Buddha image would occupy the central spot. The pagoda-dome would serve as mountain-peak and spire.

But since the association of image and pagoda was accepted, the shrine would naturally be thought of as extending down into the undercroft to contain the Buddha image.

The surrounding terraces of the sacred mountain could then also be interpreted as lean-to roofs, even awnings round the root of the pagoda-drum. The exterior of the temple could still suggest the idea of the sacred mountain crowned by its top.

Pagoda Dome Shwezigon
Shwezigon a culture monument

But the new logic of the temple interior would add a fresh dimension to the idea, as a place to be entered for a direct encounter with the true doctrine.


Sculpture and Buddha Image painting

on halls, corridors and doorways could recount the life of the Buddha, and present the example of his previous lives. The opening up of the lower terraces as buildings with internal wall faces of their own would make it unnecessary for the roofs of the tiers actually to serve as ambulatory terraces.

Temple Interior Myanmar
Temple Interior with wall paintings and statues

Buddha Image
Mural Buddha Image

Following the Indian symbolism of the cosmic mountain, however, what had been the terrace-corners retained their small pagodas, for the cosmic mountain naturally possessed its foothills. Finally, the terraces as well as the inner rooms and passages became the heavenly habitat of all the spiritual creatures of Buddhist mythology.


The first phase of this temple development

is represented by the Abeyadana temple, which is really a pagoda, but its bottom storey is opened into an ambulatory corridor lit by latticed windows. The window-frames are set between flat pilasters, and crowned with a lobed hood-molding worked with a row of flame-finials.

The ‘Tally Temple’ near the Sabbannu or Thatbyinnyu, is a splendid example of a twelfth-century temple. The central mountain-spire is a large, bell-domed pagoda, worked with lavish stucco surface ornament, which stands clear and intact on top of the terraced structure.

The terrace block of the temple has become a true building, and the terraces themselves have been reduced to a stepped roof. The four tall entrance doors are double-framed, stepped-out with porches, and crowned with high flame-finial hoods. The walls are deeply recessed and heavily plastered ; the base and architrave have deeply worked horizontal moldings; the corner pinnacles are square in section.

Two other twelfth-century temples show the further course of the evolution. In both of them the pagoda-spire has been, as it were, absorbed into the square body of the terrace block. It has become square in section, though its umbrella-pinnacle remains circular.

It is clearly following the pattern of the bowed spire of east Indian temples in scale, seeming to be no more than the largest of the many spires on the terrace roofs.

Abeyadana Temple
Abeyadana Temple in the center of Bagan

Bagan Balloon Tour

Bagan Balloon tour over pagodas and temples

Thatbyinnyu or Sabbannu Temple
Thatbyinnyu or Sabbannu Temple

Bagan Pagoda made from thousands of bricks
Pagoda made from thousands of bricks

The first of these temples is the great Sabbannu or Thatbyinnyu Temple itself, built immediately before the ‘Tally Temple’ – the latter is said to have been built of the tally bricks put aside, one for each ten thousand bricks used on the Sabbannu.

The Sabbannu or Thatbyinnyu itself is a typical square temple formed as an opened-up terrace block. Inside, in a domed cell under the main spire is a colossal seated Buddha figure. But this temple is itself raised on its own solid sacred mountain plinth of three square terraces, the lowest storey of which is again high, and opened up with an ambulatory corridor, lit by two tiers of flame-hooded windows.

Passages and stairways run up through the massive plinth. The second of these temples is the Nagayon, at MyinBagan.

This is an integral square temple, of a broader spread, and with broad, sloping roofs as terraces. But to its square terrace block and building is added a long hall, the gable-end of which is adorned with the standard double flame-finial cum hood-antifixes.

Nagayon Temple
The famous Nagayon Temple, a real highlight


The top temple is the great Ananda

It is still in use, unlike most of the old temples, and so it is kept in repair, painted a blazing white with lime-stucco. It is square in plan, with a long porch-hall added to all of the four doors in the four faces of the square. The brick mass is pierced with a grid of corridors, and the terraced roofs are sloping.

Ananda Temple InteriorInside the Ananda Temple

Ananda Temple Interior Wall

Ananda Temple Lady

Ananda Temple Yard

A colossal standing Buddha figure ‘ of base, reworked type ‘ faces out from it along each of the approach-halls. Inside the temple is lavishly adorned with relief’s of Buddhist subjects

The towering central spire is perhaps closest of all to the east Indian temple spire, grooved and channeled with multiple moldings, with a vertical band of blind windows up the centre of each face.

The broadest terraced roofs have pagodas at each corner. The more central, small roofs have seated lions, standard emblems of the power of the Buddhist doctrine.

The faces of the lower storey are squared-off by vertical pilasters and a horizontal band. The edges of all the roofs are crenellated, and each of the magnificent doors is crowned with two huge triangular hood-antifixes of flame-finial. Inside, the spire descends through the roofs to floor-level, as a pagoda-block.

The later evolution consisted of modifications of these canonical forms, mainly by the alteration of the relative proportions of the different parts. The thirteenth century Gawdawpalin temple adheres to the to the pattern of the rectilinear temple plus extra plinth.The ornament and flame hood-antefixes are much emphasized and enlarged. This ‘ the Myanmar style, as distinct from the Mon ‘ tends to stress the height. of the walls with its highly ornamented pilasters. Porches may be crowned not only with hoods, but even with tiered pinnacles, as in the Sembyoku. One temple at least ‘ the Obelisk of Wet-kyi-in, Ku-byauk-ki ‘ was built as a direct imitation of the square, straight-sided pyramid-tower of the great temple at Bodhgaya, called the Mahabodhi. This had been restored by Anawrahta’s successor, Kyanzittha, in the early twelfth century. This version has little roundels, each containing a relief figure of a celestial, on each of the many partitions on the faces of the tower.

Ananda Temple
Ananda Temple a cultural monument of the people and to Buddha

Ananda Temple Interior Buddha Statue
Interior Buddha Statue

A colossal standing Buddha figure Ananda Temple
A colossal standing Buddha figure


As time went on, brick-and-stucco architecture

developed principally through the elaboration and often the coarsening fits ornament. It is, however, impossible to form an adequate idea of the older styles of temple architecture used, for example, at the sites of the great temples of Rangoon or Mandalay. Bagan’s temples were mostly abandoned, so that even though they may be ruined, they show their original characteristics. But temples which have remained in continuous use have been continually and drastically restored. Pagodas may have been sheathed in as many as eight successive casings of brick and stucco. Temple walls and doors are constantly torn down and rebuilt, and stucco may be renewed almost annually. Applying fresh gilding and glass inlay is popularly regarded as an act of merit, so revered architectural monuments suffer from it continually.

Among the more recent pagodas there is only a little variety. In fact they can be built at a great pace and there may be hundreds of many sizes, with many variant patterns of molding, around a Buddhist monastery. The most expensive kind are covered quickly with extravagant and gross stucco ornament, but simpler examples can be beautiful.

Occasional interesting combinations of Buddhism and Naga cult are found in pagodas with an open cell containing an image of the Buddha, the plinth of which is composed of a Naga coiled round the structure . This is possibly an echo of the Khmer Bayon type of Buddha or Naga. Among monastic buildings of wood are many derived partly from Chinese patterns, and then Myanmarized by their ornamental treatment.

Shwemawdaw Pagoda
Shwemawdaw Pagoda

There are in the Shan states a number of purely Chinese administrative and monastic buildings. But at the great pagoda sites of southern Myanmar, such as the large Shwemawdaw Pagoda at Bago, the Mingun, Arakan or Maha Muni of Mandalay, there are numerous wooden buildings in which Chinese forms are buried under modifications and ornament. At the great Shwedagon at Rangoon, for example, where numerous extremely sacred relics are enshrined, the ‘Southern Shrine’ is based on the Chinese many-tiered pagoda. The base-storey is cruciform in plan, however, with porch-gables overriding each other, reminiscent of old Bagan, but the wooden pillars that support the porches are Chinese in conception. Yet all the angles of pillar and architrave are filled with pierced wood-panels of scroll and flower ornament, and every roof gable, tier and terrace effloresces with flamboyant pointed cartouches of similar pierced work, so that the whole building is smothered in repetitive ornament, lavishly gilded.

Similar structures, or long halls with double- or triple-tiered gabled roofs at other pagoda sites, where less merit-money has been spent,-have less ornament, and may be extremely beautiful, with only a few flamboyant antefixes pointing the gables and punctuating the eaves. Such buildings abound all over the country. They have never been listed, surveyed or studied. In the Shan states, at the town of Kengtung, for example, beautiful examples of rustic wooden monastery architecture may be seen, where the entire effect is achieved by a multiplicity of plain tiled roofs set into and against each other, or riding over each other in terraced gables. Hardly any paint or gilt mars the simplicity.

At the present time, financial stringency and a few cases of enlightened patronage have produced wooden architecture, either for monasteries or for official buildings, which succeeds in capturing the virtues of the most chaste monastic architecture. Usually in the past, however, the royal palace, and the palaces of princes and chieftains, have always been disfigured with an incrustation of extravagantly pierced and gilt antefixes, barge-boards, finials and balcony-rails, the design of which is merely monstrous, however rich.

Myanmar Girl at Bagan
Myanmar Girl at Bagan with some “freight” on top

Myanmar People
Myanmar People enjoy the afternoon under the tree and

Myanmar Girls Bagan
women at Bagan