Exterior Decorations of Religious Monuments in Bagan (AD 1000-1300)

by Dr Zin Tun Tint

Paper read at the 12th Research Conference of Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science held in University of Yangon, October 2012.
Journal of the Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science, Vol. XI, No.9, June 2013, Page- 25


This paper presents with the study of exterior decorations which embellished on the outer walls of the religious monuments during the Bagan period from the 11th century to the 13th century. The environmental space of Bagan itself is enclosed by the great number of temples and pagodas. Therefore, throughout the Bagan area anyone who pointed a finger in any direction will not miss a religious monument. Although there are numerous monuments in Bagan the same type of them is very few except three or four. Someone are one-storeyed buildings and others are three or four-storeyed buildings. The thousands of splendid monuments of every shape and size are depicted with unique art and architecture. The basic functions of the structures in Bagan are simple; the pagoda is a symbol for worship while the temple is mainly for worship and meditation. The inner walls of the most of temples are ornamented with beautiful frescoes whereas those of outer walls are decorated with stucco carving and glaze plaques. Stucco was widely used to adorn the exteriors of pagodas and temples with moulded relief decoration. Bagan was the capital for two and half centuries when the Myanmar Empire reached its zenith power. The city had laid the foundation for a Myanmar nation. It had helped to develop a distinctive Myanmar civilization. Obviously, the beauty, splendour, magnificence and glory of Bagan has been known around the world and it is nowadays one of the wonders of the world.

Exterior Decorations of Religious Monuments in Bagan (AD 1000-1300)

Myanmar is the land of pagodas and we are confronted with Buddhist shrines of all shapes and sizes erected on almost inaccessible heights. The Myanmar Buddhists, like other oriental, live more in the future than in present, and the extraordinary number of pagoda all over the country attests to their anxiety to attain bliss in the next world as well as to the stronghold which Buddhism has over them.

Firstly: a bell-shaped stūpa raised on a series of terraces or   platforms and crowned with a conical finial. To these the term tsedi or zedi, which corresponds with the   chaitya in Nepal and the chedi of Siam, is sometimes given. They consist of solid masses of brickwork, with a small   sealed-up chamber in the basement containing supposed   relics of Buddha.

Secondly: a temple which is square on plan with sometimes projecting porches or vestibules and, in the thickness of the walls, narrow corridors, the walls of which are decorated with frescoes or sculpture, with niches at intervals containing images of the Buddha.

The Directorate of Archaeology made an attempt to count them  in 1973 and accordingly there are 2,217

“Red Brick Religious Edifices”.

The architectural types of Bagan religious monuments may be further classified as follow:

(1)  Stūpa whose dome is modelled on a reliquary, e.g. Bupaya;

(2)  Stūpa whose dome is modelled on a tumulus; e.g. Lawkananda,   ShwezigonShwesandaw, Mingalazedi;

(2)  Stūpa whose dome is modelled on a tumulus; e.g. Lawkananda,   ShwezigonShwesandaw, Mingalazedi;

(3)  Stūpa of Sinhalese type, e.g. Sapada, Pebingyaung;

(4)  Temple based on North Indian type, e.g. Ananda;

(5)  Temple of Central India type, e.g. Mahabodhi;

(6)  Temple based on South Indian model, e.g. Gawdawpalin,   Sulamani;

(7)  Cave temples based on Indian model, e.g. Kyaukku Umin,   KyansitthaUmin;

(8)  Ordination hall, e.g. Upali Thein;

(9)  Library, e.g. Pitakat Taik;

(10)  Brick monasteries, e.g. Soemingyi Oak-kyaung, Phwa Saw   Sutaung Pyi Oak-kyaung

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