Monday, 10 December 2012

Bananas for Buddha

Temple at Inle Lake

I promised to say a bit more about Burma ( now known as Myanmar), and my photographic efforts whilst travelling there. As a proper tourist, travelling with a large group of professional travellers, by coach, it wasn't my idea of a  photographic expedition. Being in a group one has very little time to stop and explore when the mood takes, having deadlines for getting back on the coach, and always travelling at the wrong time of the day for photography. Most of our companions had been to more countries than I have even heard of. I couldn't attempt to compete with their tales of camping in the Mongolian steppes , climbing at altitude in Nepal or trekking in the desert sun in Africa.

Burma is a fascinating country, and the people are very friendly.

But there are a lot of temples.

Every day we visited another gold encrusted temple, saw Buddhas of different shapes and sizes and local people making offerings as a means to a better life.

The activities of 'kuthko' (merit making) are the Myanmar people's approach to a better life, and include

  • offering food to monks
  • donating to temples
  • regular worship at the local 'Paya" (Buddhist monument)

Stuppas at Inn Dain
As we traipsed around with our guide, who knew less about the local history than we could glean from our Lonely Planet guidebook, I became fascinated with the offerings that people were making to Buddha. In all of the temples prayers were being offered, but what surprised me most were the offerings of food and drink to Buddha.

Often the temples were dark, and people were praying, so I didn't want to use my flash.

I decided to try making a series of images in black and white at high ISO inside the temples, as a record of offerings being made to Buddha.

In Myanmar buddhism 'giving' blesses the one who gives as well as the one who receives. As an example, in local tea shops free tea is available on all the tables, however basic the shop, as a means of the proprietors giving something to their customers.

tea free for customers in a local market
Imagine getting free tea in a high street coffee shop in the UK. It just wouldn't happen. We have only recently persuaded restaurants to willingly serve tap water.

Some tea stalls are more appealing than others; a typical roadside cafe 

Apart from tea as a form of offering, other forms of giving to Buddha include

  • saying prayers
  • giving flowers,
  • water
  • fruit and other foods, especially bananas
  • light
  • incense
  • gold leaf placed onto a Buddha image ( only men allowed to do this)
  • cleansing rituals
  • and recitation of Pali texts ( the words of Buddha from his teachings)

Baskets of bananas and flowers on sale outside the temple at the full moon festival in Yangon

offerings inside the temple at Yangon

 a glass of water for Buddha

multiple glasses of water for Buddha

Girls waiting for a procession carry money as gifts

In the temple there are separate glass boxes for locals and for tourists to donate money

cleansing rituals at the temple are common

I was surprised to see food offered in ready meal cartons

biscuits and cake for Buddha

And had to send my other half to get this image of men applying gold leaf to a Buddha.

gold leaf application 

Female monks wear pink in Myanmar; here is one at prayer

Buddhist texts

So where are my black and white images, I hear you say?

Monochrome seems a little serious for a blog article about travel to a colourful place.

So I will leave you with just one, of a light bulb and some money inside a dark temple

light bulb and money at the foot of a Buddha image inside a temple

As you can see, it is quite dark, hence the need for a high ISO and my preference for monochrome.

I'd be interested to know which you prefer?

And you might also like to know that we bumped into Cliff Richard at a local airport, having his "summer holiday".

Or you might not.

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