John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

. (page 36 of 41)
Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

despoiled of all its sacred treasures would ever have
funds to lavish in this way. It is therefore much more
likely that this, along with other pagodas, was erected by
King Anawratazaw.

Deeply imbued with a religious feeling, and detesting
the superstitious practices of snake and spirit worship then
largely prevailing. King Anawratazaw appears to have
resolved to effect a religious revival. It is probable that
he built the Nagayon ^ Paya before his war against
Thaton ; and the latter was most likely waged for the
express purpose of obtaining possession of all the sacred
works and firmly establishing Pagan as the centre of
Buddhist light and learning. The Nagayon Paya may
therefore be regarded as not only the oldest of the
pagodas, but the most ancient among the buildings in
Pagan ; while the Kyaukku Onhmin, the " rock cave
temple" or "stone temple" of Hindu masons who built
Manuha's palace and the Ananda pagoda, is the oldest of
the true temples, and is in certain respects one of the
most interesting of all the ancient buildings there.

The Kyaukku temple, at the northern limit of historical
Pagdn, is in a ravine about a mile and a half to the
north-east of the present town of Nyaungu. It consists
of three storeys and lateral terraces built against the
southern side of the gorge. The lowest storey is of
fine green sandstone, while the upper storeys are of

^ The etymology of Burmese words and names offers a perilously
seductive fascination. The Nagayon Paya may possibly have been
built in honour of the prospective advent, about 2,500 years hence, of
the fifth and last Buddh of the present Kalpa or cycle, Arimateya,
who is at present passing his existence in the shape of a hare ; for
Nagd means "a dragon or demi-god," and Ydii a hare. The Burmese
see in the moon a hare, and in the sun a peacock, the royal emblem
of Burma. Otherwise, Nagayon may indicate " trust in the dragon,"



brickwork, added probably towards the close of the
twelfth century. It is often mentioned in Pagan history,
and it formed a place of refuge for fugitive priests, kings,
and nobles until long after the conquest of Pagan by the
Chinese and Shans in the thirteenth century. It con-
tains an interesting collection of carved wooden images
representative of the kings of Pagan.

Opposite to it is the Kyidawmu Paya or " royal view
pagoda," built in 1187 a.d. by King Narabadisisithu for
the convenience of his Queen, who might from this
behold the temples during the King's visits to the shrine
and the priests there ; for the monastic rules forbade her
accompanying him.

Most of the ancient monuments in Pagan differ from
the bell -shaped pagodas of Lower Burma in being of
square brickwork carried up in diminishing terraces to
very near the top and then finishing off abruptly in a
curvilinear spire. They are distinctly Indian in funda-
mental design. The majority of these ancient shrines and
pagodas are not solid at the base, but consist of arched
domes or domed chambers containing images of Gaudama.
These chambers are called Kit, from the word originally
meaning " a cave."

The most remarkable of all these hollow pagodas or
shrines, and at the same time one of the oldest, is the
Ananda Paya, built by Indian workmen about 1057 a.d.
It was probably intended to commemorate the victory
over the Peguans and the transfer of the sacred books
from Thaton. It is built in a square of about 200 feet,
but with projecting porticoes on all four faces, so that
it measures 280 feet each way, in the shape of a perfect
Greek cross. Rising in ever diminishing terraces, it
ascends to a height of 183 feet. Internally the building
is very massive, though intersected with narrow corridors;
but behind each of the four projecting porticoes is a niche
or chapel containing a colossal figure of a Buddha, about
forty feet high. Each of the four images, thickly covered
with gold leaf, represents one of the four Buddhs who
have visited the earth during the present Kalpa or cycle.
On the east Kaukasan, on the south Gawnagun, on
the west Kathaba, and on the north Gaudama, they



are placed in the proper order in which they are beUeved
to have appeared (see page 92).

In the narrow corridors, which are left between the solid
brickwork of the basement, are about a thousand niches
containing small stone sculptures representing various
phases in the life of Gaudama, and many of these are
apparently of Indian workmanship.

The Shinbinthayaung, which some regard as older
than the Ananda, resembles it both in design and
in plan. It contains four chambers, three of them
having cross-legged sitting images of Gaudama, and the
fourth his recumbent figure about ninety feet long; while
in front of the building stands an enormous stone alms-
bowl about nine feet in height.

The Kuzeik Paya, erected in 1069 a.d., contains a
central image chamber about twenty feet high, the walls
of which, together with those of the antechamber and
corridors, are painted with Buddhas, scrolls, animals,
and episodes from the birth-stories of Gaudama.

The Thitsawadi Paya, built by Queen Pwasaw in
1084 A.D,, has four chambers in the basement connected
by corridors, and each contains an image of Gaudama.
On the second of the three storeys of which the building
consists,there are four colossal figures of the Buddha sitting
back to back, facing the cardinal points ; while a chamber
on the third storey is now empty. Five inscribed stone
slabs near the pagoda bear dates ranging from 108 1 to
1442 A.D. The latest of these records an interesting
list of works belonging to the Buddhist canon, which
were translated from the Sanscrit and Pali into Burmese
by a learned monk named Dammapala.

The Thatpyinnyu or Thapinya Paya, "the omniscient,"
built in 1 134 A.D., is somewhat similar to the Ananda in
dimensions and general plan ; but it does not, like the
latter, form a symmetrical Greek cross, as the eastern
or main porch projects from the wall considerably more
than the other three, and it contains only one great colossal
image instead of four. It is the highest monument in
Pagan, being 201 feet in height; but the base of the
body of the building is only 180 feet square, or 20
feet less each way than the base of the Ananda Paya.



In this, and in the later buildings, the delicate details
of ornamentation and architecture noticeable in the
older structures have to a great extent disappeared,
while massiveness of brickwork seems to have been one
of the main objects of royal ambition.

The Damayangyi, built in 1168 a.d., is quite equal
to the Ananda in dimensions, but differs in plan and
design. It contains two central chambers or chapels one
above the other, while each of the four faces has a
smaller apartment ; and all these six chambers contain
images of Gaudama.

The Sulamani or Chulamani Payd, dating from
1 183 A.D., has likewise lofty parallel corridors on each
storey, and is profusely ornamented with allegorical

The Gawdaw Palin Paya, built in 1188 a.d., has three
chambers on the ground floor and one central chamber
on the upper storey, which are all surrounded by lofty
arched corridors.

The Bawdi Palin Paya, erected in 12 18 a.d., is con-
structed on a similar plan to, though it is smaller than,
the celebrated Bodi temple at Buddha Gaya. For more
than a century previous to its erection there had been
considerable intercourse between Pagdn and Magada, the
centre of northern Buddhism ; because a Burmese stone
inscription at Buddha Gaya itself records that the temple
there, supposed to have been erected about 500 a.d.,
was repaired about 1 100 a.d. at the instance of
Alonsithu, King of Pagan.

The Shwezigon Payd, the oldest of the pagodas
proper, dating from 1094, is in no way comparable to
the great pagodas at Rangoon or Pegu, being only
150 feet in height. But round the square base there
are glazed terra cotta panels or tiles illustrative of the
birth-stories and bearing inscriptions that may prove
of considerable archaeological value. The pantheon of
the thirty-seven Nats of the pre-Buddhistic period repre-
sented on the Shwezigon pagoda is the only thing of
its kind to be found in the whole country.

Like all the other highly venerated pagodas in Burma,
the present form of the Shwezigon Pay^ is essentially



modern. The original pagoda was built over and
increased in dimensions in 1164 a.d., and numerous
successive incrustations or fresh layers of brickwork
have resulted in its present form, which must be entirely
different from its original contour. Some of the small
old brick pagodas in immediate proximity to the
Shwezigon Payd are far more interesting than it from
an archaeological and architectural point of view, as they
exhibit in original purity the square cap, characteristic
of the most ancient Buddhist Chaitya in India, over the
solid dome or the vaulted chamber forming the main
portion of the monument, — the bell-shaped, inverted
" almsbowl " of the modern pagodas, — above which rises
the spire, either in the form of the bulging Sikra,
characteristic of all the older Hindu and Jain temples
throughout Hindostan from Orissa to the Indus, or else
tapering upwards to the pinnacle more or less gracefully
or abruptly, as in the manner of the Cinghalese dagabas.

In their modern shape the great pagodas of Burma
have entirely lost all prominent traces of this ancient
square cap, and have gradually evolved themselves into
slender conical piles having on both sides an inward
curvature of the contour. This gives to them an exceed-
ingly graceful appearance and a refined charm, the
appreciation of which is certainly in no way diminished
by the thought that this inward curvature is not in
accordance with the laws of Greek architecture or with
the ordinarily accepted principles of European aesthetics.
Architecturally they are very weak ; aesthetically they
are very charming. And most of all are they so when
seen standing boldly out, in the sunshine, against a
clear, pure, blue sky during a crisp, cool morning in the
month of December or January.

Pagdn, with its thousand pagodas and temples, and its
lithic inscriptions forming a vista down which one can
look back to a complete chain of monumental records
dating from before the conquest of England by the
Normans, is perhaps the most suitable place at which the
characteristic types of early and later Burmese religious
architecture may be considered ; for the religious build-
ings have alone been thought worthy of repairs and



maintenance in a climate where the tooth of time, sharper
or more venomous than elsewhere, has destroyed
almost completely the whole of the ancient secular
buildings. A few of the principal temples and pagodas
at Pagdn are still looked after by the people in their
neighbourhood, but many hundreds of them are com-
pletely neglected and are all in a more or less ruinous
state. No priests are ever in attendance on a pagoda.
The people generally, and the elders in particular, assume
indefinite charge of them in a casual manner ; and if
these do not interest themselves in their maintenance,
the monuments gradually fall into disrepair. No Burman
will voluntarily become a servant at a pagoda ; for under
Burmese rule menial duties of this sort were discharged
either by hereditary pagoda slaves, condemned for their
crimes, or else by captives of war, who formed one of the
lowest social classes.

Apart from the sacred caves, the rock cave temples,
and the Thein or halls of ordination, all the great sacred
buildings which are of archaeological interest are com-
prehensively classifiable either as pagodas or as temples.
Both categories form places of veneration of the Buddha,
but neither a pagoda nor a temple is in any way connected
with actual worship, as of a divinity.

The only difference which can be recognized between
these two classes of buildings, — and it is a purely arbitrary
and artificial distinction, hardly recognized by the Bur-
mese, to whom all the ancient and modern monuments
are alike Sedi or Pay a, — is that the pagoda is a solid or
at any rate a closed construction of brickwork,^ while the
temples contain one or more chambers in their basement.
It is true that in contradistinction to the solid pagoda
of brick the Burmese distinguish the Pudo or hollow
pagoda ; but the use of this term is comparatively rare.
Less rare, however, is the term Sedi-Pudd, implying
pagodas collectively.

^ The only stone-built pagoda known to me in Burma is the famous
miniature one built on a rocky island at Thingadaw, about six miles
below Male, in the third or lowest defile of the Irrawaddy. It forms
the subject of many local legends.



In nearly every one of the wilder portions of the
country there are still often to be found cairns of small
stones to which each passer-by adds a pebble. In the
heart of the forest one also sometimes comes across gfreat
numbers of bamboos, or their remains in various stages
of decomposition, piled against large trees, said to be the
abode of a Yukaso or guardian spirit ; and as each of the
hill men passes, he cuts a bamboo and adds it to the store.
There are Natsingon or rude shrines where votive offer-
ings are made to the local spirits ; and there seems little
doubt that, when the original animistic worship began to
be ousted by Buddhism, these stone cairns gradually
became transformed into pagodas. There is nothing
improbable in this : for the vast majority of Burmese
have a belief in spirits that is more deeply seated than
their trust in Buddhism alone.

Apart from such as probably had this animistic origin
the Sedi or Payd were, and are still, erected primarily as
depositories of sacred relics. Pagodas of this sort are of
four kinds, namely, Dattaw Sedi containing relics of a
Buddha or a monk of saintly life, Damma Sedi contain-
ing sacred writings, Paribawga Sedi containing the eight
sacred utensils requisite for a priest, and Udeiksa Sedi,
the depository of things made in the semblance of sacred
objects, like images of the Buddha, etc. These last are
by far the most numerous, though they are generally
small and of no importance from any point of view
except that personal to the Paydtagd or founder, who
thus earns the highest degree of religious merit attainable
by a mere layman.

Classifying, for convenience, all the solid or closed
monuments only as pagodas, those found in Burma form
a fairly complete continuation of the series of Buddhist
topes and dagabas dating from about the third century
B.C. till the rise of Buddhism in Indo-China. They form
valuable links in the chain of evolution of the pagoda
throughout the long period of over two thousand years.

The older forms are massive and simple in outline.
The later development consists of a spire, solid through-
out, rising from a circular, square, or octagonal base or
sole {Pandt) in a succession of tiers, belts, or circles



{Leiyit), each upper stage of which is narrower than the
one immediately beneath it ; and the whole tapers off to
a pinnacle or point at a height usually one and a half or
two times the diameter of the base. The pinnacle is sur-
mounted by an iron crown or Ti, generally richly gilded,
consistincj of a number of concentric ringrs or bands
rising in diminishing circles and ending in a long iron
rod usually capped by a vane {Seinbtc) in the shape of a
glass ball {Ywelon) or an inverted soda-water bottle
intended to act as a non-conductor of electricity.
Between the main, bell-shaped portion of the body of the
pagoda {Thabeikhmauk or "inverted almsbowl ") and
the lower masonry terrace there is frequently a high plinth
of elaborate polygonal form, suggestive of the outlines of
Hindu temples. Some portion of the main body or the
spire is usually ornamented with a lotus-leaf design.
Lateral flights of stairs {Satmgdan) often ascend to the
bell portion corresponding to the Garbha of the Indian

The large square brick temples typical of Pagan, con-
structed as shrines for images of the Buddha, — as
exemplified in the Ananda, Thapinya, and Gawdaw Palin
Paya, — rise in gradually diminishing terraces, finished off
with a bulging spire exactly like the Sikra of Hindu and
Jain temples in Northern India. Though differing from
each other both in interior plan and in outward detail,
these shrines have but little to show in the way of
evolution. Both their shape and their dimensions pre-
cluded the possibility of their design being altered by
any superposition of additional brickwork. They became
more or less exactly reproduced at Ava and Amarapura,
the later capitals of the Burmese kings ; and it was not
till Italian influence became very marked at the time of
the foundation of Mandalay that any great departure was
made from the main features of the religious architecture
of the Pagan period.

The images enshrined within these temples are usually
of Gaudama, the fourth and last Buddha ; and they are
of three kinds. They may represent him seated
[Tinbingwe] with his left hand open on his lap and the
right hand partially resting on his knee and pointing

VOL. ir. 401 D D


downwards, or standing in erect posture (Vatdaw) with
right hand raised in the attitude of enunciating the law,
or else recumbent [Nyaun^daw) as when resting under the
shade of the sacred Fictis tree when about to attain
Neikban. The images in the sitting posture far out-
number those that are erect or recumbent.

The conventional attitude of these images never varies.
The facial expression is uniformly calm and dignified,
though in modern images there is often an unfortunate
tendency to a sort of simpering smugness quite out of
keeping with the serenity inculcated by the Buddhist
religious philosophy.

The images at Pagan are for the most part representa-
tions of the Buddha, although altars of Vishnu and
Shiva are to be met with not only in the Indian rock
temple but also on the Buddhist Nagayon, Shwezigon,
and the smaller shrines of Kyaukpala. Many curious
signs are sculptured on the fingers and palm of
Gaudama's hand in the old Peguan images, the interpre-
tation of which must remain for some antiquary learned
in ancient Indian cheiromancy.

On the removal by Thado Minbya, in 1 364 a. d., of the
Burmese capital to Ava (Awa — a corruption of Inwa,
"the entrance to the lake") which remained the seat of
government for about four centuries, the religious build-
ings of Pagan were to a certain extent reproduced there,
although on nothing like the same scale as regards either
size or splendour. The classical name of Ava is
Yadanapura, "the city of precious gems."

Traces of the great council chamber and variousportions
of the royal palace are still visible, but otherwise the secular
buildings are completely destroyed ; and most of the
religious edifices are also dilapidated. Within the old
palace grounds the Shwegugyi or "great golden hollow
pagoda," built in 1510 a.d., and also known as the
Thissataik, is still reverenced above any of the others ;
but this is perhaps because it was there that the great
officers of State made their solemn vows of allegiance
(T/izssa), any breach of which was punishable with the
severest tortures. The pagoda itself is in no way
distinguished architecturally. To the west of the



ancient city stands the Lawka-Tharapyu, dating from
1392 A.D., containing a marble image of Gaudama, twenty-
four feet high, which must have been introduced into the
image chamber before the building was completed.
Close by is a lofty brick monastery built in 1723 a.d.,
which is remarkable chiefly on account of being a rare
example of the construction of a Kyauiig in more durable
materials than teak timber. Near the Lawka-Tharapyu
is the Sakyamin shrine, surrounded by twenty-two small
pagodas and ten stone inscriptions. In the north-west
of the old town, beyond the city moat, is the foreign
burial ground containing many inscribed monuments of
interest. The Pensamilinda pagoda is interesting on
account of the twenty-seven images of Buddhas enshrined

Almost opposite to Ava, on the western side of the
Irrawaddy, lies Sagaing or Jeyapura, the capital of
Nandawgyi Paya from 1760 to 1764 a.d. About the
end of last century it became famous from the number of
pagodas which crown its bare hillsides, and from being
the chief place of production of the thousands of
alabaster images distributed to all parts of Burma.
Many of the religious remains, however, date back far
beyond this time.

The Sinpyuyin pagoda, built in 1359 a.d., is still in
good repair. But more interesting is the ruined
Shwezigon pagoda, of 1366 a.d., consisting of three
concentric terraces or processional paths surmounted by
a dome. The lowest of these contains a series of glazed
tablets illustrative of the birth-stories.

About five miles to the north-west of Sagaing stands
the Kaunghmudaw pagoda, or " work of royal merit," built
by King Thado Damma Raja in 1636 a.d., and said to
contain in its image chamber an effigy of the Buddha in
pure gold equal in weight to the royal merit-maker.
Erected on an eminence it stands out, like a fully
developed female breast, a conspicuous object through-
out all the country round about the confluence of the
Chindwin river with the Irrawaddy. Standing on a base
of about 1,050 feet in circumference, attaining a height of
about 300 feet, and unadorned by the usual 7V,this massive



monument is the clumsiest and ugliest of all the pagodas
in Burma. It was, however, once so celebrated through-
out the whole of Indo-China, that there is a myth
ascribing its miraculous rise out of the earth, despite
the inconsistency of this legend with the inscribed slab
enshrined near its base. Even now it enjoys a consider-
able degree of reverence.

There are numerous lithic inscriptions of more or less
historical interest in and around Sagaing, though none of
them can be termed ancient.

About five miles to the north-east of Ava a new
capital, Amarapura, was founded by Bodaw Paya in
1782 A. D. Deserted in favour of Ava by King Bagyidaw
in 1823, it again became the capital on his deposition by
King Tharawaddi in 1837, but was finally abandoned in
i860, when King Mindon occupied the last capital of the
Kingdom of Ava at Mandalay about five to six miles
further north.

Amarapura was laid out much on the same plan as
Ava. The ruins of the city wall, now overgrown with
jungle, show it to have been a square with a side of about
three-quarters of a mile in length. At each corner stood
a solid brick pagoda about 100 feet high. Although
none of them are ancient, some of the religious buildings
are noteworthy as specimens of later Burmese design.
The principal of these are the Shinbinkugyi pagoda
built in 1794 A.D. by the eldest of Bodaw Payas three
sons, and the Patawdawgyi, the largest and handsomest
of all the modern pagodas in Burma, erected by
King Bagyidaw in 18 19 on his accession to the
throne. To the south of the Taungthaman lake, on
the northern bank of which the city was built, is a
colossal brick image of Gaudama in sitting posture,
erected in 1849 by King Pagan, and known as the
Maha Sakyamuni.

About three miles north of Amarapura, in what is now
the southern suburb of Mandalay, stands the renowned
shrine Myatsaw-Nyenaung or Mahamyatmuni Paya,
known as " the Arakan pagoda." It contains the famous
Mahamuni brass statue of Gaudama, the national image
of Arakan, about twelve feet high, which was carried off



by Bodaw Paya on the conquest of Arakan in 1784. It
was brought in three pieces across the hills by the
Taunggop pass, accompanied by the captive King, his
Queens and family, the royal Punna or astrologers and
soothsayers, and numerous prisoners of various degrees ;
while other spoils of war, including the great gun in
Mandalay, measuring thirty feet in length, and two and a
half feet in diameter at the mouth, were sent round
by sea. The image is so thickly encrusted with gold
leaf that no traces of the joints are now visible.

The Mahamyatmuni image is second only to the Shwe
Dagon pagoda as an object of veneration throughout
Indo-China. The legend connected with it narrates
that it was cast on the Sirigutta hill (where the Maha-
muni pagoda stands) by King Chandrasuriya of Dhanya-

Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 41)