Dhammayangyi temple

Entrance to the Dhammayangyi temple in Bagan

I really liked the temples of Bagan, so I’ll keep coming back to them. The temple which charmed me most was the Dhammayangyi temple. You see a photo of it from the entrance archway here. It has been damaged in the recent earthquake, but not too badly. One can still explore this temple. The layout of the temple is like a cross, with the main Buddha images facing the cardinal direction, just as the older Ananda temple. However, the effect is completely different, it feels lighter and more airy. The plaster work over arches is lovely, although not in good repair any more (see the photo here). Most of all, the Buddha images have changed from the distinctly Indian looks in the Ananda temple to the more Burmese faces and bodies shown in the featured image.

Detail on an entryway arch to the Dhammayangyi temple
Paintings on the walls of the Dhammayangyi temple in Bagan
A Buddha statue in the Dhammayangyi temple in Bagan

There are paintings on all the walls. They are faded and details are hard to see, as you can tell from the photo above. But when I could make out details and colours, they looked wonderful. I hope there is an effort to restore them. We noticed paintings on the wall behind several of the statues in the main alcoves, and more around those in niches inside the corridor. The first Buddhas we saw (featured image) are partially gilded. However, I liked the one shown here. The white face and the red robe look more serene. However, gilding statues of the Buddha is so ingrained in the local culture that I’m sure when the temple is restored, these statues will also be gilded. Today, with the temple in its somewhat neglected state, the number of tourists is not large. There is a sense of quiet and peace in the temple. We sat in an airy window looking at the greenery outside for a while before moving on.

Puppets for sale outside the Dhammayangyi temple in Bagan
Zaw Zaw the painter inside the Dhammayangyi temple in Bagan

The lack of tourists translates into a smaller number of shops outside the temple. Although the numbers are small, the handicrafts I saw on display were lovely. I liked some of the wooden masks on display, and even enquired about the price, but forgot to buy any. Inside the outer wall of the temple there were spreading banyan trees. A large number of puppets hung from the lower branches of the tree. It was interesting to walk among these puppets and try to figure out the differences between these traditional characters. Inside the temple there were people who had paintings on display. The first person we came across spoke just enough English to negotiate a price. He could not tell us too much about the paintings. The next person (photo alongside) was called Zaw Zaw, and he could communicate better. He explained that the paintings are made with sand stuck on cloth and then coloured. The paintings were traditional designs, although he would vary the colours.

Song and Dance in Myanmar

The elaborate costumes of a kinnara and kinnari in a dance performance I saw in Myanmar were stunning. The butterfly wings were attached to the arms and back of the dancers, so that they could be opened and closed. The music was a simple percussion instrument. This part of the dance was introduced with a simpler dance where two women seem to be plucking flowers. When they leave, the kinnara and kinnari arrive in the same implied setting: perhaps a forest glade with flowers. The whirling movements are accompanied by opening and closing of the wings, and end in brief poses, for example the one in the featured photo.

Kinnara and kinnari in an embrace in a Burmese dance

The pair dance together across the stage. The male character wears a mask, the female is made up, but without a mask. I wondered whether this is a left over of a time when only women danced. The male falls to the ground: asleep? The female keeps dancing. Eventually the male rises, and the performance ends with them coming together to embrace (photo above).

Puppet show in Myanmar

There was a claim that the movements in the kinnara dance recreate the movements of Burmese puppets. It could be, but to my untrained it seemed like a long shot. The puppets were elaborately dressed, but the stories were simple gags. The puppet in this photo is Zaw Gyi, a magical figure who loves to spend his time alone, but when needed can use his magic to do anything he wishes. Not only is he a powerful figure, the fact that his movements can be very complicated means that the person who manipulates Zaw Gyi is one of the master puppeteers.

Complicated percussion instrument in Myanmar

The puppet show was accompanied by music. The musicians had a separate stage next to the main stage. I walked up there to take a look at the instruments. There were several kinds of percussion instruments and a flute. But the one which looked most elaborate is shown in the photo above. I learnt later that it is called Kyee-naung Waing. Interestingly no stringed instrument was used.

Elephant dance in the streets of Amarapura

A large and diverse country like Myanmar will have many different dance forms of course. The first one that I saw was a dance with two people in an elephant costume, with the music playing out of a boom box. I saw a later version with the two dressed as a takin. The takin dancers were accompanied by a Shan long drum. There was a Pa-O folk dance and a Shan folk dance that I managed to see. They seem to be significantly different from each other. I’m sure that if we had stayed longer we would have come across much more.