The Thai Textile Society will present a lecture, “Lotus Stem Weaving from Shan State” by Sylvia Fraser-Lu at The Siam Society on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 10:30 a.m. She will explain the development of lotus stem weaving for monk’s robes and its continued popularity today.
Lotus-fiber weaving takes place in the eastern quarter of Kyaing Kan village, the largest settlement at the southern extremity of Inle Lake. According to informants, this activity began around 1910 when a Daw Sa Oo (Madame Sparrow’s Egg) in the interest of gaining merit set out to produce a set of robes for the highly revered abbot of a nearby monastery, from the fibers of the local padonma-kya lotus plant, which grew wild in the shallows of the lake. The delighted abbot had the weaver’s name changed to Daw Kya Oo (Madame Lotus Egg) in honor of her pious achievement. Daw Kya Oo and her friends continued to weave with lotus yarn for meritorious rather than commercial purposes, producing one or two sets of robes a year for eminent local abbots. None of Daw Kya Oo’s progeny are currently involved in weaving, but the descendants of her friends have continued the tradition.
The obscure art of weaving monk’s robes from lotus stem fibers first came to national attention in Burma at the annual Shwedagon Maho-thingan Festival. In November 1981, a team of weavers from Kyaing Kan were invited to compete in a nation-wide weaving competition to honor a Buddhist legend that asserts that Maya, the mother of the Buddha, stayed up all night in the Tavatimsa heaven on the eve of her son’s Enlightenment, to weave him a suitable robe. Weaving in a rougher fiber than their competitors, who used milled cotton, they did not win, but their sturdy beautifully woven robe caused quite a sensation amongst the devoutly Buddhist on-lookers. Such an enthusiastic reaction was not unexpected, given the symbolic importance of the lotus in Hindu-Buddhist culture.
Ms Fraser-Lu is an expert in Asian arts and carts. A New Zealander by birth, she graduated from Otago University and spent many years as an educator in a variety of teaching and administrative positions in East and Southeast Asia. Her growing interest in Asian arts and crafts led her to begin writing articles for Arts of Asia and reviews for Oriental Art in the late seventies-early eighties. Books for Oxford Press soon followed, including Indonesian Batik: Patterns Processes and Places (1986), Handwoven Textiles of South-East Asia (1988), and Silverware of South-East Asia (1989). In recent years she has turned her attention to Burma with publications such as Burmese Lacquerware (Orchid Press, 1985 and 2000, Bangkok), Burmese Crafts: Past and Present (Oxford Press 1993, Singapore), and Splendour in Wood: The Buddhist Monasteries of Burma (Orchid Press, 2001).
The suggested donation is 100 baht for members of the Thai Textile Society and the Siam Society. Members of the public are asked to donate 200 baht.
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