Saturday, January 18, 2014

Busy With Buddhas

18 January 2014

Wow we've been busy!  Richard's brother Sandy and his wife Jody arrived, and we've been racing around touring temples, the palace, and all kinds of sites and sights.  Busy!

Of course, I have photo after photo, because everything is gorgeous and incredible and a feast for the eyes and visual overload for an artist.  Just wonderful!

So, the highlights that we've visited:

We started with the Temple of the Golden Buddha, or in Thai, Sukhothai Traimit.  (Of course, it would be written in the wonderfully curly Thai alphabet, which is comprised on 44 consonants and I’m not sure how many vowels).  This temple houses a HUGE gold Buddha, the largest Golden Buddha image in the world.  Not the largest gold-coloured Buddha, but the largest Buddha made of actual gold.  Pure gold.  

So of course this Buddha is absolutely amazingly beautiful.  It’s twelve and a half feet (four meters) in diameter, and almost sixteen feet (five meters) tall.  It weighs about five and a half tonnes!!!  Really, over 10,000 pounds!  About 5,000 kilos!!!  Can you imagine how heavy that is?  Huge and heavy!

At some point in time, this incredible piece of sculpture was covered in plaster to hid it from enemies invading Thailand at the time (no one is exactly sure when this was).  The “plaster” Buddha was installed as the main image in the temple in Sukhothai, the capital of Thailand at that time.  Fast forward to about 1930, the temple was deserted, and the Buddha was moved to its current location.  A new temple was built in 1955 and the “plaster” Buddha was being moved to this new temple – but it was so heavy, it was accidentally dropped and some of the plaster came off – and it was discovered to be solid gold.  Really, no one is sure how it was forgotten after all those years, but that’s the story.

The buildings at this temple are gorgeous and of course gold, to match the Golden Buddha – with beautiful painted designs on the walls instead of wallpaper, and lovely mirror mosaic and gold-painted moulding around doors and windows.  The embellishments are beautiful, everywhere.





Then we headed to the flower market – and while that sounds somewhat boring, it really was fascinating.  Buddhists bring offerings to shrines, temples, stupas (a shrine, temple, pagoda that houses a relic or marks the location of a major event or occurrence).  

Flowers are a favourite offering because they are beautiful, fragrant, pleasing to more than one sense, and I would guess they are also easy to transport.  As well as ephemeral – their transient nature mimics the human condition in warp drive.  So there are major flower markets in many locations.  We were told to not touch and not smell the flowers – these flowers are for Buddha, and to smell them would offend Buddha.  

Anyway, there were roses.  Daisies.  Orchids of every shape and size and colour.  Florist making flower arrangements, or garlands of saffron mums.  Stalls of ribbons to embellish the flowers.  Stall after stall and more flowers than you’d think could be grown in one country.  

There was also a section of fruits.  I’m not sure if fruit are added to some of the arrangements, or if fruit can be used as an offering on its own, or what.  The fruit was almost as gorgeous as the flowers, and smelled almost as good as we walked by – but the stands with stargazer lilies and roses were my favourites, because they were so fragrant, lovely scents filling the air, enticing the buyers as well as the sightseers.

I know I use words like “incredible” and “amazing” all the time, but sometimes there really aren’t too many other words to describe places like the Bangkok flower market.

Then on to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, or Wat Pho.  (“Wat” is “Temple” in Thai.)  Buddha is seen in a number of poses, and one of them is the reclining position.  This wat is one of the oldest and largest in Bangkok, and houses one of the largest single Buddha images (160 feet long, or nearly 50 meters).   HUGE!  This is one of those sights that is overwhelming!  You really cannot see the entire statue adequately all at once, it is just too big!  It’s amazing, incredible, you can’t believe it’s made by people, it is beautiful, it is magnificent, and it is, again, overwhelming.

And the feet – the feet are inlaid with mother of pearl in all kinds of intricate designs and patterns, showing various points still used in reflexology and Thai massage.

We walk around the Reclining Buddha, and he is just as amazing from the back as he is from the front.  The details in the huge pillows, the little curls to create the look of hair, all make this one of those phenomenal artworks that almost defines a culture or style of art.

Again, as all temples or wats, there are temples bells, various buildings, other smaller statues of Buddha in a variety of positions – apparently the various positions signify different poses of meditation on the path to enlightenment, but also correspond to the days of the week, depending on which tour guide you listen to.  (Really, we heard a variety of explanations.)  The position of Buddha’s hands also have different meanings, but all lead to the path of peace.

The stupas and architectural embellishments were all ceramic mosaic – flowers made out of little circles of glazed clay, mouldings and dragons and gargoyles in ceramic mosaic – just thinking about all the work to create all of this made my head spin!  I have no idea how long it took to build this temple complex, nor how many workers were involved.  But the intricate work must have taken forever and employed umpteen craftspeople or slaves or monks – I can’t find anyone who knows who did the actual work, it was so long ago.

There were beautiful warrior statues guarding the various entrances, some of them looking fierce while others looked 
more benevolent.  

And of course monks.  Buddhist monks are sort of a combination of holy men, priest, teacher, historian, keeper of the culture and traditions, scribe, all rolled into one.  We saw very young men who I would guess are novices, and older monks who have obviously been there quite a while.  And the robes vary from almost a saffron yellow to yellow ochre to a bright tangerine orange.  At first we thought the colours might signify different orders of Buddhism, or years in the order, or some kind of status.  But looking at the monks, it doesn’t seem as if one colour is worn at each temple or by one age group, it seems quite mixed.  So we think maybe it’s personal preference.  (It seems way too chutzpadik to walk up to a monk and ask about this, so we’ll keep trying to figure this out.)

And yes, of course it seems strange to have all this gold in the temples when there are people in the country who are poor, and homeless, and hungry.  Families who can’t feed all their children.  People (not many, but some) begging on the streets.  Monks who ask for alms. 

But we in the west are sort of similar – think of all the treasures in the Vatican.  Or the gold and silver in whatever house of worship you attend.  Point is, humans have always created art and beautiful objects and treasures in the name of whatever deity they worship or revere.  In fact, until just a few centuries ago, almost ALL artwork was created for worship or places of worship.  Very little art was created for everyday objects or just to beautify homes.  (An exception, of course, are the Maori people, who turned boring objects like fishhooks into objects of art – but that’s why their art is so fascinating.)  Anyway, humans in all cultures create religious art objects made of precious materials such as metals and gems.  And in Thailand, those objects are Buddhas, temples, stupas.  Rather than mosques or synagogues or cathedrals or totem poles or masks or any of the other items we humans create. 

Okay, this was all in our first day!  So my summary for the next several days of touring will have to wait until tomorrow.  Trust me, the blog is back and full of photos! 

1 comment:

  1. ...I’m not sure how many vowels... >>> 26.

    Glad to know that you like my country (and my hometown, Chiang Mai) thought there are some trouble in BKK due to the politics. On behalf of Thai, sorry about that. Welcome back and be our guest anytime!