Museums are the best places to go when in a foreign land and when trying to understand its local culture, traditions and history. Museums are not only attractive for its displays but also educational in purpose and activities. Countries that have not been open to global scrutiny, such as Myanmar, for so many years may easily be misunderstood in so many ways. Visiting museums is a good way for the West to better understand the country, and the National Museum of Myanmar does not disappoint.
Established in 1952, the National Museum of Myanmar was moved from its original location to a more spacious building on Pansodan Street in 1970. Today, the museum is found on Pyay Road in a 5-storey building with beautifully landscaped grounds. Priceless ancient Burmese artifacts are seen in the many rooms and halls of the museum; there are four halls on the first floor, exhibit halls for important historical relics on the second floor, exhibits on prehistoric Myanmar on the third floor and rooms containing natural history on the fourth. The major rooms and halls include the following.
The Throne Room features miniature models of Myanmar’s eight traditional thrones. The most prominent throne is the magnificent Royal Lion Throne, which was used by the country’s last monarch, King Thibaw. This majestic throne is heavily gilded and made of smoothed local timber that is richly decorated with lion images at its base. It is never removed from the “Hluttaw” Hall or Hall of the Council of Ministers. The king sat on this throne whenever he declared important judgments and addressed his ministers on state affairs.
Another room is the 19th-century Ratanabon Period Exhibit Hall, which displays traditional clothes and fashions, pieces of furniture and old household items, including a palanquin used by the chief monk of King Thibaw. The palanquin, a covered seat in which important people were carried around on the shoulders of four servants, has a gilded roof and three spires.
The Royal Regala Hall displays ornamented relics that were prominently used through the centuries in important royal ceremonies of ancient kings and queens. An old royal betel box shaped like a Brahminy (Hamsa) bird demonstrates the high standard of craftsmanship observed by local artisans in the past.
Meanwhile, the Hall of Myanmar History reveals pagodas, temples and monasteries from the Bagan Period, as well as intriguing murals of the Pinya, Innwa, Taungoo, Nyaungyan and Konbaung periods. The most notable relics on display here are the rare ancient votive tablets that depict Jataka stories or life stories of the Lord Buddha.
Finally, the Hall of Pre-historic Times showcases a model of the Padalin Cave that was determined to be more than 10,000 years old. Dug from this cave and now on display are prehistoric stone weapons and bronze weapons from a later age, clay pots, urns, tablets and necklaces, some dating back from the first century to the 9th century. There are also prehistoric paintings found inside the cave. Other rare archeological finds on display are a number of silver chedis (stupas) and fossils that are millions of years old. An anthropoid primate fossil is believed to be about 40 million years old. It was unearthed in the Pondaung Region of Upper Myanmar. These prehistoric treasures reveal just how extensive the collections are inside the National Museum of Myanmar.