Kyauk Myaung (Kyaukmyaung) is located at the remote junction of two dirt roads to the north of Mandalay and is one of the largest Southeast Asian pottery communities.
Kyaukmyaung is a town in Sagaing Division, Myanmar. Ships often stop here as part of tours on the Irrawaddy river cruises from Bagan to Mandalay. It is situated 46 miles north of Mandalay on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, and 17 miles east of Shwebo by road. Actually, there are four small villages in the Shwe Bo Township; Shwe Khun, Shwe Tike, Nwe Nyein, and Malar. Together these small communities run together and are referred to, by visitors, as Kyaukmyaung, consisting of 3,000 inhabitants. Kyaukmyaung is famous for the manufacture of large glazed earthenware pots sometimes known as Kyaukmyaung pots.
Ceramic traditions in this area were first started in the ma-u and Ohn Bin Villages in the 18th century when 5,000 Mon war captives were settled in the area by King Alaungpaya (1752–1760) after his conquest of Pegu (Bago). Earlier the Peguans from the south had rebelled and deposed the King of Ava. Aung Zeya (later Alaungpaya), chief of Moksobo (later Shwebo), led his countrymen in a revolt against the Mon and collected a fleet at Kyaukmyaung where he defeated the advancing Mon.
Like many ceramic artists, the life of a potter in Kyaukmyaung is marked by a rhythmic routine. Not only is there the seasonal rhythm of production, but also a weekly and daily rhythm. There are usually about 30 to 100 people that work in each pottery collective and depending on its size, each pottery develops its own rhythm of production and firing. Daily, the majority of the morning is spent squatting on the cool dirt floor in dark, low ceiling potteries. Everyone breaks for a lunch of Burmese curries followed by a nap during the hottest part of the day, usually taken on the dirt floor of the pottery studio, and then it's back to work turning pots. In the cool season, studio work usually starts at 8 a.m and goes until 4 p.m, but during the hot season, potters will start as early as 4 a.m and take a long afternoon break during the hottest part of the day. In the wet season, pottery making stops because the pots do not dry quickly enough in the humidity. The community turns to rice farming.
The Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River forms the main distribution line for pottery. Martaban Jars can be seen buried halfway beneath the soil outside of many homes all over Burma, but the practice is most common along the Irrawaddy River downstream of Kyaukmyaung. Boats are loaded in the early morning with pottery. Now I pass empty waters, not a boat in sight, but the shore is full of pots in preparation for tomorrow's shipment. Not too long ago pots used to be tied to rafts and floated down the river, but this practice has been abandoned in favor of motorboats. The majority of these pots are shipped to the Irrawaddy delta region or make their way to Mandalay and then are transferred to other transport to the Shan State in the east. Most pottery is sold within the country, but some are packed in containers further south to go on ocean liners to Malaysia, China, and Thailand.