Panbu (art of the wood sculptor)

Panbu refers to the art of sculpting with wood or similar material primarily through carving. In English, such artisans are know as woodcarvers. Woodcarving has a long history in Myanmar. and ornate wood carvings can still seen in many ancient monasteries and pagodas. However, as wood is perishable, many of the wood sculptures of Pagan and Ava periods have been lost.

Nowadays, due to a reduction in the demand for wood statues, the number of artisans adept in traditional panbu is declining.

Read the article below and identify the statements as True, False or Not Given.

  1. Carvings in wood are more durable than those made from marble or stone.

  2. Teak is naturally water resistant.

  3. Using stucco in carving is less costly than using wood.

  4. U Win Sein's nat carving was expensive as it was made with stucco.

  5. U Kyi Sen Lay believes the market for Myanmar traditional art is booming.

  6. According to Ko Thar Kyi, panbu artisans rely on the domestic market.

  7. Win Sein is optimistic about the future of for panbu artisans.


In Myanmar, wooden statues and carvings have not survived as well as those in marble or stone, due largely to the fact that they are vulnerable to decay, insect damage, and fire. Traditionally, woodcarving was done mainly using teak wood which is the world’s most valuable hardwood. Not only does over 80% of the world's teak grow in Myanmar but it is also one of the few woods in the world that has an organic oil to retard water which keeps it from cracking or becoming brittle. Thus making teak especially condusive to carving.

However, many panbu artisans now use more modern carving methods and modern materials, such as stucco (fine plaster used for moulding into decorations). One such carver is U Win Sein who practices panbu and pantaut (making floral designs using masonry) and who changed to using stucco because of a shortage of wood in recent years. Each statue Win Sein makes is unique and the cost depends on the size and how much work is involved.

One of Win Sein's most intricate creations was a statue of a nat which was decorated with gold and gems therefore making it more expensive. The stucco statues are only for the Myanmar market and are mainly ordered for religious purposes or by art lovers. While there are only a few artisans using stucco in Yangon, there are many in Mandalay who rely on their craftsmanship to make a living.

Other stucco panbu artists in Yangon include U Kyi Sen Lay, 70, who studied panbu and painting as a student between 1968 and 1971. He stated;

“I built the Karaweik [on Kandawgyi Lake], and I make statues, including of monks and nats, using panbu and pantaut. A lot of Myanmar traditional art is struggling to survive because there is not a lot of money in it.”

Another Yangon panbu artist, Ko Thar Kyi, 32 said there was a shortage of statue makers throughout the country, and stated:

“We have no export market, so are depending on orders for monasteries and pagodas,” he said. “Other countries are promoting their traditional arts and crafts and I think we should beginning selling our products overseas.”

Win Sein said traditional artists were keen to share their skills and knowledge and he wanted to open a gallery to encourage the preservation and promotion of the Ten Flowers.

“We would like to grow the market and I would like to share my experiences and work with the young generation, but they are not interested,” he said. “I think the Ten Flowers and the artists who have been keeping tradition alive will disappear in the future.”

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