Pyu civilisation with bold brush strokes

Aung Thu Nyein
Artist Kyaw Sein Win with a painting of the Pyu alphabet. (Photo – EMG)

For nearly three decades, writer-cum-artist Kyaw Sein Win has devoted his life to a mission to unearth, save and research ancient Pyu-era artefacts near Min Bu and its environs on the west bank of the Ayeyawady River, home to the ancient Pyu civilisation.  The former school teacher is not only one of a few researchers who can read and write in Pyu, but he also owns a collection of rare Pyu-era artefacts such as burial urns, smoking pipes and beads.

While the three ancient Pyi cities –  Hanlin, Beikthano, and Sri Ksetra – are believed to be the oldest Pyu cities in Myanmar, Kyaw Sein Win argues that the Pyu civilisation thrived in Minbu and Lekai areas around 600 BC, long before the three Pyu cities came into existence as settlements. 

“While digging up the Pyu artefacts, I had this idea to create my own paintings of these historical items. Pyu people had lived on Myanmar’s land since the late Stone Age. I wanted to show how artistic their arts and crafts were and their ability to use their own alphabet that inspired the Myanmar alphabet. Through the paintings, I’d like to highlight the influence of Buddhism in Pyu culture,” said the artist.

The most striking painting depicts the Pyu alphabet written on gold leaf. Other paintings show burial urns alongside bricks inscribed with Pyu characters, beads, smoking pipes, and bracelets, coins and Pyu-style costumes depicted on those coins. 

He’s brought these artefacts and a collection of his paintings to Yangon for an exhibition titled “Sunapranta Country and I” that runs until tomorrow at Lawkanat Gallery. A lecture on the Pyu history will be held on Sunday at the gallery. These artefacts and his paintings are also on view at his family home.

“Since I created these paintings, I intended to hold an exhibition of my paintings and these Pyu artefacts. According to historical records, the country of Sunapranta stretched from Minbu, Minhla, and Kyaungtawyar to as far as Saw and Laung Shay areas. A study of Pyu bricks and beads found in those areas has shown these connections. As I was born in this area known for its rich heritage, I’ve always wanted to exhibit the Pyu artefacts. I hope the authorities will do the excavations in these areas that contain strong historical pieces of Pyu evidence,” he added.