Burmese handicrafts

The study of culture brings more than just giving someone a snapshot of the customs and traditions. It is the backbone of a race, without it people would be indistinguishable from each other. There would be no identity, no trademark, and no uniqueness to speak of.

One of the aspects of culture is the presentation of art. There are different displays of art – dance, theater, painting, and singing. Not to be set aside is the expression of one’s culture through crafts. Burma would delight any traveler with its rich tradition of handicrafts. The arts and craft are not only intricate pieces but woven with history and significance.

Kalaga is the customary name for a Burmese tapestry. These tapestries are elaborately done and go back hundreds of years in tradition. The kalaga were hung across the halls of royal palaces. Silver and bronze sequence is carefully hand-stitched into the cloth and sometimes takes several months to make. Glass beads and even real jewels and precious gems were used as adornment especially in the olden times.  The result? A glittering masterpiece that speaks of undoubted royalty and elegance.

In the delta regions of Burma, traditional parasols are being crafted. One of the more famous makers comes from Pathein. The umbrellas are locally referred to as pathein htee and are made of tin-wah bamboo strips. The covering of the frame is said to be the most challenging part in making these umbrellas. It takes about three years to master this art.  These beautiful parasols are very popular with Buddhist monks and nuns. They are not limited to making just parasols but garden umbrellas as well and are great gift items for visiting foreigners.

Pantain is the art of silversmith and making jewelry from gold. This art is practiced by the creative and skilled Burmese for one thousand years. The ancient kings have decorated themselves with these elaborate pieces. There is rich history that go with this art making. One of the more famed jewelry making is Burma’s fine talent of crafting bracelets that are made of high grade jadeite jade and considering it is one of the largest sources in the world. Wearing these ornaments is not only seen as opulence but folklore also would tell stories on protection, health and strength for the wearer. Some of the less expensive bracelets are made of seashells and inlaid mother-of-pearl.

The art of sculpture making is another feature of Burmese’ talent in crafts. Locally termed as panbu, ornate carvings in wood and ivory would depict the Burmese people deft skills. Animals, floral designs and gods would adorn these carvings as well as telling the events that formed the culture. Famous wood carvings can be witnessed the Shwe-inbin monastery in Mandalay and the Bakaya monastery in Inwa. The impressive work in wood and stone are truly admirable products of art and embodies the creativity and skill of the Burmese people.

Pantin is the Burmese art of bronze casting. Burma bronze casting has refined the art by using the ‘lost wax processes or also known as cire perdue in French.  This is a time-honoured procedure. The Burmese craftsmen have made these so beautiful and intriguing that these are sought after collector’s item. The Shwedagon stupa in Yangon has in its grounds the renowned Maha Ganda. It weighs 23 tons and easily makes it the world’s largest bronze bell. It was so popular that in 1825, the British attempted to nick and transport the bell but failed. They dropped the huge bell in the Yagon River but was later recovered and restored in its former home. Bronze bell’s gentle chime is a reflection of Buddha’s compassion and wisdom. Small bronze bells and clappers are used by monks and nuns for meditation, chanting and also to invite a deva of the Tavatimsa Heaven.

All of these handicrafts are a miniscule portion of the Burmese art. There is also puppet making, panyan or masonry and bricklaying, panchi or the art of painting, and the panyun or the making of lacquer ware. There are other interesting arts and crafts that would surely capture your interest as well as your heart. The culture is rich with talent and skill that exemplify the soul of the land and its people.