Myanmar’s rich heritage of arts and crafts dates back more than a thousand years. But more surprisingly, many of Myanmar’s skilled artisans continue to use traditional techniques today, making remarkable works of art entirely by hand.
Ten skills are thought to belong to the Myanmar canon of traditional arts and crafts. These are called pan se myo, which translates to the “Ten Flowers.” These are blacksmithing, bronze casting, goldsmithing, lacquerware, masonry, painting, stone carving, stucco work, and turnery.
Historically, artisans of the Ten Flowers were inspired by Buddhist and Hindu legends, but you might see more contemporary themes and ideas woven into artisans’ creations today. You’ll also see newer crafts, such as umbrella-making and tapestry weaving.
Some of the country’s most stunning works are housed in temples and pagodas, such as Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. An art tour of Yangon can also reveal an emerging contemporary art scene, much of which incorporates traditional ideas and aesthetics. But you’re just as likely to see delightful arts and crafts strolling down a street or entering a modest teashop.
Arts and crafts in Myanmar: what you will discover
Mandalay is a hub for bronze casting, with workshops full of artisans creating religious icons as well as purely decorative items.
Bronze cymbals, gongs, bells, bowls and statuary are made in Mandalay for temples and monasteries throughout the country.
You’re very likely to see some fine examples of precious metalwork in temples, regardless of the temple’s size or prestige.
And, when Buddha icons aren’t made of gold or silver, they are often covered in gold leaf offered by devotees.
These little sheets of gold leaf are also created by artisans in Myanmar.
Myanmar might be most famous for its fine lacquerware, which has enjoyed a long and proud history.
Artisans create the black, glossy lacquer from a particular type of sap.
Once it has been applied, they painstakingly paint or decorate the lacquer with goldleaf or paint.
Pathein in western Myanmar is renowned for the beautiful parasols made there, known as “Pathein hti.”
The frames are made of wood and bamboo, while the colorful tops are made of cotton or silk that has been waterproofed with a natural sealant.
These umbrellas come in different sizes so it can be used as an umbrella or as a covering for a table or outdoor area.
Myanmar’s woodcarving tradition dates back before the Bagan era (9th to 13th centuries). Myanmar arts and crafts experienced a renaissance during the time of the Bagan kings, creating a proliferation of remarkable woodcarving in palaces, temples and monasteries. Today, modern artisans still create intricate wood detailing for buildings, religious iconography, traditional puppets and nats (spirit icons), as well as all manner of household items.
Many of these handcrafted items are available at local markets and artisan workshops. If you’d like more information on the best places to go, workshops to visit, or how to tailor your own art and culture Myanmar tour, please ask us in comments below 🙂