India event lures me to Buddhist activity once again

Intricate sand mandala created in exquisite detail at the even.  It is described as, a cosmic diagram that represents the dwelling place of a deity.

Intricate sand mandala created in exquisite detail at the event. It is described in Asia Life magazine as a “cosmic diagram that represents the dwelling place of a deity.”

It hardly has been my intention to keep writing about Buddhism (or to post so frequently), though an overwhelming proportion of Cambodia’s population practices it and Buddhism is the state religion.

But we coincidentally more or less stumbled upon our second event in three days that focused on Buddha.  I include it here mainly because of the photos.  In overwrought language, Asia Life magazine in part describes the “Festival of India” that we attended on Sunday as follows:

Hosted by the Embassy of India in Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, the event includes a Buddhist Festival, Buddhist-themed photo exhibition and Ramayana classical dance performance by the world-renowned Kalakshetra Foundation from Chennai.

The Ramayana is a great Indian epic that is similar to Cambodia’s Reamker. Different themes from chapters of the story will be retold to the audience in a stunning sequence of tales. These include Jatayu Moksham, Mahapattabhisekam and Choodamani Pradanam.

The Buddhist Festival, which takes place at Wat Ounalum, features photo exhibition, Dharam Darshan, which explores and illustrates the life and teachings of Buddha. A fascinating exhibition of butter sculptures also takes centre stage. These sculptures are traditionally made out of coloured butter and shaped into multi-coloured pieces of art. They are offered to enlightened beings in exchange for peace, prosperity and good luck.

I had hoped to see the mandela and butter sculpture during the process of their creation, but that had happened earlier on a schedule that apparently wasn’t published.  Only after we arrived at the wat (temple) in the afternoon did we discover that the outdoor dance and music performance was to begin much later, at 5 p.m., and last for an hour.

Dancers, of which there were several groups, descending the main temple at Wat Ounalum.

Dancers arrive by descending a steep staircase of the main temple at Wat Ounalum.

To pass the time, we hung around the Riverside neighborhood, which is peopled largely by thirsty expats and those who feed on them.  Call that a symbiotic relationship.

More dancers

A large number of monks seemed to enjoy the performances, and I earlier had my first conversation with a Cambodian monk, who pleasantly instructed me to remove my hat and shoes before entering the temple.  (I knew that and was pleased that it finally has become a little less intimidating for me to approach a monk.)

As for the rhythmic singing, it somehow was simultaneously intriguing and monotonous.  The music, both the voices and the instruments, sounded guttural to me, and I’ll be polite here by describing it as reminiscent of repeated belching at measured intervals.

The dancing eventually wore thin as well, seeming, as it did to our untrained eyes, to be mostly repetitious.

Sculpture composed of colored butter that, with a close-by fan directed at the creation, hadn't melted.

Sculpture composed of colored butter that, with a close-by fan directed at the thing, hadn’t melted.

Still, we sat there for a good hour and a half — yes, a half hour longer than advertised — before walking home even as the event continued.  I chalk up the time spent as a brief and illuminating journey into a different culture, and a mild adventure well worth having undertaken.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

These musicians were first to perform.  Unfortunately, the photo doesn't capture how long are the instruments at the far right.

These musicians were first to perform. Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t capture the full length of the instruments at the far right; how they were able to produce sound nonstop for many minutes confounds me.  If you’ve ever tried to force a bleat from a ram’s horn, then you can appreciate the feat.

This group of dancers was one of several, all of them fancifully consumed and masked telling stories we couldn't comprehend.

These two dancers were in one of several groups, all of them fancifully costumed and masked, telling stories that we had no hope of comprehending.

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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