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Recent Research in Myanmar: Bagan sculpture and art

For SEAMEO SPAFA’s first SESH of the 2022 year, we spoke to two young scholars from Myanmar, Pwint Phyu Maung and Su Latt Win who shared with us their recent work on the art and sculpture of the Bagan period. Both Pwint Phyu Maung and Su Latt Win are alumni from SOAS and recipients of the Alphawood Scholarship, and joined us from Myanmar via video link.

Our first speaker, Pwint Phyu Maung, gave a presentation titled ‘The Reflections Of Pyinsaloha (Five Metals Casting) in Bagan And Successive Periods”. In her presentation, she introduced the concept of Pyinsaloha, a Sanskrit term meaning five metals, which refers to an alloy of gold, copper, silver, iron and zinc and a casting technique that originated in India. Pyinsahola sculpture can be found in Bagan, in places like the Nagayon and Ananda Temple and are found to have influence from Pala sculpture. Post-Bagan, the image spread to other parts of Myanmar including Yangon and Rakhine. Examples of modern casting was shown, although she noted that the technique remains largely the same from ancient period to now, and modern Pyinsahola images are mass-produced for commercial purposes as souvenirs.

The second speaker, Su Latt Win, currently works at the Zaykabar Museum, a private museum in Yangon. In her talk, “Reflecting on an unusual depiction of the Birth of the Buddha from 12th century Bagan”, she presented an unusual scene from the 12th century Kubyauk-nge Temple in Bagan depicting the nativity of the Buddha. She noted some similarities between this scene and other nativity scenes found at Ananda temple, concluding that the later Kubyauk-nge Temple scene still contained influence of Pala art but a softer and more localized style than the 11th century artworks.

The SESH concluded with a short question and answer session. SEAMEO SPAFA would like to thank our speakers for sharing their knowledge on Bagan art and sculpture. The talk can be viewed on our Facebook page and on our YouTube channel (or click the above image panel).

If you watched the SPAFA SESH “Recent Research in Myanmar: Bagan sculpture and art”, please complete the questionnaire (approximately 5 minutes) to help us improve future SPAFA SESHes: https://bit.ly/Evaluation-Form-SPAFA-SESH15_RecentResearchinMyanmar

Date: 28 January 2022

Time: 10.30 a.m. (BKK)

Online Platform: Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/seameo.spafa/ and on *Zoom. *(Please register at: https://bit.ly/SPAFASESH_RecentResearchinMyanmar-Bagansculptureandart)

SPAFA SESH kicks off the 2022 new year with two young scholars from Myanmar talking about their recent work on Bagan sculpture and art.

Reflections on the Pyinsaloha (five metals casting) in the Bagan and successive periods
Speaker: Pwint Phyu Maung

Images of the Buddha from Myanmar, date to the 2nd century CE. In early periods, terracotta and earthenware are mostly found. However, since the early Bagan period (11th-13th CE), images developed of stone, bronze and stucco. Subsequently, a combination of metals alloys called Pyinsaloha came to be used. The tradition of casting Pyinsaloha started in India, especially in Southern India. Pyinsaloha or Pincaloha means a statue made of five metal alloys. In Sanskrit, Pyinsa means five and Loha means metal, in this case gold, silver, copper, zinc and iron. Moreover, there are also combinations called Triloha (three metals), Sattaloha (seven metals) and Navaloha (nine metals). Initially, bronze (lead+copper+tin) can also be defined as Triloha with a metal alloy used for image casting. Later on, according to religious concepts and to make it more precious, gold and silver were combined and became Pyinsaloha. In Hinduism, worshipping the Pyinsaloha murtis brings auspiciousness, prosperity, a peaceful mind and especially a balanced life. On one hand, worshiping the Pyincaloha murtis originated in Hinduism, In India, Nataraja (dancing Shiva) was favoured for Pyincaloha. On the other hand, in Buddhism, Pyincaloha is rarely found as a Buddha image and other parts of religious monuments. However, in common with Hinduism, the concept and tradition of casting Pyinsaloha image in Buddhism are seen as bringing prosperity and a better life. The paper highlights how the tradition of Pyinsaloha spread to successive periods and how the casting of religious parts changed from the Bagan Period to the present.

Reflecting on an Unusual Depiction of the Birth of the Buddha from 12th Century Bagan
Speaker: Su Latt Win
While murals depicting the Birth of the Buddha at Bagan (9th to 13th century CE) are seen at various temples, sculptural depictures are rare. This paper describes an unusual, perhaps unique sculpture of this scene, reflecting on its place at Bagan. The finely sculpted stone nativity scene of the Birth of the Buddha in the Bagan Archaeological Museum is one of eleven stone steles depicting the Eight Scenes of the Buddha’s life from the 12th century Myinkaba Kubyauk Nge temple. Although all nativity scenes are similar, this stele is a remarkable example of the narrative art of Bagan. The Buddha’s art nativity scene is not like an ordinary human delivery. Here Queen Maya stands on the right side of her sister under the Sal tree. Similar to other depictions, the baby sits cross-legged and emerges from her right hip, where rows of Brahmas, Indra and humans are kneeling and uplifting the child. But in this relief, a small seated Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra is shown on the head of Maya, possibly the only one in Bagan. The sculpture recalls the form of Avalokitesvara with the figure of Amitabha in the crown, here to presage that Queen Maya’s child will become the Buddha. The paper compares the image, its iconography and style, to others and considers reasons for this depiction produced in 12th century CE Bagan.

Su Latt Win is an alumni SOAS and Alphawood scholar in 2015-2016. She works at the Zaykabar private museum in Myanmar where her responsibilities are in the registration of museum objects, and writing the catalogue for the museum. She is interested in the collection and curation of Buddhist art in the Museum.


  1. Pwint Phyu Maung
  2. Su Latt Win

Moderated by Dr Noel H. Tan, SEAMEO SPAFA Senior Specialist in Archaeology

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