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Burmese Silver Work


Burmese silverwork is an ancient industry that dates back to the 13th Century Burmese era. During the reign of the Burmese Kings, it was a customary to use silver bowls and gold bowls of all sizes as a form of a reward for the ministers and the attendants' loyalty and faithfulness to the royal family. Aside from this, silver items are a symbol of wealth because only the ministers, the generals and the rich citizens used silverware like betel-nut boxes and stands, flower bowls and vases, spittoons, daggers, daggersheaths, including Burmese regalia and waistbands for the kings are mostly made of silver. The poor citizens could not afford the use of silverware whereas the monks and clergy on the other hand refrain from using any worldly luxury except for religious purposes like silver vases used for altars, and silver Buddha statues. However, ceremonial occasions such as on celebrating a wedding, an ear boring ceremony or a novitiating feast, huge silver bowls and vases were used for holding flowers and offering.

Silver bowls made of (Ngwe-Zin-Baw-Phyu), the best kind of silver, are flexible that they usually bend when gripped in the palm of the hand till the rims coincide. Another quality of silver called "Ywet-Ni" can be obtained by an amalgam composed of equal parts of silver and copper. During the British regime, silver coins were used mostly. However, the silver obtained from the silver coins is not so pure as the baw silver because it also contains copper.

To make one silver bowl or any silver item, it takes great skill and right blending of silver and other metal e.g. copper and zinc. The cup or bowl is first of all cast plainly. The required amount of silver is melted in a mud cup and placed on the fire. It is then poured into a bowl that is cold. This tums the silver into pieces, about half an inch in height, three-quarters of an inch in thickness. The piece of silver thus obtained is placed on a flat piece of iron and beaten with the hammer; and altemately heated on open fire and beaten till it becomes round in shape and until the desired height is achieved. For the omamentation, rough pencil sketches are drawn on the bowl and the chasing is done with simple tools. When this is completed the bowl is submerged in hot water containing alum until the water reaches its boiling point. The bowl is then taken out and washed in cold water containing a decoction of the fruit of the soap-nut. It is then brushed with a soft wire brush and rubbed with white enamel beads.

For candle sticks and flower vases, a rough outline is made of wax and the gum of the "In tree" Dipeterocarpus tuberculatus tree, in the ratio of 2: 1. This is then covered with clean mud mixed with horse dung and then baked on fire. This melts the wax which runs out through the holes. Once the mud and horse dung become hard and tums into brick red, the silver inside melts. And when the outlying mud layer roms cold, the mud is broken down to cast out the silver that has already formed into the shape that is outlined by the wax.

The tools which the silver smith uses are a borer or drill, a chisel, a bamboo blast, a blow pipe, a kerosene lamp, hammers of different sizes, wire plates and beading plates and some iron anvils. Good quality silver and good designs often make silverware popular. The profit gained from silverwork of this nature is thirty per cent of the cost. In the olden days, the charge for workmanship was eight annas for one tical of silver for average work, and one and half rupees for one tical of silver for workmanship for high quality silverwares.

Today, the Govemment authorities have held regular annual arts and crafts exhibitions at the west moat of the Shwedagon Pagoda giving away prizes and certificates to competitors for their remarkable quality. The youth of today are also encouraged to take interest in silver craft. Thus, Schools are to teach silver work, wood-carving and ivory work to preserve the crafts. This is to encourage the promotion and preservation of this ancient silver craft which was handed down from generation to generation.

The standard of work in Myanmar is up to the mark, and is comparable with the designs of foreign silversmiths.