The Bowl

Burma Bowl - color

During the Tenth Anniversary of Burma-Bucknell Weekend, His Excellency U Win, Ambassador from the Union of Burma to the United States, presented a beautifully hand-crafted silver bowl from the President of the Union of Burma and Mrs. Win Maung, "symbolizing 100 years of friendly relationship between the people of Burma and Bucknell university." Motifs of contemplation, peace, and tranquility are worked into the locally mined silver. The hand-carved stained teakwood stand is supported by three half-lion, half-dog chinthes who are the protectors of the bowl.

The Story Embossed on the Bowl

One of the most famous birth stories of the Buddha, that of the Vessantara Jataka, is embossed on the bowl. A Burmese interpreter provided this translation:

Vessantara was the King of Sivi. His whole life was entirely devoted to charity. At that time, the neighboring kingdom of Kalinga, having suffered a severe drought for a number of years, sent emissaries to Sivi to ask for the white elephant which was considered to give beneficial rains. Vessantara gave away the white elephant to the emissaries and as a result, was banished from the country.

The King and his family, therefore, left Sivi in a chariot for the Himalayas. Not long after they had started on their journey, some brahmins stopped the chariot and asked for it. Vessantara gave it away unhesitatingly and continued his journey on foot. On the Himalayas, he led the life of a hermit, living on the fruits his wife, Maddi Devi, gathered for him from the jungle.

One day, while Maddi Devi was away in the jungle, an old Brahmin by the name of Suzaka ventured into the Himalayas to ask for Vessantara's children, Zali and Ganazein. Vessantara gave them away to Suzaka. Much as his heart was filled with sympathy to watch his children - his own flesh and blood - being ill-treated by Suzaka while trying to take them away, he did not allow his emotions to get the better of his charitable mind. And when Maddi Devi learnt this on her return, she was stricken with grief at first, but she afterwards said to Vessantara: "I will not be a hindrance to you, my husband. If it pleases you, give me away also as a gift."

Then the Chief of Gods, Sakka, made a final test on Vessantara's generosity. He appeared as a Brahmin before Vessantara and asked for his wife to be his, Brahmin's slave. Vessantara knew he must overcome all desire and anguish so, without hesitation, he offered his wife to the Brahmin. After this act of liberality, the Chief of Gods revealed himself and promised to grant any wish of Queen Maddi. She asked that her children be brought safely to their grandparents and her request was met.

In the end, the throne was restored to Vessantara who could then continue to do his never-ending acts of charity, as the Chief of Gods had brought down a rain of jewels filling all the city for Vessantara.

The engravings on the bowl depict scenes from the story in the following order of sequence:

  1. Vessantara giving away the white elephant to the emissaries
  2. Vessantara leaving his country for Himalayas
  3. Vessantara giving away the chariot to the brahmins
  4. Vessantara offering his children to Suzaka
  5. Queen Maddi meeting lions and tigers in the jungle when she went in search of fruits
  6. Brahmin Suzaka being threatened by a hunter while trying to venture into Himalayas