Splendid honors to a dead Buddhist - elevating coffin in car to a gilded shrine, Mandalay, Burma
Photographer: Underwood and Underwood
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900 of the funeral of a Buddhist at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar). The prints show a coffin, enclosed in a tiered ceremonial bier, being pulled up a gangway to an ornate pyre, with mourners standing below. Theravada Buddhism is the state religion of Burma and after death a Burmese person would usually be cremated. Monks, mourners and a band of musicians would accompany the coffin in a procession to the place of cremation, where the pyre, often an elaborate structure, would be lit. The caption of the image describes the pyre as a “gilded shrine” but this is unlikely. A detailed caption printed on the reverse of the mount describes the scene: “…the magnificent funeral car, with gaudy trappings and filmy umbrellas shielding the coffin from the sun, is being elevated to the gilded pagoda, while the by no means mournful throng below meditates upon the rewards of piety. And such a throng! Burmese sunsets are not more gorgeous than Burmese skirts of shimmering silk. Add to this color effect that of the ever present umbrella of light silk or orange paper and the many overpowering head-dresses of twisted silken scarfs, and you get the real charm of Mandalay.” The photographs are from a collection of 36 stereoscopic views of Burma, one of a series of “stereoscopic tours” of foreign countries published as part of the ‘Underwood Travel Library’. Stereoscopic views became enormously popular from the mid-19th century onward as they enabled observers to imagine that they were really “touring” around distant parts of the world. Each pair of views, made using a special camera with two lenses, is mounted on stout card for insertion in a stereoscope or binocular viewer. This device produces the illusion of a single three-dimensional image in the mind of the observer by using the binocular function of human sight to combine the two images, which are seen from fractionally different viewpoints. The prints in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value. A few of the mounts also have instructions on the reverse (presumably for the guidance of teachers) as to what general topic the photograph illustrates.