Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mother and Child at the That Ing Hang - Savannakhet Tales

Lao Wats (buddhist temples) are community institutions bearing the responsibility of performing certain rituals that ensure the prosperity of a community. This includes summoning good health for the people and the fecundity of the farm lands. These practices aren’t too remote from Catholic practices – like sending dozens of crates of eggs to a nunnery to ensure good weather during a celebration or feast; celebratory offerings for special intentions like making the grade or getting your romantic feelings reciprocated; even prayerful congregations for the souls of the departed.

I arrived in That Ing Hang’s halcyon bewilderment, feeling relaxed and grateful that I once again made it to one of South Laos’ holiest temple grounds. That buddha once rested here – leaning against a tree, while convalescing from a sickness, I was awash with contemplation. After paying my entrance fee, I noticed the very few people coming in – mostly women, bearing offerings. I have none on my hand, but a camera and a curious demeanor. I have a few intentions to whisper – I know someone might just be listening; just for safe travels.

A Lao woman carrying her child spoke to her in a tender voice, her tone in a sacharine singsong, motherly and comforting, I wish I understood Lao. The little girl, decked in pink dress and bunny head band, stared at her mother. She was holding a pair of white tulips, while her mom was clutching a pyramidal offering made of coconut-leaf.

Such offerings are ordinary day opportunities to gain “boon” (merits). According to Laovoices.com, “Flowers will bring in beauty”. The “lotus” is one of the 8 auspicious symbols in buddhist household and public art. It represents the primordial purity of the body, speech and mind, floating above the muddy waters of “attachment” and “desire”. The ultimate goal is the full blossoming of wholesome deeds in blissful liberation. “Nirvana” should stand along this concept.

Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi once wrote, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained!”

Savannakhet allows backpackers to slow down. Despite some other people’s frenetic itinerary, there’s no way other than immersing in the laidback nature of this place. It is quite – “shockingly quiet!” as one traveler described it. I like that, but sometimes you do feel that Savannakhet needs a little shaking to nudge its people from its somnolence. After all, a border town (Thailand's Mukdahan is just across the Mekong) should be bustling with activity, instead of being slumbering while the rest of the world is moving in frenzied motion.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


Siddhartha Joshi said...

This is a beautiful post...I can imagine how quietness in a temple like this be so soothing. I also visited a place like this recently (yet to write about it), and felt so much at peace with myself there...

Its nice that you share the small details about the offerings, customs etc in your posts :)

Ola said...

The first picture is really a very good shot!

eye in the sky said...

@ Sidd:

I will hopefully be able to read your post on that soon.

eye in the sky said...

@ Ola:

Thanks. Kinda like the image of the child. So cute.