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A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond      Vol.4   No.4     July September 2005

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By: Terence Tan


My insatiable thirst for ancient ornamental crafts keeps me traveling to various parts of the country to visit ancient sites and likely sources, looking happily over this little thing and that. It was on one such trip to Mandalay checking up a source that I first noticed a small, dice- shaped bead among other artifacts. At first, my attention was drawn to the other, more familiar items but when my eyes fell on the unusual bead I was startled. It was a rectangular, hollow gold piece with auspicious Pyu symbols measuring 8.10 x 8.76 x 11.77 mm and weighing 1.5 gm.
                 
When I looked closer, I found boreholes in each of the center of a lotus blossom on opposite sides, formed with repousee and chasing work. On the remaining four sides are the symbols of Srivasta (The Holy House), Bhaddha- pith a (The Throne), Sankha (The conch shell), and the twin-fish. The symbols are set within decorative designs, so they stood out from other representations of the symbols. From what I could find out the origin of the bead was Halin, an ancient Pyu city in Upper Myanmar.

I was fascinated with this bead, and from then on, I started looking out for more of the same style. I gathered that a few others have been unearthed but there are not many around. I also tried to find references to the dice-shaped beads in archaeology journals and papers, particularly those with symbols. No such references have been found. I made a vow to myself, there and then, that someday I would write about these fascinating beads.


The gold dice bead with symbols of conch shell, twin-
fish, Sirivatsa, and Bhaddapitha.

    
The gold dice bead with symbols of conch shell, Sirivatsa,
twin fish and other auspicious symbols.

Therefore, I started look- ing for more dice beads on my .survey trips. It was not until months later that I came across another one, from Myinmu. It is similar to the first one in shape and use of symbols but slightly bigger. The setting of the symbols is also different but both can definitely be identified as Pyu origin. The third bead found from Halin is similar to the first two in style but a bit smaller. Here, the wheel replaced the twin-fish symbol. It is also a little heavier since more gold was used, It could be termed as semi-solid.

The gold dice bead with symbols of conch shell, Srivatsa,
Bhaddapitha, and twin fish.


I began to wonder whether there would be any other variations in style since the three were quite similar. To my delight, a collector friend happened to find a gilded dice bead from Hmaw Zar, ! measuring 7.86 x 7.56 x 10.26 mm and weighing 3.4 gm. Hmaw Zar used to be part of srikestra, the famous ancient Pyu kingdom. This bead is gilded bronze. Engraved in single lines on the four faces are the symbols, srivasta, Bhaddhapitha, the twin-fish, and the swastika. Some flat gold beads were also un- earthed from the area. Most of them are rectangular with the usual Pyu symbols fabri- cated with gold wire and granulation.

Apart from the gold dice beads with symbols, some with images of animals such as elephants, lions, bulls, horse, and the garuda bird, have been found from Halin, Ayardaw near Halin, and Hmawzar in Sriksetra.


Bhaddapitha Srivatsa
From that time on dice beads started coming my way. My collector friends informed me whenever they got hold of what they called my "babies", A friend from Mawlamyaing luckily managed to obtain some solid gold beads with Pyu symbols, Srivasta, Bhaddhapitha, conch shell, swast\ka, or the twin fish from the Suvanabhummi site, Suvanabhummi is the early Mon kingdom contemporary to that of the Pyu. In addition to the usual symbols, new ones are seen such as a cross and dots, a human figure, wheel, and an auspicious symbol that resembles a zedi surrounded by dots. Compared with those found in Upper Myanmar, they are very small. However, up to that time, I assumed from the use of Pyu symbols that dice beads were Pyu innovations. The said symbols might have an auspicious significance and they are somewhat like Pyu symbols on most of the deco- rative ornaments, coins, personal items, and even pottery. Coins and other personal items bearing Pyu marks are known to have spread to as far as Oc-Eo in Southern Vietnam.
Twinfish Swastica

Pyu Coins with Symbol
It was fortunate in a way that I was somewhat too busy with my other obligations to get around to writing about these exotic beads until 2003. Had I been able to do so, I would have provided faulty information. I was flabbergasted when in 2003 an incredible found was made in Taung-tha-man Neolithic site: a terracotta dice bead. This bead is about 8 x 6 x 6 cm with boreholes through the center of a lotus blossom on opposite sides. On the other four sides are the images of a seated male, a seated female; a male lion, and a female lion.

The designs were most probably punched into the clay. It dawned upon me that these prehistoric people must be the innovators of the dice beads that fascinate me no end and that the Pyu people were the modifiers. This find of a terracotta dice bead left me in awe and wonder at the unique expressions of aesthetic notions, creativity, and resourcefulness of our ancestors.

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