The Historical Archaeology and Murals of Thirteenth Century South Bagan

Independent Scholar, SOAS Alphawood Alumni, Myanmar

This presentation discusses several 13th Century structures in Bagan that show an animated set of murals depicting the defeat of Māra, and how this might indicate the presence of a charismatic sect in south Bagan during this period. Temple IMP1152 is one of several within a little cluster south of Myinkaba village that has been little studied. It is a small single-story structure with an upper terrace and corner stupas, and it is estimated to date from the 13th century CE. Other temples in the cluster are earlier, perhaps dating to the 10th and 12th centuries CE. There are no inscriptions, and many have been rebuilt, so the reasons for the continued building into the 13th century remains unclear. The murals looked at in this light, are significant in their placement and creativity with hybrid creatures not usually depicted. The images are small, but the scenes are significant in extending depictions of the Victory over Māra narrative to the far south areas of ancient Bagan. White, orange, and black colours are dominant in the murals, contrary to its predecessors where a reddish pigment dominates. The 13th century murals show not only more independent and localised features but also the imaginary depictions of the artists, localised combinations related to mythologies, animals, nature, and ethnic features. This paper will present the symbolic background, creativity, colour tradition in imag(in)ing of Buddha’s life in 13th century Bagan (Myingabar) art, referenced in Temple 1152. Of the thousands of temples at Bagan, most studies have been on the overall architectural chronology, or a single temple. In contrast, this paper considers a set of murals within a cluster in relation to the historical archaeology of a remote area of south Bagan.