hen we visit Bagan, there are so many interesting things to see. Among them,  arts and crafts are must-see and must-try activities. In this article, I will share some of the most beautiful crafts and arts in Bagan.

Origin of Bagan Arts

As a UNESCO world heritage city, Bagan is rich in history and culture. Burmese are proud to present Bagan and its uniqueness to international travelers. Bagan is the best place for temple hopping since there are thousands of ancient temples and pagodas scattered around the city. The most famous temples include the Ananda , the Dhammayangyi , and the Thatbyinnyu which are not only beautiful, but they also have a lot of historical significance.

There is a common saying by local guides that is "Anu-hmar Ananda, Du-hmar Dhammayan, Nyan-taw-hmar Thetbyinnyu".

“Anu-hmar Ananda” means the arts and architecture of Ananda temple is the finest of all other beautiful temples in Bagan. It was built around AD 1105 by King Kyansittha with the influence of Mon and Indian culture. The temple is located east of old Bagan and has the most beautiful stucco carvings, green glaze terracotta tiles, and murals of bagan.

“Du-hmar Dhammayan” means Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest temple in Bagan. It was built by King Narathu in AD 1170 and situated east of old Bagan. You will be amazed by its massive square base topped by six receding terraces and the most excellent brick work of masonry.

The beautiful crafts and arts are derived from Phyu, Mon and Indian culture. Pyu and Mon culture are unique and their inscriptions and beliefs are related to Theravada Buddhism.  In AD 1057, A monk from “Thuwana Bumi” introduced “Theravada Buddhism” to Pagan Empire; the art and artifacts were delivered together with Buddhism culture. Bagan Arts often show people with oval faces, high cheekbones, and straight noses.

Mural Painting of Sulamani Temple, Bagan

Strong Indian culture can also be seen in costume and pose in mural paintings. In both mural and stucco carvings, the Indian style or Bagan Pan stylized flowers called “Ka-note” which means “tendrils of lotus flowers” can be found as a hand painting which is now popular in local and foreign travelers.

Mural Painting

Mural painting is a fresco or painting on a wall or ceiling which is decorated on the interior walls and decorated with the purpose of religion. These can be seen in “Gu-type” or “hollow-type” temples and caves. Gu is a hollow cave in Myanmar. Apart from the stupa style solid temple, Gu Temple is built for local monks and Buddhists to meditate under Buddha's guidance. They are normally buddha statue inside of the temples which have 4 entrance, facing four direction of North, East, South and West. Most of the paintings are illustrating horoscopes, 550 Jataka Tales (previous lives stories of Buddha), and the life of Buddha from his birth to PariNibbana (Death). The most popular Bagan temples to see murals are

Myin-Ka-Par Gu Byauk Gyi Temple:

The Temple was built on the south of Bagan, Myinkaba Village by prince Yazakumar, son of King Kyansittha. The temple is famous for its Jataka Murals and its square style.

Wet-Gyi-Inn Gu Pyauk Gyi Temple:

This beautiful temple is located on the southeast of Wetkyi-In Village in Bagan and famous for its stucco carvings and  frescoes of senses from Jatakas.

Sulamani Temple:

Situated Southeast of Bagan, near Minnanthu Village. It was built by King Narapatisithu with the unique symmetrical structure as square style and has an entrance porch on all four sides.

Mural Painting of Sulamani Temple, Bagan

Sand Painting (Cloth Painting)

Sand painting is the painting on cloth covered with sand and drawn upon. By using a kind of glue, sand is sprinkled over the cloth and traditionally artists reproduce the mural found on the walls.

There are two types of sand paintings; Sculpture and Normal. Sculpture sand paintings are made with several layers of sand and have the sand color. Normal Sand Painting is just one layer with colors, but some paintings are in black and white. Many paintings are sold near the compound of temples together with lacquerware souvenirs. You can explore Bagan sand painting in most of the workshops in Htilominlo temple.

Young Artists painting over Sand on Cloth Canvas

Hand Painting

In recent years, Hand Painting in Bagan has become very popular among travelers. Once you visit Bagan, cycling around Bagan with an electric bike, wearing Bagan theme costumes and drawing hand paintings should be included in your bucket list. Hand painting shops have opened very near the famous temples and are usually decorated with Pathein umbrellas and Myanmar traditional puppets hanging from the trees. Some have swing chairs called “Dann '' and pictures or statues of bullock carts. There are two types of hand paintings, one is painted with acrylic paint that is easy to remove with water and the other one is painted with henna.

Hand Painting by Local Artist

Acrylic Hand Painting is cheaper and you can take a photo with the Myanmar traditional dress in Acrylic Hand Painting shops. Henna Hand Painting is more expensive, but it's more beautiful and will last longer than acrylic hand paintings. If you are looking for a nice souvenir to bring back home, I recommend Henna Hand Painting.

Stucco Carvings

In Bagan, the finest stucco carvings can be seen in Ananda, Sulamani, Htilominlo, and Dhammayazika. Stucco Carving is the decoration of the exterior wall of the temples which is done by cement. Almost all the temples have the architectural style of stucco carvings, which are usually found on the porches, arches, and conor pilasters of the temples.

The two most popular motifs in Bagan stucco carvings are Pan-sar Belu and Pan-swei Belu.  “Pan-sar Belu” is an ogre who devours human beings. He has a big round belly and long tail, while “Pan-swei Belu” is a smaller ogre with four hands clutching garlands of flowers and fruits. You can find Pan-sar Belu on the walls or pillars of temples and Pan-swei Belu on the arches or ceilings.

Stucco Carving of Sulamani Temple, Bagan

Lacquerware Etching

Lacquerwares can be seen in three places in Myanmar; Kyaukka (Monywa), Innwa and Bagan. They are very famous for their large variety of shapes and designs. Most of the oval-shaped lacquerware is made of bamboo and wood is used for square-shaped designs. And it is coated with several layers of clay, lacquer sap which is obtained from lacquer trees.

It takes about three months to make a lacquerware product. Etching and color filling is the final process of decorating. Originally these designs of etching are copied from murals and stucco carvings and later make changes according to the lifestyles. Visiting workshops to view these beautiful lacquerwares is a must in Bagan when you go.

Myanmar Traditional Lacquares

Due to the COVID - 19 and the Coup, Local People in Bagan are facing difficulties and some have become jobless. Buying Local Products will support and help them in many ways. Most of the popular temples are reopened and almost all the hotels and restaurants are opening according to the COVID-19 regulations. The visitors have to show the vaccination certificate and identification card at the entrance of Bagan.

As being the ancient city UNESCO world heritage and archaeological zone of Myanmar, it is important to travel with sustainable manners such as respecting local traditions, avoiding touching mural paintings and leaving a less carbon footprint.

So, if you are planning a trip to Bagan, make sure to enjoy these unique Arts and their related activities on your Bagan itinerary. You will definitely not be disappointed!

April 22, 2022