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Water bowl

Water bowl

  • Place of origin:

    Pagan (made)

  • Date:

    1908-1911 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Saya Saing (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woven bamboo and horsehair, covered with lacquer and engraved in the <i>Pagan yun</i> technique

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr B. W. Kissan, through The Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Like other countries in East and South-East Asia, Burma probably made use of lacquer articles for several centuries before the earliest dated example in the 13th century. Burmese lacquer is almost identical with the Chinese and Japanese versions, but comes from a different species of tree. Lacquer mixed with rice paddy-husk ash is applied to a base of the shape and size required, which itself might be made of bamboo basketry, wood, or, for very fine work such as this bowl, of bamboo and horsehair. After enough of this mixture has been added to give a smooth surface, a mixture of lacquer and colouring is applied in thin coats, which are allowed to dry and are polished before the next coat is added. The pattern is then executed by filling incised designs with coloured lacquer.

Using a 'nan-dwin' (King at Court) design, this water bowl shows scenes from the story of the Wise Young Judge Mahodhatta Jataka (a story recounting the Buddha's previous incarnations).

It was made and signed by the master craftsman Saya Saing and was purchased by the donor from an annual exhibition of Burmese arts and crafts in Rangoon at the beginning of the 20th century. Earlier pieces of lacquerware, which were commissioned as private gifts, may have carried the names of the donors but not the artist who created it. The introduction of signed work for exhibition purposes was a new development after Burma became a Province of British India in 1886.

Physical description

The bowl is straight-sided with a hemispherical bottom on a ring base.

The floriate border around the top of the wall, near the rim, is intersperced with cartouche filled with signs of the Zodiac and documentation about the bowl:
"From the workshop of the prizewinning craftsmaster Saya Saing: Guaranteed genuine horse-hair (woven) lacquer bowl: prize-winning certificate(s) can be produced for inspection".

The main decoration uses the nan-dwin (the King at Court) design - where a story is set at court, the figures are dressed in costumes of the court and palace architectual elements such as walls and railings help delineate the scenes.
The subject of the ornament on the bowl represent scenes from the Mahodhatta Jataka - the Wise Young Judge (No.546)
1. Mahodhatta waiting on Sriwa Kunna.
2. Mahodhatta, the wise man, passing judgement about a reel of cotton between the owner and the thief.
3. Mahodhatta passing judgement on the ownership of a cow between the owner and thief.
4. Mhodhatta travelling the country being presented with problems to solve.
5. (on the base) Mahodhatta had to decide whether a child belonged to the woman who claimed to be its natural mother, or to a clever Ogress. He ordered each claimant to take an arm of the child and to pull in opposite directions. When the child cried out in pain and one claimant let go out of pity, Mahodhatta declared that she, not the Ogress was the true mother. The scene show the "Tug-of-war".

Place of Origin

Pagan (made)


1908-1911 (made)


Saya Saing (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Woven bamboo and horsehair, covered with lacquer and engraved in the Pagan yun technique


Height: 34 cm, Diameter: 24 cm

Object history note

This Burmese lacquer waterbowl is an example of work which has been inscribed with the name of the maker who intended it specifically for exhibition with the hope of winning a prize and consequent sale. A practice started after Burma became a Province of British India in 1886.

Descriptive line

Burmese bamboo and horsehair red lacquered water-bowl of the Pagan yun (engraved) technique. Using the nan-dwin (King at Court) design it is decorated with scenes from the Mahodhatta Jataka in black, yellow and green. ca. 1908-1911.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Sylvia Fraser-Lu Burmese Lacquerware
Tamarind Press; Bangkok; 1985; p. 138

Sylvia Fraser-Lu Burmese Lacquerware
White Orchid Books; Orchid Press; Bangkok 2000; p. 183
cat. no. 36
Burmese art / John Lowry. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1974 Number: 0112901794 :
p. 96
Ayers, J. Oriental Art in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1983, ISBN 0-85667-120-7


Bamboo; Horsehair; Thitsi-lacquer; Pigment; Clay; Ash


Basketry; Coating; Lacquering; Colouring; Engraving

Subjects depicted



Containers; Lacquerware


South & South East Asia Collection

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