late 19th century (made)


Length: 210 cm, Width: 170.5 cm, Length: 72 in, Width: 60 in

IS.16-1961 SSEA

Hanging or Kalaga of embroidered silk and cotton, Burma, late 19th century

Hanging or Kalaga of embroidered silk and cotton, with stitch-work and appliqué with silver-gilt threads and sequins. Design mainly in black, red, pink and silver on a green ground. The top panel include miscellaneous scenes from the Candakinnari Jataka and Manohari. While the main picture at the bottom is from Ummadanti Jataka. Smaller groups of figures are used as space fillers. Top section left is a scene from the Jataka or play Candakinnari. Two figures represent the kinnari lovers Candakinnara and his mate Candkinnari. In the middle left is the king of Varanasi who has just shot the male kinnari as he had fallen for its beautiful companion. Before him are a smaller group of four men and an equestrian figure unconnected with the story. In the top central section is a princely figure with his consort, probably unconnected with the story, and used merely as a 'filler'. To the left is a scene from another play Dway Mai Naw (Manohari or Manohara, based on the Panji cycle of plays from Malaysia and Indonesia). In Burma it is also known as Ma Ngwe TAung (Miss Silver Hill as her magical kingdom was claimed to be located on this hill in the Kayah State). In the scene, the distraught heroine has donned her magic wings and tail and is about to fly back to her kingdom rather than face being sacrificed to the Hone Nat (spirit). Below her, Prince Thudanu, her husband, holds up their infant son for her to see (this is an incorrect interpretation, for in the original story he is away at the time this tragic event takes place). In front of the prince is a lady in a bullock cart, another space 'filler'. A band of sequined circles separates the top and the bottom section. In the top left section of the bottom panel, a richly dressed princely couple are in conversation with an attendant. The central area is composed of the principal scene from the play Ohmadani (based on the Ummadanti Jataka). King Sivi (Thiwi) who is out riding his elephant is suddenly confronted by the dazzlingly beautiful Ohnmadani, who pelts him with flowers, with the result that the king becomes besotted by her. Unfortunately, she is the wife of his General Abhipayaka, who gallantly offers her to the king, "he tells the King he is willing to give Ummandanti to him, but cautions him against the wiles of women, whereupon the King renounces her." (Identification of scenes by Noel Singer 2002) A double border surrounds the central design: the outer one contains framed representations of fan tailed peacocks, chinthe's, king on a white elephant, standing and seated court figures alternating with stylised flower heads. A chain of flower heads decorates the inner border.

This is a fine example of a Burmese pictorial textile hanging known as a kalaga. The owner would have used it either as a decorative wall hanging, a room partition, or as a screen hung outside the house on festive occasions. This one is made of green silk with an appliqué design in various colours and materials. It illustrates episodes from the popular Candakinnari and Ummadanti Jatakas stories--about the Buddha's former lives--and from the Manohari legend (see IS 2-1963). The costumes of the figures are depicted in the stylised tradition of Burmese theatre and relate to the fashions worn in the Mandalay Court of about 1880. The kalaga itself dates to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Britain had taken control of the whole of Burma by 1885. The extravagant style of kalagas appealed to Burmese and Europeans alike and their popularity soared in the middle of the 19th century. This example was collected by Sir Adam Beattie Ritchie during the time he worked with Burmah Oil at the beginning of the 20th century.

The costumes of the figures on the hanging are based on those worn by the Mandalay Court ca. 1880 and depicted in the stylised tradition of Burmese theatre. The Kalaga was originally owned by Sir Adam and Lady Ritchie and was acquired by them while they lived in Burma.

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website