The next stop on our tour in Penang was to a different type of temple, this time the Dhamikarama Burmese Temple, the only Burmese Buddhist Temple outside of Myanmar. Built in 1803, it shows that there have been Burmese people living in Penang for a very long time. The types of statues here are very different from those at the Kek Lok Si Temple that we’d visited earlier in Penang.
There is no one correct way to depict the Buddha as can be seen by the many different versions of the Buddha in different temples and by the different decorations.
Craftsmen are likely to be influenced by the type of Buddhism they practice, their culture, the type of statues that they have been brought up to know and worship, as well as by their own creative inspiration.
Hand positions mean different things. The palms and fingers pointing upwards and held close to the chest and pressed together is called namaskara, anjali or simply namaste (prayer) and means “I bow to you”.
This venerable monk tied a sacred thread around Brian’s wrist.
Candles are bought and lit and offered to the gods. These are made in the shape and colour of the sacred lotus flower.
Another ornate pavilion in the temple complex.
Detail of one of the gables.
These jolly fellows hold a bell which is rung three times by the faithful. A heavy wooden stick (not shown) is used as the striker.
The main statue in this complex is draped in golden robes and surrounded by elegant golden filigree work and is backed by row upon row of small white Buddha statues.
Some of the many thousands of Buddha statuettes to be found around the walls.
Worshipers have paid for many of these Buddha statues. These two, numbers 999 and 1,000 have the names of the donors written beneath the statues.
Many Buddha heads show a face with a serene smile symbolising the Buddha’s peaceful and calm nature. The cranial bump on the head represents the knowledge and wisdom which the Buddha attained after being enlightened. The urna, a small bump between the eyes symbolises the Buddha’s all seeing supernatural vision.
Most Buddha statues are not really meant to be portraits of Buddha himself. They are symbols of the enlightened state. However, the elongated ear lobes on statues have an interesting story. They represent the way ancient Indian men and women commonly wore ear plugs. When children were small, their ear lobes were pierced and a small clay cylinder was put into the holes. Increasingly large cylinders were put in the lobes as the child grew. Eventually, the lobes would have stretched enough to accommodate plugs with diameters of up to 6 centimetres. The Prince who became Buddha would have worn such ear plugs. He would have taken the plugs out when he renounced the world, leaving his ear lobes very long. Elongated lobes on statues thus indicate Buddha’s renunciation of his previous life as a Prince when he became a monk.
Statues in various meditation poses can be found at almost every part of the complex.
Hands are shown in various ritualised or stylised poses, each pose a specific meaning.
This Buddha is representative of the monks from Vietnam.
Both hands on this statue have meaning. The thumb and forefinger forming a circle is a gesture of debate or discussion (vitarka).
The other hand, in which the fingers bend together with the thumb and index finger meeting, is the flower holding gesture (kataka).Fresh flowers are sometimes put between the fingers of this hand.
This statue represents monks from Laos.
The hands represent a gesture of protection or blessing (abhaya). Hands raised and unarmed have signified, good intentions, friendship, or at least peace, since prehistoric times. It was a way of showing you meant no harm since you did not carry a weapon. The gentle facial expression adds to the symbolism.
An arm extended facing all the way down with the palm facing outwards is a gesture of charity, a gift bestowing compassion or grace (varada). All very fascinating.
There was obviously much more to learn about the symbolic meaning of these statues, but we had to move on… to yet another temple. More of that anon.
All photographs copyright © DY of jtdytravels
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