Ancient Treasures from Myanmar

by Maganjeet Kaur

The on-going (well, it ends on 5th Mar) exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in Singapore titled ‘Cities & Kings: Ancient Treasures from Myanmar’ brings together 60 artefacts from 4 museums: National Museum Nay Pyi Taw, National Museum Yangon, Bagan Archaeological Museum, and ACM.

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The ACM building has a long history. The oldest part of the building was constructed between 1864-67 using convict labour from India. A flagstaff at the top of the building was the Origin of Coordinates for Singapore. The building originally housed a number of government departments. In March 1964, the Singapore Branch of Bank Negara, Malaysia was officially opened in the building. This was the bank’s second branch outside Kuala Lumpur, the first was in Penang which opened in March 1961. ACM has occupied the building since 2003.

The exhibition showcases the culture and history of the country from the early Pyu and Mon civilisations up to the Mandalay Kingdom.

The Pyu civilisation developed in upper and central Myanmar in the early centuries of the first millennium and remained a force for close to a thousand years. It had among the earliest, if not the earliest, urban centres in Southeast Asia and saw the emergence of large walled cities such as Halin, Beikthano, and Sri Ksetra. These cities, located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River amidst fertile agricultural plains, had sophisticated irrigation systems and participated in long distance trade. The culture adopted Buddhism and, to a lesser extent, Hinduism. It is thought that Buddhism flowed into Central Myanmar through present day northeast India and Bangladesh which were part of the Pala Kingdom. Here was also located the Nalanda University which expounded Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhist thought and these strands of Buddhism flowed into the Pyu culture.

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This bowl with a peacock motif in the centre surrounded by foliate (dated to the 9th century) was found at Sri Ksetra, a Pyu city. The lobbed design of the bowl indicates Chinese influence as it parallels a four-lobbed bowl with mandarin duck design found at Famen Temple near Xian. However, the bowl is believed to have been made in Myanmar with inspiration taken from China signifying a trade relationship between the two cultures.

Contemporaneous with Pyu was the Mon civilisation in Lower Myanmar. Large urban centres with specialisations in trade developed at Thaton, Kyaikkatha, and Winka-Ayetthema. These were coastal cities connected by trade routes to India, Sri Lanka, Dvaravati (a Mon Kingdom in today’s Thailand), and the Hindu-Buddhist polity at Bujang Valley (Kedah). Theravada Buddhism prevailed in Lower Myanmar showing a close link with Sri Lanka.

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This terracotta plaque, dated to the 5th or 6th century, was found at Kyontu, an early Mon city. Two musicians flank a central figure (face damaged) which is either riding or fighting a bull. Three more figures fill the space above. These three-dimensional figures are surrounded by a circular frame set within a larger frame with floral motifs on each corner.

Bagan (previously Pagan), founded by the Bamars (Burmans), rose to prominence during the 11th to 13th centuries. It was an inland polity situated on the left bank of the Ayeyarwady River between Kyaukse and Minbu, two rice producing regions. Rice surplus from these two regions was centralised at Bagan and this allowed Bagan to exercise control throughout the Ayeyarwady basin, including the Mon controlled coastal areas. Bagan became the first royal capital of Myanmar. Its first king, Anawrahta (reign: 1044-77), introduced Theravada Buddhism to Bagan after sacking the Mon city of Thaton in 1057 to obtain a copy of Tipitaka, a text on Theravada Buddhism. The population of Myanmar today remain Theravada Buddhist.

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left: a sandstone from  Bagan (11th century) showing Prince Siddharta cutting his hair, symbolising his break from royal life and starting his path towards Buddhahood. right: a miniature stupa, made of bronze with gold-leaf lacquer, from Bagan dated to the 19th century. Miniature stupas were used to house relics, an enduring tradition that has lasted till today. This stupa has five sides with five lion-like mythical figures projecting from the base. The five niches would have each contained a miniature Buddha and each niche has a makara-like figure above it.
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Lacquered betel boxes from Bagan known as kun-yit-gyi. The cylindrical boxes contain two inner trays in which the ingredients necessary for betel chewing are stored. The designs on the boxes are incised with red, green, yellow, and black lacquer. The box on the right tells the story of Prince Wee-Ta-Na-Pa and his astrologer, Ah-Nu-Ya.

Power shifted to Inwa (previously Ava) in the mid 14th century. As Bagan disintegrated, a new Mon kingdom was established at Bago (previously Pegu) in 1281 and a king appeared at Rakhine (previously Arakan). The Shans, who had dominated the northern highlands, started moving to the lowlands. King Mindon (reign: 1853-78) moved his royal capital from Amarapura to Mandalay in 1857. This was the last royal capital as the British captured Mandalay in 1885 and King Thibaw was exiled to Ratnagiri, India. The British moved the capital to Yangon (previously Rangoon) which they had captured in 1852. Nay Pyi Taw, 300 km to the north of Yangon, became the capital of Myanmar in 2005.

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Indigenous animistic spirits, known as nats, continue to be worshipped although the population is predominantly Buddhist. Nats can take human and animal forms as illustrated in this display. From left to right: Lat Lay Pat Nat, four armed nat; Paunte Maung Tint Tal Nat, Handsome Blacksmith, a household guardian; Koe Myoe Shin Nat, Lord of the nine towns; Pale Yin Nat, sister of Koe Myoe Shin.

 * photos taken at ACM

Istana Satu

The beautiful, traditional Malay house adorning the grounds of Muzium Negara is Istana Satu, a palace belonging to the Terengganu royalty, which was acquired in 1972 by the Federation of Museums. Its reconstruction on the grounds of Muzium Negara was completed in April 1974.

Built high on pillars, it conforms to the long roofed, 12-pillared architectural style of Terengganu. Traditional houses in Terengganu are generally 6-pillared or 12-pillared, a reference to the number of pillars holding the roof structure. These tall pillars, which can raise the floor of the house as high as eight feet, not only protected the house from wild animals and floods but also warded off ground dampness prevalent in our humid climate.

Seven steps lead to the verandah of the palace. This number is intentionally odd as, according to Malay superstitious practice, a person should leave the house with his/her right foot first. With an odd number of steps, the journey away from the house will again start with the right foot.

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Malay craftsmanship is evident through the beautiful wood-carvings, both inside and outside the palace. The tiered roof is unique to the northeast states of Terengganu and Kelantan.

A traditional 12-pillared Terengganu house has three sections – the serambi (verandah where guests are also received and entertained), Rumah Ibu (Mother’s house, comprising the living and sleeping areas), and Dapor (kitchen, which also includes the dining area). Rumah Ibu, the main section of the house, is named as such as the mother occupies an important position in Malay culture.

Istana Satu originally comprised two units: the Federation of Museums only acquired one unit while the other unit was purchased by a private individual. In the original palace, the Rumah Ibu would have been a  structure separate from the Dapor but linked with it.

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The royal bedroom. Tekat needlework can be seen on the pillows. This technique uses gold or silver thread to create embroidery on satin silk and velvet. Tekat became part of the royal Malay tradition.

The Sultan’s palace in Kuala Terengganu has traditionally been located at the foot of Bukit Puteri. Sultan Baginda Omar (r. 1831, 1839-1876), wresting control of Terengganu in 1839, initially stayed in a fort on Bukit Puteri but later moved down the hill to this traditional site. He built a timber palace, Istana Hijau, on this site but it was gutted in 1882 by a fire that also destroyed 1600 other houses. This incident occurred during the reign of Sultan Zainal Abidin III (r. 1881-1918) who then built Istana Satu (First Palace) enclosed in a large compound known as Kota (fort). Other buildings were added within Kota and in 1895, the imposing Istana Maziah became the official residence of the Sultan.

Do saunter into Istana Satu the next time you visit the museum, leaving your shoes at the base of the steps.

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Kota, circa 1895. Taken from the Federation Museums Journal, Vol VII, 1962, pg 93. Istana Satu was connected via a bridge to Rumah Tele making it convenient for the Sultan to visit the occupants. Rumah Tele was built in 1888, in time for the King of Thailand to occupy it during his visit to Terengganu in February 1889. This building has been reconstructed on the grounds of the Terengganu State Museum.

Natural History Museum

by Maganjeet Kaur (with a special thank-you to Lim Tze Tshen for a tour of the museum)

The distance may seem daunting but, housing a collection that dates to the early 1900s and showcasing Malaysia’s rich biodiversity, the Natural History Museum is well worth the drive to Putrajaya.

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Dinosaur eggs from China on display at the gallery. These eggs may not be from here but the discovery of a dinosaur tooth in Pahang suggests that dinosaurs roamed this land 140 million years ago.

Malaysia is listed as one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, i.e countries that have a high percentage of the Earth’s plant and animal species as well as a high percentage of species endemic to the country. Although only a fraction of this diversity is captured in the museum, the museum does provide some interesting representations in the various animal categories.

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The entomological collection was started over a century ago by amateur naturalists fascinated by the country’s rich flora and fauna.

The seas are no less vibrant and 77 molluscs are displayed providing an easy reference guide for cataloging.

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Some common shells picked from the beaches of Malaysia.
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Skeleton of an eagle

The on-going exhibition on skeletons is especially interesting as it provides an insight into how skeletons of different groups of animals evolved and adapted to their different functions. Flight requires a strong but light-weight structure. To achieve this, the skeleton in birds was adapted with a strong chest bone to hold the flight muscles. In addition, some bones were eliminated and the remaining ones hollowed out. The front limbs saw a reduction in digits and development of feathers. However, it is believed that the development of feathers was an exaptation; their original purpose could have been to regulate heat and it was only later that they were adapted for flight.

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Skull of a langur (Presbytis sp.). We shared a common ancestor with the langur around 25 million years ago

To live in trees, arboreal creatures (e.g. primates and koalas) developed strong chest and hip bones while a prehensile tail provided stability to navigate the canopy. The opposable thumb evolved allowing primates to grasp tree branches; this same opposable thumb would later give flexibility to hominids to fashion tools and weapons from stone and other materials. Did Darwin get it right when he said it was the need to free the hands to handle tools and weapons that gave rise to bipedalism? The earliest known stone tools date to 2.6 million years ago while hominids started walking upright 6 million years ago making it unlikely it was the need to handle tools that caused bipedalism. Many other theories abound; one that is gaining popularity specifies that wading in shallow water to forage for edibles necessitated walking on two legs. In addition, water cushioned the joints from pressure in an upright position allowing hominids to walk on two legs for longer periods.

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Skeleton of a chimpanzee. In humans, the spine and leg bones are in a straight line while these are at an angle in the chimpanzee allowing it to walk in a semi-upright position. In other four-legged animals, the spine and leg bones are at right-angles making an upright position difficult to achieve.

It is said that it was the use of technology that shaped us into who we are, that pushed us onto a very different evolutionary track from the other primates. Performing complex tasks increased our brain capacity to the 1,300 ml average of today. Compare this to the 400 ml of the extant Australopithecus and the same amount of the chimpanzee today. This  increased brain capacity has enabled our march to the stars.

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Pieces of rock from the moon and a flag of Malaysia that was carried by the Apollo 11 mission. The plaque reads: “This flag of your people was carried to the moon and back by Apollo 11, and this fragment of the moon’s surface was brought to Earth by the crew of that first manned lunar landing”.

The Pasir Gudang Kite Museum

Local kites, details of how they are made and legends connected to them are displayed.

A number of Indian kites are included in the museum’s collection.

THE Pasir Gudang Kite Museum houses hundreds of kites flown during the annual International Kite Festival at Bukit Layang- Layang.

The museum was built in 2002 to showcase local and foreign kite craftsmanship.

Local kites, such as wau merak, wau bulan and wau kapal, legends connected to them and information on how to make them are exhibited in the three-storey building.

Kite-making tools and the paraphernalia used to fly bigger-sized kites are also displayed. There is a multimedia section which offers a detailed description of the craft.

Visitors can buy kites at the souvenir shop.

The museum opens seven days a week. An entrance fee of RM2 is charged. Children under 12 are charged RM1. For details, call 07-251 3720 or fax 07-251 5260.

OMEGA watches museum..

Monday May 30, 2011

Museum for Omega watches

 

A VISIT to the Omega Museum is a must if you want a peek into the brand’s rich heritage, which dates back to 1848 when watchmaker Louis Brandt started his business on a bench.

Located across Omega’s headquarters in Biel, Switzerland and opened in 1984, it is the oldest watch museum dedicated to the history of a single brand. Along with some 4,000 watches, the remarkable collection includes movements, clocks, instruments, tools, photos, engravings, posters, signs, awards and certificates.

The first watch, which had the name “Omega” on its dial was produced in 1894 and featured the 19-ligne calibre created by Francois Chevillat. Incidentally, the first special orders came from railroad administrators who wanted to time the trains, and shooting associations, which purchased watches for their members and winners of their competitions.

 Since 1995, any actor who takes on the James Bond role immediately becomes one of Omega’s brand ambassadors. All the watches used by special agent 007 are on display at the museum.

“Our first wristwatch appeared in 1900, which was also the world’s first industrially manufactured wristwatch. Omega’s strength lies in its ability to industrialise watches so that it can be repaired anywhere in the world,” says curator Brandon Thomas.

Over the years, Omega’s Speedmaster watches have been to the moon and back with Apollo astronauts. Edwin Aldrin wore the first watch on the moon in 1969 when he followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface. Since then, Omega watches have accompanied American astronauts on all their space missions.

“We make the watches for NASA and we’re constantly improving the Speedmaster to withstand the extreme range of temperatures on the lunar surface. The numbers can go from –148°C to 260°C ,” explains Thomas.

On display at the museum, along with these “Moon Watches” are models of space shuttles, a lunar rover model, an astronaut’s spacesuit, photographs taken from the moon and sew-on NASA patches.

If you’re a fan of 007, then there’s no better place to view the collection of watches worn by the various actors who starred as James Bond in the movies. Since 1995, any actor who takes on the Bond role immediately becomes one of Omega’s brand ambassadors. Currently, Daniel Craig’s posters and pictures dominate the “Bond” area. The curator proudly points out that Omega also lends its watches to many film companies.

Besides the watches, visitors can view the numerous tools, watchmaker’s lathes, large-scale models of escapements and devices used to test water-resistance.

The entire spectrum of time measurement devices for athletic events is also comprehensively displayed. These include the slender Muybridge threads that were snapped by racehorses as they sprinted to the finish line, automatic triggers, electrical starting pistols, light barriers, time recorders and the photofinish system, which was introduced in 1949.

Part of Omega’s palette is the debut of a 24-ligne watch for the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the United States. There is an impressive display at the museum of how the timepieces work as athletes race to beat the clock.

“We were the first company to time every event in the Olympics using chronographs and stop watches. In 1932, almost every record was broken. To reduce human error, we now have one timepiece at the start and another at the finish line. For example, in swimming, the athlete has to touch the contact pad to stop the clock. This simple new technology reacts only to the touch of the swimmer and is not affected by water splashes,” explains Thomas.

Omega’s most recent development in timing technology was to bring sports timekeeping into the Internet age with live timing of swimming events, which allows anyone with Internet access to view swimming and diving competition results in real time on the Omega Timing Internet site, www.omegatiming.com.

Today, Omega watches can be seen on the wrists of kings, queens, presidents, explorers, visionaries and celebrities.

Camping and Tramping: The Museum in Malaya

The National University of Singapore has an exhibition on the making of the museum in Malaya, based on a range of colonial archives. If anyone has a chance to visit (it runs to Jan 2012) please post a comment below. It sounds interesting

Camping and Tramping Through the Colonial Archive: The Museum in Malaya

13 Jan 2011 – 2012

NUS Museum New*

The term Camping and Tramping is inspired by a lesser known 19th century document compiled by a British officer describing the field work and travails of his time with the colonial office in Malaya. This exhibition traces the rise of the Museum in British Malaya not just as an indicator of power over what was gazed upon as the exotic but by acknowledging that the very advent of the Museum resulted in a staging ground for a project of accumulation and the ordering of knowledge. Writings and artefacts have been mobilized from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (NUS), Asian Civilizations Museum, National Museum of Singapore, National Library Board Singapore, Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore National Archives, NUS Museum, and the Ivan Polunin and Mohammad Din Mohammad collections.

New Museums Opening

New museum branch to woo tourists

2010/09/20
By Danny Ooi
news@nst.com.my

Sisters Amira Hasual Jamal (left), Ainina (second from left) and Adela (right) take a closer look at a painting in the new branch of the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery at Jalan Macalister, Penang. Looking on is student from Iran, Leila Kakaabdollahshiraz. - NST picture by GS Narinder Singh

Sisters Amira Hasual Jamal (left), Ainina (second from left) and Adela (right)
 take a closer look at a painting in the new branch of the Penang State Museum
and Art Gallery at Jalan Macalister, Penang. Looking on is student from Iran,
Leila Kakaabdollahshiraz. – NST picture by GS Narinder Singh
 
 
 

GEORGE TOWN: Locals and tourists will soon have an extra venue to explore the island’s rich heritage and artifacts.This is made possible with the opening of the state’s museum and art gallery’s new branch in Jalan Macalister here on Saturday.

State museum board chairman Wong Hon Wai said the opening of the new branch marked a new chapter in the history of the state’s museum.

“It is our vision to make use of this new place to further promote the history and arts of our state.

“We hope to have something unique, something vibrant and something extraordinary, to compliment our existing museum in Lebuh Farquhar,

” he said at the signing and handover ceremony of the building between the state museum board and the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP).

The state’s museum was represented by Wong and MPPP by its president Patahiyah Ismail.

Wong said it would take between three and five years to fully equip the new place with collections of the island’s heritage and artifacts.

He said visits to various museums in the world, such as the Pearl Harbour Memorial in Hawaii, the War Museum in Hiroshima, Japan and the Palace

Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, had given him new insights about the countries’ history and livelihood of its people.

The state museum and art galley was established in 1964 at Lebuh Farquhar.

In 1994, the art gallery was moved to Dewan Sri Pinang.

Read more: New museum branch to woo tourists http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/24peng/Article/#ixzz18ETBHSmv