Burma’s Pagan Kingdom Buddhist Art
Although there are discrepancies related to the actual dates on which Burma’s Pagan Kingdom Buddhist Art flourished, archaeologists have uncovered stone tablets and Buddhist iconography with Pali and Mon script which suggest between 9 A.D. and 1287 A.D.
Gordon H. Luce author of “Old Burma – Early Pagan’s” books suggest that Pagan, according to Shin Silavanthsa, the first historian of Burma (1455-1520 AD), whose studies survive until this day, state that after the passing of the Buddha the Kingdom of Sarekhettara (Sri Ksetra) had been established for 600 years.
One hundred years later the Kingdom of Pagan then referred to as Arimaddana was founded by King Pyusawhti which would indicate the date to be around 156 C.E., of the founding of Pagan and its fall in 1284 A.D.
Gordon H. Luce states that Shin Silavanthsa’s studies on the founding of Pagan show some discrepancies and that Silavanthsa’s has mistakenly placed the fall of Sri Ksetra and the founding of Pagan six to seven hundred years before they actually occurred.
Pyu urn inscriptions show the Vikrama dynasty still reigned at Sri Ksetra as late as 718 A.D., which would suggest that Pagan had its beginnings in 849-850 A.D. and that it would be unlikely to be earlier than this; also Pagan was not mentioned in the list of Pyu settlements or town in 802 A.D.
However, regardless of the dates Pagan (Bagan) stands today as one of the richest historical Buddhist sites in Burma with wall art, iconography, pagodas, stupa’s and monasteries in varying degrees of decay.
Pagan today, better known today as Bagan, as it was in the distant past is a sandy windswept plain on which little grows except for the toddy palm, tamarind trees, Indian elm and bombax trees where there is subsoil water.
Examples of Burmese Buddha Art Pagan and architecture in Pagan
Early Buddhist Art in Pagan
Research indicates that pre-Pagan art was influenced by Indian Pala style art introduced by the Mon who had been exposed to Indian influences long before Pagan. In Southeast Asia the ancient Mon were related to the peoples of Siam/Thailand and to the Khmer culture in the 7th century AD., when the Kingdom of Dvaravati was at its height.
Late Eleventh to Early Fourteenth Centuries
Excerpt from Alexandra Green’s “Trends in Myanmar Wall Paintings from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries“.
Over the course of more than 300 years, thousands of buildings were constructed on the plains of Pagan, (now Bagan). These temples came in all shapes and sizes from large cruciform designs with circumlocutory corridors to small, single-celled shrines, and of the structures that are still standing, many contain evidence of having once been painted in their entirety with imagery comprising narratives, icons, and ornamental sections.
For instance, there is Brahmanic and Mahayanist material, and Tantric imagery may also exist but has not been fully studied. Bodhisattva’s function as guardian figures flank doorways. There are also images of the Buddha reclining on cosmic waters and other cosmological features, such as Lake Anotatta. Monks, particularly the Buddha’s foremost disciples Sariputta and Moggallana, and the gods Sakka (Indra) and Brahma, protectors of the Buddhist faith, are seen regularly.
The Buddha’s footprint or a lotus form is usually found on the ceiling, emphasizing the purity of the space and the presence of the Buddha. Sometimes thousands of tiny Buddhas with geometric or floral surrounds create a honeycomb pattern on ceilings and occasionally walls.
This is a wonderful and informative paper on the wall murals and Iconography in Pagan. with explanations and images on the walls of temples in Pagan.