Burma and Buddhism

Dr. Gordon Johnson, President of RAS, welcomes everyone to the first of the 2015-2016 Lecture Series
Dr. Gordon Johnson, President of RAS, welcomes everyone to the first of the 2015-2016 Lecture Series

In the first of the RAS Lecture Series for 2015-2016, Professor Janice Stargardt from the University of Cambridge spoke about the adoption of Buddhism in Burma using the case study of Sri Ksetra. She has been involved in the excavations of the city and has found evidence of early adoption of Buddhism, with traditional practices and Buddhism becoming intermingled.  She fascinated us with connecting together the text on the great silver reliquary discovered in Sri Ksetra with that missing from a golden manuscript. She postulated that the text had been added to the reliquary to ‘rectify’ the mistake.

Professor Janice Stargardt lectures at the RAS
Professor Janice Stargardt lectures at the RAS

That afternoon, in the Reading Room, we had already been enjoying learning about Burma when a designer of SE Asian typeface, Ben Mitchell,  came in to look at some of the Burmese manuscripts. Here are images from a couple of the manuscripts but he tweeted today to say he had uploaded more images to Flickr here.

Burmese MSS 003
Burmese Manuscript on Ivory

 

Burmese MSS 006
Burmese Manuscript with script of mother-of-pearl

Besides manuscripts, the RAS Collections also contain some drawings from Burma. One set of these is known as the Low Collection as they were donated by Lt. Col. James Low (c.1795-1852) who, after a military career with the Madras infantry, was in civil charge of Province Wellesley of the Straits Settlements ( Malacca, Dinding, Penang (also known as Prince of Wales Island) and Singapore). The Low Collection consists of 20 drawings of Thailand and Burma executed by Low and a Chinese artist, Boom Khon,  some time around 1824-5. Here are some of their pencil drawings:

 

Views on the Salween River (Head Cat.027.003 &027.004)
Views on the Salween River (Head Cat. 027.003 & 027.004)

 

Tavoy (Dawei) River (Head Cat.027.002)
Tavoy (Dawei) River (Head Cat. 027.002)

 

Burmese landscape (Head Cat. 027.014)
Burmese landscape (Head Cat. 027.014)

 

Not all the drawings are of landscapes. A couple of watercolours by Boon Khon show Burmese people:

 

Two men from Thaumpe, Shan Province. By Boon Khan c.1830
Two men from Thaumpe, Shan Province. By Boon Khan c.1830

 

A man and a woman from Tennasserim c.1830 (Head Cat.027.016)
A man and a woman from Tennasserim c.1830 (Head Cat. 027.016)

 

These are just a small sample of our South East Asian collections. For more information please contact me on nc@royalasiaticsociety.org.

Our next lecture will be on Tuesday 20th October at 1830. As part of the Fresh Perspectives Series, Dr. Richard Williams (University of Oxford) will speak on “Songs from behind the curtain: the influence of palace women in Hindustani music”. Please join us on that date and also for the November Lecture in our Lecture Series, on Thursday November 12th, when Dr. Ben Outhwaite (University of Cambridge) will talk about “Lewis, Gibson and the Discovery of the Cairo Genizah”.