Lacquer Ware

by Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

The origin of Myanmar laureate Art and the date of its first appearance in the country are the questions, which still puzzle researchers.

There is a Myanmar word "Pansemyo" (ten flowery arts). They cannot be offered to gods and Lord Buddha. "Pan" means beautiful fragrant flower that naturally grows. And "Pan" also means artifact, which are beautifully created by arts. There are ten kinds of arts with the second meaning. They are Pan-Pe (craft of blacksmithing), Pan-Htain (art of making items in gold), Pan-Tin (art of making item cast or wrought from bronze, copper or brass), Pan-Taw (art of making decorative work in relief with stucco), Pan-Yan (craft of a mason), Pan-Pu (art of carving wood or ivory), Pan-Tamaw (art of stone sculpture), Pan-Put (craft of a turner), Pan-Chi (art of painting) and Pan-Yan (art of making lacquer ware).

Many ancient things made by nine flowery arts except for Pan-Yen used before Bagan Period was unearthed. But things made by Pan-Yen (laureate has not been unearthed yet. It may be so because laureate, which are made of wood and bamboo, are easily damaged than other things made of metal, brick and cement.

But a burial urn, which was unearthed at the excavation site of Thayer Chatty, an ancient Pyu City State, was assumed to be used in five century AD. The urn was gilded. Generally, resin is needed to gild. Considering this fact, we can tell that resin, which is used making lacquer ware, was used since that time.

We can come to the conclusion that the art of making laureate prospered in Bagan Period (9 AD - 13 AD) by looking at the murals at the ancient pagodas. And Bagan is a suitable place for the art of making laureate by geographical position and weather conditions. Bagan came into ruin in 13 century AD. But the ten flowery arts are still flourishing to date.

Bagan is located at the eastern bank of Ayeyarwady. Rainfall is only about 40 inches. Moreover, sand beds in this region are thick and sunshine is intense. And it is not far from Shan State where resin bearing trees growing. It is linked by road and by sea. The main things used in making laureate are softwood and bamboo. They are easily available in the forests along the Ayeyarwady River.

Bagan was an ancient Capital of Myanmar. It is the hub of culture for there are a lot of temples, pagodas and monasteries. It is a place where local and foreign visitors frequent. Tourists and visitors buy lacquer ware most as gifts. Local people are some how connected with this industry. Some people work in this industry in seasons. While they are engaging in agriculture they run family business of making lacquer wares. The techniques of making lacquer ware were handed down generation by generation in the villages surrounding Bagan. Ancestors give heritage to the posterity. There are even live in learners of this craft at the instructors' houses. They live as a family member and take no money for their work during their apprenticeship.

After Myanmar regained her independence and Institute of laureate was founded under the support of the government. And the school has been teaching the art of making lacquer wares since then. At present, it has been upgraded to a Technical University under the Ministry of Co-operatives. There is a large workshop and a museum, which displays ancient and artistic lacquer ware on the campus of the University have gone to Japan and China where the craft of laureate prosper. And the scholars from these countries have visited Myanmar to study Myanmar lacquer ware.

According to stone inscriptions of Paw Tawmu and Shinpin Bodi pagodas, the monks in the period used lacquer Thapeik (alms bowl) during their daily alms round. Thapeik and its cover were made of bamboo, wood and resin.

We can see betel lacquer box and kalat among the stucco figures of Ananda Temple built by Kyansittha in 1091 AD. Moreover, Myanmar King Narapati Sithu sent a Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka in 1174. There are records that the monks of the mission took a lot of lacquer wares made in Bagan as gifts. Nowadays, Archeology Department exhibits lacquer wares unearthed from pagodas in the Archeology Museum in Bagan. Among them, we can see wood-vased-laquer-coated wares, earth, brick, and stone based-coated-coated Buddha images and religious artifacts.

In the pre-war period, an ancient lacquer ware was unearthed. It was a tube of lacquer work dated AD 1274 was excavated at the Mingala Zedi in Bagan. King Narapate (1255-1287) built 52nd king of 55 kings in Bagan the pagoda, 52nd king of 55 kings in Bagan. It was made of teak and painted resin and yellow ochre.

Many records can be found in the literature of Myanmar. During the reign of Anaukphetlun (AD 1605-1699) the envoy from India came to his court and in the receptions accorded to them the pickled tea was served on a fine lacquered Kalat (a small circular tray with a Stan.

When King Damazedi sent a religious mission to Sri Lanka, composing of 22 monks, in 1475 AD, King Maha Dhammaraja Dipati sent his envoys to the king of Ayuthia and one mission was sent to China in Konbon Period, they carried lacquer wares to be presented to the monks and kings.

Lacquer wares were used not only by royal people but also by ordinary people. In the Tayar Chin song of Minister Padethayaza of the Nyaung Yan Period (AD 17 to 18 century) of Myanmar history, which describes the life style of a toddy palm climber, there is mention of a lacquer ware called "Hni Daung Lan". Myanmar family used to serve their daily meals on it. It is a three-legged low circular table made of bamboo strips and lacquer. They are still used in the remote villages and monasteries.

A large container for "soon" (rice) is put on display in the precinct of Shwe Kyi Myin pagoda in Mandalay. It is a large box and is used in offering "soon" to monks. The box is large enough to hold rice for 100 monks. It was moved here from the golden palace in Mandalay. It is a lacquer box.

In 19th century, many Europeans came to Myanmar and recorded their visits. Among these records, English Envoy Micheal Symes who came to Myanmar in 1795 and 1802 wrote about Myanmar laureate.

"In many countries, the art of lacquer ware is regarded as minor art. But Myanmar laureate art was started from 300 years ago. And it is a pride of Myanmar. Myanmar kings presents silk, jewellery and lacquer ware as gifts."

During the reign of Bagyitaw (1819-1837), English Envoy John Crawford wrote in his report as follows.

"Myanmar exports cotton, edible birds nests, salt, ivory, amber, lacquer ware and jewellery to China"

Many researchers, scholars and writers from local and abroad write several articles and books on Myanmar lacquer ware art. Among Myanmar writers are the head monk of Zetawan monastery at Monywe, Dagon Bat Shin, Thabye Nyo Maung Ko Oo, Taw Sein Kho, archeologist U Lu Pe Win, Professor Dr Than Tun and Dr Khin Maung Nyunt. Foreign Writers are A P Morris, A Williamson, John Lowry, Sir JG Scott, Sylvia Fraser Lu, Susan Marcher, Han Chon Li and Professor Kaneko.

In Myanmar, there are two types of lac.

The first one is the resin lac or lacquer, which is "thit si" or the sap of a "thit si" tree. Another is shellac or "cheik" in Myanmar, the gummy deposit of an insect. It is the resin lac or lacquer, which is used in the making of lacquer ware in Myanmar. Thitsi tree (Malanhorrea usitata) grows in Shan State. It is said that three are thitsi trees in China, Japan and Korea, lacquer from thitsi trees in Myanmar have better viscosity and last longer.

There is six kind of lacquer ware.

1.Kyauk Ka ware
It is named after Kyauk Ka village near Bagan. The framework is made of bamboo or wood. It is painted with lacquer coat after coat. And then it is dried in an underground cellar. The colour is red and black.

2.Yun ware
For the framework, bamboo, wood and hairs of horsetails are used. The framework is painted with lacquer coat after coat and dried in an underground cellar. With a fine iron stylus, designs are incised on the surface of the objects and incised areas are filled with colours-red, yellow, green and blue. This type of lacquer ware is decorative and religious uses.

3.Shwezawa ware
Making frame is the same as above. Compare to other kinds, the volume of lacquer used in this method is more than others. The desired designs are incised with an iron stylus on the dried surface coated many times. Gold foils are applied to the incised areas. Because of labour and price of gold, this is expensive and high standard.

It is called ashes of pounded animal bones (cow, buffalo, and goat). To make plaster, it is mixed with paddy husks, and sawdust of teakwood. With the use of this mixture, designs are made, drawing of leaves, branches and figures are prominent.

5.Hmansi Swecha (glass mosaic and gilt lacquer ware)
Pieces of glass are cut into desired different shapes. They are stuck to lacquer and gilded. And the surface is washed with water so that foils are cleaned off. At this stage it becomes beautiful ornament. They are made as furniture for monasteries and utensils. Because of the prices of gold and labour, it is made only by order.

6.Man lacquer ware
It is used in making Buddha images. Bamboo strips are woven into the shape of a Buddha image. Then it is painted with lacquer coat after coat. The prominent fact is that it is hollow inside and light. The largest Man Buddha in Sale Township. This image was said to be carried by flooded water of Ayeyarwady river. The people took out of the water and paid homage to the image. Now it is gilded.

Design and motif used in Myanmar Lacquer wares are created with the use of Myanmar Traditional drawing.
They are

1.Kanou is art of depicting lotus, stems, buds and blossoms. It is used in drawing floral or intricate designs.

2.Kapi means monkey in Pali and is art of depicting monkeys and the like. Action and movement depicted can be called Kapi.

3.Gaza means elephant in Pali and is art of depicting any massive objects like enormous waves.

4.Nari means girl in Pali. Nari is the art of depicting the female figure or all human figures.

Myanmar traditional art is not the art of drawing models. The artist can draw freely to express his concept. The colours used in painting are natural things-trees, lime, earth, sand, rock, bones, animals, smoke, charcoal and egg. It is important for Myanmar to grow Thitsi trees for they are essential raw material for lacquer wares. It is also important to hand down traditional Myanmar lacquer ware art to the posterity.