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|Images: Style and Iconography
| THOSE IMAGES uncovered so
far at Pagan, whether in the medium of sculpture or wall painting, are, to say
the least, diverse in their iconographical and stylistic origins. It is in a
study of the images found at Pagan that the pattern of the city's cultural and
religious life may begin to be comprehended. Currents, crosscurrents and
sub-currents ebb and flow, contriving to throw the dogmatic iconographer or
generalist off course. To say Pagan sculpture is 'Mon derived' is to deprive
the Pyu of their true place in Burma's an history; to say Pagan sculpture takes
its origin from the Pyu excludes the potent input of Pala influence that
occurred during the Early Period. Likewise, the finding of miscellaneous
portable Tantric images does not necessarily indicate the dominance of this
sect at Pagan. Nor does the positioning of Brahmanic images in Buddhist temples
imply that Pagan's religious life was syncretistic.
| In the past art
historians have tended to generalise Pagan images, of whatever medium, to a
single characteristic style. It is possible, though, according to the
presentation of an image's physiognomy and physiology, to detect three
mainstream styles. These styles correspond approximately to the three
architectural periods into which the dynasty's art has been divided: Early,
Middle and Late. In the words of the woodcarver Tampawaddy U Win Maung:
| Images for worship
between the 11th and 13th centuries of the Christian Era are defined as Pagan
Period. Although 'Early Pagan', 'Middle Pagan' and 'Late Pagan' periods can be
| Dissemination, evolution
and transition, in style and iconography, during these periods, for sculpture,
is usually related to developments in mural painting. Thus, the story of
Pagan's iconography can be applied to both mediums of sculpture and wall
painting. However, the one difference is that usually mural paintings are
subsidiary in importance to an actual image. Murals have a twofold purpose: to
emblazon an interior with joyous colour and lively design and to tell a story.
That is, an art that can be both decorative and didactic in purpose. Sculpture
too can be didactic, when placed in subsidiary positions, however, the most
commonplace central image of a shrine, usually the buddha Gotama, seated
defeating the evil one, Mara, in bhumisparsamudraor, more rarely, standing in
abhayamudra,or in other 'combination' mudra,was integrated with the
architectural scheme as the principal object of devotion or bhakti. Such icons
were usually 'larger than life', colossal in scale, and conceived so as to awe
the beholder. In the Early Period, the effect of such colossal images was
increased by the subtle, yet dramatic, play of light, whereas mural paintings
tended to be subsidiary, in position and purport, to the colossal central icon.
| Many of the principal
images set in the great nichelike shrines of Pagan's temples date from after
our period, for example, the principal image of the Thatbyin-nyu. In some
cases, Ava period inscriptions tell of the donor's horror at the destruction
wrecked by Mongol, Shan or, perhaps, indigenous hordes in the 14th century .
and thus felt compelled to restore the heart of their civilisation to something
of its former grandeur.
| The manner in which a
work Of sculpture was to be portrayed depended on the medium that was used.
Pagan has always been impoverished of stone; the very costliness of this
material must have prohibited is general use in temple construction. Slabs of
firm sandstone were available for single reliefs, though these are rarely over
a metre in height. Pagan workmen had little laterite to use, and, with the
exception of the relief depictions of Brahma on the Nan-hpaya piers, did not
possess the skill of being able to create great sculptural scenes from
interlocking relief sections as was the practice in the remainder of SouthEast
Asia and in parts of India. Some steatite, known in Burmese as andagu, was
available, which the Pagan carver turned with miraculous dexterity into minute
portrayals of the Eight Scenes in imitation of Pala models. Marble was also
rare at this time, though some images, lesser in size and late in our period,
survive in this brittle medium. It seems that the great marble quarries of
Kyaukse; used by Konbaung and contemporary craftsmen, had yet to be opened.
Bronze casting was being skilfully practised at Pagan by the end of the Early
Period. However, many of the bronzes that have been uncovered are of a portable
type and stylistically and iconographically belong to other regions, exotic
mementos carried home by returning pilgrims and itinerant scholars, or possibly
the object of private devotions for visiting -merchants or political refugees.
An indigenous bronze casting tradition did, though, exist in Burma: at Sri
Ksetra, once capital of the Pyu, arid at Vesali, the ancient capital of Arakan.
It was probably the Arakanese bronze casting tradition that made the greatest
impact at Pagan. Though Pyu inscribed bronzes have been found at Pagan, they
are cruder in workmanship and execution when compared with their Arakanese
counterparts and iconographically detached from mainstream Indian traditions.
The Pyu impact was in silver and gold virtuoso filigree and repousse work,
surprisingly little of which survives at Pagan.' By about 1100, the Pagan
craftsman had mastered bronze casting and was competent enough to create images
whose radiant beauty are capable of softening the stoutest of stoics. Perhaps
their finest examples from this period are two standing vitarka images, one in
the Ananda monastery and the other in a shrine near Chauk.
| The Pagan builder's forte
was brick which he lav> ishly coated with stucco, moulding it into myriad
forms and motifs, energetic designs and satisfying symbols. As stone was rare
and bronze, on a monu mental scale, both costly and impractical to cast, the
Pagan brickmen, ever adept in their master craft, created colossal images from
these available materi als. The inexpensive nature of these materials was
compensated for by the precious items held within them. Likewise for
decoration, the advent of a new repertoire of decorative motifs, with the
Kyauk-ku ohn-min and Nan-hpaya temple stonework, was rap idly translated into
the medium of stucco, a local tradition well ,mastered by the Peru. Often these
colossal images of brick and stucco ,were structurally strengthened with a
wooden post passing through the middle of the body, perhaps emulative of the
central pole of early Buddhist stupas. In a number of examples, mainly from the
Late Period, the lower part of the face was carved from a stone block that
projected out from the back wall of the recess and about which the brick and
stucco was worked.
| The medium in which the
Pagan genius was perhaps once best expressed was wood. The sinuous lines,
bestial configurations and floral fantasias of the mural paintings that glorify
the plastered walls of numerous brick temples, reflect and recreate the wood
carved surfaces of contemporary timber structures. Motifs, forms-figurative
anti forms-abstracted, were all common to the three Pagan decorative
mediums-stucco work, painting and wood carving. Little carved wood now survives
with the exception of carved doors arid the odd linte' Though Luce illustrates
a number of carved images in his volume of plates, they stylistically date from
the first Ava.Period.The only wooden images.. that may, definitely be
attributed to the dynasty itself are the two original standing images of
Buddhas in the Ananda (south and north shrines), constructed from interlocking
timber components, those in the Naga-yon, and two dvarapala in a temple south
of Sale." Fragments of timber beams may still be found spanning the corridors
of ok taikand, more rarely, as part of image pedestals. Little else of this
frail medium has survived sack and pillage, sun and flame, or the rabid
entomological life,of this tattadesa.
| Other. media in which
images and the sacred texts might be presented, whether as icons or ornament,
symbolic presence or instruments of instruction, were the textile, glassware,
terracotta estampages (often glazed) and possibly lacquer. Few textiles have
been discovered to date at Pagan; some minute fragments of paintings on cloth
may be seen in the museum there and recently Pierre Pichard of the E.F.E.O.
discovered a larger, though fragmented, piece in temple No-315 which is at
present undergoing restoration in Italy."
|THE BUDDHA AND BUDDHAS
| Gotama is one of along
line of buddhas who have revealed themselves throughout the history of the
world; at Pagan the precise number was taken to be 28." These buddhas, with the
exception of Gotama, are non-historic and stretch back in time to the moment of
the world's creation. The world's existence is divided into a number of time
spans, through which these successive buddhas have periodically manifested
themselves. Such time units are called kalpa and each may last for many
thousands of years. Gotama, who was the `Sage of the Sakya' (the Himalayan
people into which he was born) or Sakyamuni, is the first 'historical' Buddha
who lived c.500 B.C. and ,vas the third buddha to appear in the present kalpa
the bhadrakalpa. He was preceded by three other buddhas and there is one buddha
yet to manifest himself: the 'Future Buddha'-Mettaya. Thus, the Buddhas of this
bhadrakalpa are: Kakusandha, Konagamanda, Kassapa, Gotama and the buddha to
| This cosmic succession of
Buddhas presented the Pagan artist with five possible iconographic
1. Gotama-the Buddha and his Legend.
2. Gotama with Mettaya-the Buddha and future buddha.
3.The four buddhas that have so far manifested themselves in this blradrakalpa.
4. The five buddhas of this bhadrakalpa including Mettaya.,
5. The 28 buddhas of all times.
6. Mettaya-the future Buddha, alone. ,
| In, addition to these
arrangements, a number of supportive figures, drawn from the Hindu arid
Nlahayana pantheons, may combine with Gotama. In the preceding discussion on
architecture, the buddhas of this bhadrakalpa have been mentioned with
reference to temple and stupa ground plan designs. Symbols are common to all
mediums in Pagan's art: the lei-myethna and nga-myet-hna schemes for
architectural ground planning have a direct correspondence to pictorial
representations of these fundamental iconogra-phic items.
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