Architectural Decoration of Stūpas in Bagan (1000-1300 AD)

by Dr Zin Tun Tint

Paper read at the 8th Research Conference of Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science held in Yangon University on 24 October 2008.
Journal of the Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science, Vol. II, No.7(B), June 2009, Page-195


This paper deals with the study of architectural decoration of Bagan period stūpas which have withstood the ravages of the time, we find many stylistic stūpas noted for their well-balanced proportion, restraint in ornamentation and elegance. In Myanmar, the stūpa epitomizes the long integration of Buddhism into the royal and religious history of the country. The interpretation of the stūpa has taken on many dimensions, ranging from the importance of relics, to the changing form, and to its later domination over the temple or ‘gū’ form. In Myanmar, the stūpa is referred to as ‘paya’, a word which can be applied to a stūpa, a temple, or an image of the Buddha. In all cases, it is often taken to represent the living presence of the Buddha. The focus of the present paper is not present usage, but an understanding of present perception of meaning in Buddhist architecture is important in the historiography of religious patronage in Myanmar especially in Bagan period. In architectural terms, the form of the stūpa, and the influences determining the form, reflect this patronage. The study of these can clarify the architectural decoration of the stūpas in Bagan period. Perhaps due to the continuing patronage of Buddhist stūpa architecture in Bagan period, a workable classification of the stūpa form has not been formulated and would be of benefit to scholars in the field of the art history.

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