Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ananda Festival Morning

Five days of celebration around the Ananda Temple culminates on the morning of the full moon. The villagers leave their encampments bearing gift baskets for the monks. These are arranged on a great table in the South Eastern courtyard of the temple to be distributed to the monks after sunrise.

The offerings range from a humble bowel of rice or peanuts in a woven basket to complete care packages in monk's begging bowel with snacks, soap and toothpaste or maybe an elaborately contrived money trees using the colorful local currency.

In the North Eastern temple courtyard, the monks have gathered. Many of them had spent the night inside or huddled together for warmth beneath the trees. By sunrise, most of them had already paid their respects to the Buddhas inside and were waiting patiently for the ceremony.

Around 7am, senior monks from the temple started organizing the few hundred monks who had gathered in the courtyard. Everyone left their resting places and took care of that most important duty: wrapping themselves in their robes properly. This included winding an edge of the fabric into a tight coil and folding everything properly. The old men were most meticulous in their robes while the young boys were as young boys are. I often saw their masters instructing them on how to rearrange their robes.

The monks started to form a single line, but it was soon divided into two lines. It was not clear how it was organized, but it's safe to assume that individual monasteries stayed together. Plastic instruction cards were handed out to all the monks.

They were jammed together really tight. I don't know if was eagerness to receive their alms or an attempt to help combat the morning chill.

The monks tended to cluster in groups of their own age.

However, the most interesting photos were the young monks squeezed between their older brothers.

The line-up of monks was an amazing opportunity for interesting photographs. While the older monks remained serene throughout, the young monks were quite curious over the attention and fascinated by the foreign photographers happily snapping away.

Of course the long wait also meant that plenty of them got bored.

The rising sun was most cooperative with a clear bright sky and the perfect "golden hour" light.

With such terrific photographic conditions, I'm always amazed at how few tourists attend the event. In 2009 there were perhaps a score of photographers dashing about. Many were from Myanmar, but the majority were from Europe. I watched one particular professional spend the entire morning focused on a small group of monks off to one side. He seemed to be focusing on small details. A Japanese photographer earned my admiration by having a group of young monks stand around him for a photo. While I could not bring myself to steal his excellent idea, I did manage to grab a unique photo myself!

You would think this was a very solemn occasion, but it's really a celebration. While the older men waited patiently, the young monks were happy to fool around and enjoy the morning as best they could.

After a couple of hours, most of the monks had made their way from the North courtyard to the South. In single file, they received their basket from one of the numerous lay people distributing the gifts.

As they walked past the table, some people were providing additional offerings to the monks by stacking a few more items on top of their load. Some received so many additional items, the stack was threatening to topple over.

Once the monks had passed through, they were on their own to enjoy their gift basket. Most were happily munching on peanuts, bananas and oranges or examining the non-perishable items in their collection.

Many of the villagers were interacting with the monks, most likely family members. Eventually, people started wandering back to the market, making their way to their encampment or paying their respects to the temple Buddhas. While the market would remain for a few more days, many of the villagers packed up their ox carts and headed home that morning.

See lots more photos here!

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