Wednesday, October 15, 2008

M Is For Monks

Alms And The Man

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


The last place you’d expect to find Buddhist monks is outside the duty-free complex. No, no, relax, they weren’t flesh-and blood monks clad in their distinctive robes; just a row of figures slightly higher than a metre and a half at most.

We were just walking in to the downtown duty-free building in Langkawi, Malaysia, in mid-July, when I noticed the monks. They were beautifully carved from what looked like sandstone and I wish now that I had made some inquiries about who had crafted them and what material had been used.

The word "monk" comes from the Greek "monos", meaning "alone". Thus the idea of a monastic existence is one of solitude. In that historical respect, it’s intriguing to note that there are five monks in this composite sculpture.

These monks were not just placed in a hall or a corridor. They graced the open wing of a downstairs restaurant. Like real Buddhist monks with their bowls, they were in the open, exposed to the elements with the tropical sun beating down on them.

To the right of the monks, the restaurant itself was shaded by a high roof and generous, cool shadows. But to the left of the figures was bright early-afternoon light as well as cool green palms. All in all, it was a challenging situation for a photographer. On one side the light was harsh, while the other was in deep shade.

So I decided on three shots, to try and capture light and shade alike and to emphasise the unusual colours of the carved figures. It’s interesting to note that the central point of each figure is not the face but the traditional alms bowl, in which real monks collect offerings such as cooked food or coins from local folk.

My attention was also drawn to the detail - have a look at the folds of the robes over their shoulders and you’ll see how much care has been taken to render them lifelike. Finally, have a close look at their faces. At first they might appear to be clones of each other, but then you realise that each has a distinct expression.

Nirvana, I guess, has many faces.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

41 comments:

Hilary said...

Three beautiful photos - each from wonderful perspectives.

pat houseworth said...

When I was at Nha Trang Air Base during the Vietnam War, Budda and Buddhist Monks were always a favorite photo subject of mine....these are great.

RiverPoet said...

What cool sculptures, David! I imagine that this was a challenge to photograph, but you'd never know it, given your talented eye.

Peace - D

Charles Gramlich said...

Very neat. Baby monks.

Mrs. Organic said...

I agree with Hilary - beautiful shots. I love how you help us take a 2nd look at their faces. So many things escape our notice at first glance. Truly lovely!

I imagine you can't take a bad photo.

nina said...

Very interesting--I especially like the light in the last one!
Did you feel as if you were being watched?

Maggie May said...

Wonderfully effective. Great photos, as always.

aims said...

These just make me feel calm. Wonderful.

Akelamalu said...

I just love those monks David, they are so serene and you are right, they do each have a different expression. :)

San said...

David, I too was drawn to the distinctiveness of each face. And your sentence "Nirvana, I guess, has many faces" is beautifully resonant. Maybe you were a sage in another life. Correction. Maybe you are a sage in THIS life.

Ivar Ivrig said...

Interesting M. Great photos. Well done :-)

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wow, the details are amazing. I find it very neat that each Monk has a different expression. As always, thanks for sharing your wonderful photographs.

polona said...

you always seem to present your motives in an interesting way.
love these monks

jams o donnell said...

Great shots. They certainly made for an excellent photo opportunity.

joan said...

You always make me look at things in ways I probably never would have thought of. This was a very interesting post!

RuneE said...

I new it wasn't easy to be a monk. Now I know that it isn't easy to make or take picture of one either.

Sandi McBride said...

The artist who created these perfect little specimens has captured the spirit of the sweetfaced monks...as have you...so, I guess I'll dub you "the Artists Artist", okay?
Sandi

richies said...

Awesome artwork, and the photography is great too. Thanks for such an interesting ABC post

SandyCarlson said...

These are amazing, David. What a great reminder this is of the Buddhist grace in which one is reminded to think of everyone in the world who contributed to a given meal. By the time the grace ends (dinner is cold) you realize everyone in the world made the meal possible. Beautiful thing.

Great images.

ellen b said...

How interesting. I like the different angles of the shots you took.

leslie said...

Wonderful group of photos! There is a Buddhist temple right near where I live and people can go in and take a look around. It's always very busy in tourist season.

Rocky Mtn. Girl said...

Monks... all with very beautiful views, shadows and details. Nice post indeed!
~Michele~
Mountain Retreat-Canada

Kim from Hiraeth said...

I like the three perspectives. The light was cooperating! : D

(I linked to one of your verse and worse poems today!)

ChrisC and JonJ said...

They are so serene looking.Beautiful.

sandyland said...

wonder why that number??

babooshka said...

These are very interesting little things. Each one does have a unique expression. Another great find.

Betsy said...

They have such pleasant, sweet faces!

Luiz Santilli Jr said...

Interesting post!
When I have time I like to read Dalai Lama!

Luiz

Jenn said...

Very great shots...

My M entries are posted here and here. Please drop by if you have time. Thanks a lot!

Greyscale Territory said...

You are right! The faces are subtly distinct! Beautiful photos!

ArneA said...

If "monk" comes from the Greek "monos", meaning "alone" what is the name used in Malaysia or in Tibet.
I believe the "monks" in these areas existed prior to Hellas and 500ad

spacedlaw said...

Neat! I particularly like the last picture.

Reader Wil said...

Interesting post. I like the serene, meditating faces of these monks.

fishing guy said...

David: What really wonderful captures. You really think out your shots. Shamefully. I take the shots then see what I got.

Old Wom Tigley said...

Monk-tastic David.. :O) Made very good reading I might add.

Your old friend
Tom

Rose said...

A very interesting post and great photos!

lisaschaos said...

I love the row of Monks! I like that last shot of them!

Therese said...

I like very much the way you present your pictures. It makes us think and look twice at what we see.
There is so much in your blog I enjoy so much every single time.

CrazyCath said...

Beautiful craftsmanship, cleverly captured. Simple yet intricate sculptures.
Some of the faces seem almost childlike. Great M.

Neva said...

I did not notice the faces until you mentioned it..isn't that amazing? wow....

Powell River Books said...

Very serene monks. Near where I taught school there was a monastery. The monks often invited us to use their facility for conferences. It was an opportunity for us to get to know them and their customs better. I invite you to come see my "Margy's Mouse Mechanism". -- Margy