Arts and Architecture

It is architecture that one sees as the strongest evidence of Burmese artistic skills and craftsmanship. The religious architecture of Myanmar is probably the most independent of the Indian architectural style, which is predominant in many parts of Southeast Asia. Burmese buildings take two basic forms - pagodas and temples. Traditionally only these were made of permanent materials; monasteries and all secular buildings were, until recently, constructed of wood and thus only a few non-religious buildings of former times remain to be visited.

Pagodas are found almost everywhere in the country in large numbers. They are seen as a focus for meditation or contemplation, and are supposed to house holy relics from the Buddha. It is said that the great Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon enshrines some of his hairs. Temples are constructed mainly to house images of the Buddha and the walls are often decorated with beautiful paintings depicting episodes from the lives of the Buddha.

Over the centuries the architectural style has grown more elaborate, depending on the region and influence of other cultures nearby. All pagodas, however, have in common a bell-shaped structure, which in later centuries was erected on top of a foundation.