Abstract

This article describes the Burmese festival of pongyibyan, the ceremonies at the cremation of a senior monk, mainly by collating written accounts and photographs by Europeans who witnessed pongyibyan in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Certain rites of the pongyibyan ceremony offer interesting parallels to accounts of the Buddha's own funeral found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. This article cites descriptions of the preparation of the monk's corpse by evisceration, embalming, lacquering, wrapping in cloth, and gilding, including descriptions of both the simple inner coffin and elaborate outer coffin, and the mortuary chapel (neiban-kyaung) where the body lay in state awaiting cremation. The article depicts the architectural and symbolic significance of the tall funeral pyres with figures of mythical beings and the role of the sat-hsaya, the craftsman in bamboo and cut paper who built them as well offering a description of the lonswethi, the tug-of-war for merit. Numerous foreign observers reported the Burmese passion for rocketry. At least three types of rockets (don) were used at pongyibyan for kindling the funeral pyre. Rockets commonly caused injury or death to spectators, and were discouraged by the British colonial government.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2010-314X
Print ISSN
1094-799X
Pages
pp. 107-136
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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