9 March 2013
Reflection in Ayutthaya
“When you look deep into my light blue eyes,
You will see your reflection and the skies.
Wink once, you will realise that time flies:
Why do you wait to live and be more wise?”
– Hakyma Omyra
The monk’s beady eyes were looking straight at me – I was captivated by them in the soft-lit atmosphere of the 700-year old temple. The numerous, parallel wrinkles on his forehead were the witness of his infinite and ancient wisdom. He was watching me in silence. I dared not speak. I couldn’t tell his age, but his golden skin had been gradually eaten away. Golden? It was gilded actually – that’s when I realised the monk was not alive but a mere life-size statue. The gold leaves had been scraped off his skin, although not completely, so Buddhists could buy new, small squares of gilded paper to be applied on the statue.
I had thought the visit of Wat Phanan Choeng, a temple in the Thai city of Ayutthaya, would take me an hour at most, thus allowing me to cycle to some other temples before the sunset. Even if I try to force myself to enjoy life more slowly, I can’t stop optimising, my itinerary in particular. But there was too much to admire in this temple, from the abundance of colours to the tangle of beams and the vibrant life of the temple: people receiving blessings from monks, monks (perhaps not temporary ones?) themselves receiving blessings for the saffron orange robes they presented on a platter, the minute details of the ritual objects that I loved to capture in front of a blurred background, the little statues covered with too many pearl necklaces, or even those two simple frangipani flowers – one of which had its edges already brown – resting next to a funerary stele.
You’ll notice the swastika symbol on the chest of one of the statues. In case you didn't know, this equilateral cross with four arms is widely used in Buddhism (in Hinduism and Jainism too), symbolising eternity and good fortune. I learned that swastikas have also been used in various other ancient civilisations, even dating back to more than ten thousand years ago. I guess we’ll have to wait the same amount of time before people inexorably forget about the slightly rotated version of the symbol…