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Burmese Pyu Buddhist Art

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sri-ksetra - ancient pagoda
View of an ancient pagoda, taken from the back of Rahanda lake on the Sri Ksetra site

Burmese Pyu Buddhist Art – Beikthano also referred to as Panhtwa city or “City of Vishnu” was one of the first areas to be occupied by the Pyu people dating back to the birth of Christ. Artifacts, pottery, structural remains and inscriptions show that the Pyu occupied the area of Beikthano from 1 A.D. – 5 A.D.

Other main Pyu cities were Halin, Binnaka and Sri Ksetra. Bronze artifacts and funerary objects of the Pyu people have also been found as far north as Tagaung, north of Mandalay. Pyu art was influenced by their close connection with the Hindu and the Jain from Northern India. Some historians state that the the Pyu were the original builders of the oldest stupas’ in Pagan which were mostly cylindrical or bulbous in shape such as the Bupaya Pagoda on the banks of the Ayeyarwady.

The biggest and by far the most important Pyu site, Sri-ksetra, approximately 180 miles north west of Yangon was at its zenith between 5 A.D. and 9 A.D.

an abundance of architectural, sculptural and artistic remains of the Pyu Kingdom have been found in Sri ksetra, in contrast with other Pyu sites, where very little evidence of their existence has been found.

Pyu bronzes, clay votive tablets, wall murals and other iconography that has been brought to light in Myanmar from the first current millenium indicate a strong Hindu/Indian influence, with a mix of tantric, Mahayana Buddhism, anamist and Vaishnava worship. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant form of Buddhism practiced in Myanmar today and was introduced by Sri Lankan Monks during the reign of Burmese Pagan King Arawrhata.

Burmese Pyu Buddhist Art


 

The central figure on this rare round disc seen below was acquired in Burma and is thought to be that of Hayagriva with a horse’s head and a human body. The Hayagriva is regarded as “God of knowledge and wisdom”, he is considered to be one of the Avatars of Vishnu, primarily worshiped by the Vaishnavas and is one of the most highly worshiped deities in South India. Haya means horse and Griva means neck in sankrit. Hayagriva’s incarnation took place to restore the Vedas to Lord Brahma.

It is believed that there are 108 depictions of the Hayagriva and is represented in those countries in Asia where there was a strong Hindu influence merging into Buddhism. He is often represented with several arms, holding a conch shell or sword, sometimes with Lakshmi his consort seated on his knee and often seated on a lotus flower along with many other variations.

The hamsa or hintha bird, peacock and the naga are significant symbolic creatures in Burmese, Tibetan, Indian and Cambodian Buddhism. In India and Burma myth and legend regarding this bird are bountiful, each with their own connotations and meanings.  Information on Hayagriva in Buddhism

Revised: This mystery bronze disc has intrigued us for many years. We originally thought the bird on the top of the disc to be that of a peacock, but have come to the conclusion that the legs are possibly too thick, and the head with the protrusion possibly rules out the peacock theory, whereas the hamsa or hintha bird is usually shown with thick legs and feet with a protrusion on the head.

Hamsa is is a Sankrit word which can be translated into hintha. Although the real hamsa is a graceful swan like bird it can also fly. According to Mon legends the ancient city of Hamsawaddy now referred to as Bago (not too far from Yangon), was built 2,000 years ago.

We have recently had the metal tested and it shows arsenic in the composition of metals. Arsenic was used in ancient metal castings to give added strength. We are thinking that it is possibly Mon rather than Pyu. The Mons from the early part of the first millennium were worshipers of Visnu as well as Buddhism. This also fits in with the view that the early Mons had frequent contact with India and trade between the Mon city of Thaton and those across the Bay of Bengal in India was vibrant. The hamsa bird is also seen in Indian art, sculptures and mentioned in ancient literature. 

PYU RUINS IN SRI KSETRA

Hayagriva – Avatar of Visnu