Pilgrims, healers and wizards: Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand

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At the British Museum, London, from 2nd October 2014 – 11th January 2015:

Pilgrims, healers and wizards: Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand

Featuring objects from the 18th century to the present, this exhibition shows the variety of religious practices in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, and how Buddhism, spirit worship, divination and other activities interact.

Western views of Buddhism in the 19th and early 20th centuries presented it as an austere, monolithic religion focused on meditation and nirvana, the escape from the cycles of rebirth. In reality, practitioners in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand have long sought to improve their lives through a fusion of overlapping activities such as spirit worship, divination, numerology and homage to the Buddha. People select these rituals according to their personal needs to cope with everyday life, to form individual spiritual pathways to felicitous rebirths or to strive for nirvana.

This exhibition draws on the strengths of the British Museum’s mainland Southeast Asian holdings, primarily Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand – countries that have a long history of interaction and share some fundamental religious beliefs and practices. Objects range from model stupas (Buddhist relic mounds), silver, banners, textiles and images of the Buddha to popular posters, glass paintings and mass-produced, stamped cloths with protective diagrams (yantra), reflecting the many outlets for religious expression. The show explores how the various beliefs, revealed in lively daily practices, comprise the main religious systems in the region.

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