Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ananda Temple

A jewel among dusty pebbles, the Ananda temple rises above the plain of Bagan. Its white wedding cake terraces are crowned by a golden spire rising fifty meters above the surrounding land.

The nine hundred year old temple is a square with gates facing the cardinal points of the compass. Long whitewashed corridors with ornately carved porticos and gigantic teak doors lead to the center.

Facing each entrance stands a twelve meter tall gilded Buddha figure. Each figure is different, representing the four enlightened ones. Two of the great teak statues are originals; I was unable to find out what happened to the other two, but their modern replacements look every bit as authentic as their ancient brethren. Individuals and groups of villagers gather at their feet to seek enlightenment and provide offerings.

A corridor running around the interior houses numerous other Buddha figures in gilt niches.

Even the Indian- style spire has niches with Buddha images. Everywhere you look, Buddhas.

I spent three days between the market and the temple, watching barefoot worshipers and tourists come and go, and admiring the historic architecture.

Hundreds of monks arrived for the Ananda festival. They took turns leading followers in prayer and chanting into a public address system. this required some organization, of course.

One of the things that struck me about the design of two of the statues was the shape of the mouth. It is very peculiar looking. I remember seeing a small Buddha statue as a child and wondered why it looked so odd. Now I know. It's a sort of optical illusion that only works for extra-large statues. Imagine walking into the chamber and seeing the Buddha from the corridor. Note the serene smile as he looks down at the people sitting before him.

As you walk closer and sit at his feet, he has a remarkably different look. The smile become a look of contemplation. Very clever.

See plenty more photos in my new Smugmug gallery!

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