Tag Archives: religion

A Diagram of Enlightenment: Borobudur, Indonesia

Borobudur, located in central Java, Indonesia, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the oldest and most important Buddhist structures. Lost to the jungles and the earth until the mid-19th century, it was first completed around 825 CE, when Java and much of modern-day Indonesia was predominantly Buddhist and Hindu. By the 14th century, the Hindu and Buddhist dynasties declined, giving rise to Islam in the archipelago.

Today, Borobudur and its nearby Hindu companion, Prambanan, are sources of cultural pride for the predominantly Muslim country of Indonesia. Much like Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Borobudur and Prambanan connect to a mighty and mysterious past when traders from India, the Arabic world, and East Asia converged in the region to form great dynasties.

The monument is meant to portray a sort of “diagram” of Enlightenment. From above, Borobudur represents a Buddhist mandala or map of the universe, and this is noticed when climbing the monument. As the pilgrim ascends the monument, one sees bas reliefs of different stages of  Gautama Buddha’s life as well as the law of karma. In addition, statues of the Buddha represent certain meanings with mudras, or the positions of Gautama’s hands. These seating positions take place inside and out of stupas, or places for meditation which resemble cages. As a result, the top of this monument leads to the Buddhas being commonly referred to as the “caged Buddhas” of Indonesia.

Above: Tour groups, mostly from Indonesia, descend on Indonesia’s most-visited tourist attraction. Notice the school group at bottom right. Western tourists can expect to be asked to be included in quite a few of the locals’ photos!

Above: Buddhas sit in their stupas along the exterior of the temple. Notice the missing heads of some Buddhas. As with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, many heads are missing due to treasure hunters.

Above: One of the more complete statues which has survived the elements and treasure hunters.

Above: These two shots show the extensive bas reliefs along the sides of the temple. Stories of teaching, enlightenment, and the results of karma are told. Many of these reliefs are being slowly torn apart by the elements, including the harsh monsoon rains.

 

 

Above: A Buddha sits in a half-open stupa near the top of the temple. On a clear day, Mt. Merapi, an active volcano, is present. We seemed to have had too much haze to see it clearly.

Above: Caged stupas near the top.

 

In addition to Borobudur, there are two other temples in the area. The larger and more impressive of the two is Mendut, which also consists of a Buddhist monastery. Actually older than Borobudur, it is a starting point in a yearly religious pilgrimage for local Buddhists. It is geographically located in a straight line connecting Borobudur on one end, Pawon in the middle, and Mendut on the other side.

Above: Mendut temple.

Above: Main statue in Mendut Temple.

Above: The adjacent Mendut Buddhist Monastery. Notice the Javanese architecture in the main building to the left.

Further Reading: Borobudur Wikipedia Article and Mendut Wikipedia Article

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Pu Zhao Temple, Jhudong

These are from around Jhudong (竹東), the city where I teach. First is the exterior of Pu-Zhao Temple, a Buddhist monastery…

…and its big Buddha who overlooks my school:

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Jhubei Temple Parade, October 2012

Last Sunday, a celebration of San Tai Zi ( 三太子), a major figure in Taiwan’s popular and religious culture occurred throughout the streets of Jhubei, heading north toward Hsinfeng. I’m always excited by the chances I get to see these parades as I really get to experience the culture, practice my bad Chinese, and interact with the people.

  

Above: a spirit medium representing who I believe to be San Tai Zi dances in front of a moving altar with onlookers watching. This was taking place, as you might see with the truck in the background, on a busy highway bridge to Hsinfeng.

Above: a temple leader shows off his sash.

Above: a two-faced god, representing Yin and Yang (陰陽).

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Single Shot: Tainan “General”

This is a repost of a reprocessed image I took in Tainan a year and a half ago. I decided to redo the RAW file as I’m trying to improve my processing skills by bringing new life to old photos. The original can be found partway down the page here.

For this shot, I warmed up the image’s white balance, increased some sharpening and contrast, and balanced the stark dark and light levels to even out the image but still put a focus on the faces. Any improvement here shows the importance of keeping RAW files, among other things.

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Lion Dance and Temple Ceremony, Guqifeng (古奇峰), Hsinchu

A month ago, I visited Guqifeng, or 古奇峰, a temple in Hsinchu marked with a very large statue of the god of war, Guan Gong, on top of a mountain just east of the city. Last weekend, while visiting the general area, my wife and I noticed something going on inside and saw a lion dance troupe preparing to perform. Here are some shots from this performance.

Above: the drumline beats out the rhythm for the dancers. These guys were very talented and drumming is an art of its own in Taiwanese and Chinese culture.

A performer tests the stands before the performance by jumping between them. These performers will rarely make mistakes, but an important safety procedure for this was a group of performers underneath, holing the stand steady and acting as a buffer for falling friends. This did happen – the first time I’ve seen this happen before – and the performers who fell were perfectly fine, their fall being broken as they were caught. During this time, the drums kept going and the lion dancers were back in no time.

A confetti-covered ground marks the main ceremony area before the lion dance performer took the stage.

A walking god watches as the altar of another god “visits” the temple god. The confetti canons were set up at a climax during the ceremony and I was happy for a wider angle lens here.

Lion dancers jump across. Notice the drummers yelling below.

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Mazu’s Carrier and More from Jhubei Mazu Parade

This man was at the Jhubei Mazu Temple parade last November, which I posted lots of photos from after the event. I’ve decided to go ahead and post a few more, as I have neglected quite a few decent shots from that day.

If you ever end up following one of these groups, it’s best to make sure you have water, a mask, and earplugs. Trust me.

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Visit to 古奇峰 (Guqifeng), Hsinchu

Guqifeng, which translates to “ancient peaks,” is sort of hard to describe. Its most obvious mark is a huge statue of Guang Gong, the god of war. In addition, a statue garden and museum are also on the grounds and provide viewers a sometimes fascinating and sometimes – somewhat strange – view of various statues, historical artifacts, and religious symbols.

Starting off is the Guang Gong statue, easily seen throughout the mountaintop area:

This shrine of the Hindu god Brahma in the Thai style was interesting, especially after I visited Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine last summer. I saw these in a few other temples in the area, indicating that the deity is popular locally.

One of the interesting parts about Guqifeng is the large collection of statues from around the world. Here’s a copy of one of the famed Terra Cotta warriors, something that wasn’t too out of place…

…and some statues of who I think is Guan Yin. Two copies with awkward smiles…

…and a Buddha in the woods also made sense…

…but once I saw Beethoven’s bust and some other European items, I knew there would be quite a bit of diversity with the selection…

…and then a mythical beast of some sorts? I have been in Taiwan long enough to have never recognized this in Chinese mythology/religion. I have no clue what it is.

Some statues weren’t taken care of very well or just fell into disrepair. I guess this can be expected.

At any rate, I had a great time exploring this site. It’s located in a slightly hard to find spot but can be found through Google Maps. In the next few days, I’ll be posting more from another trip – this time to Sanxia, Taipei again.

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Bombing the Dragon in Miaoli

Every year at the end of Chinese New Year, festivals throughout Taiwan seek to bring prosperity for the new year. One, near Tainan, is the famous Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival. People actually volunteer to have fireworks shot at them as they believe it will show their strength and health. Unfortunately, I missed it again due to unpredictable train schedules the night before I had to be at work.

Instead, I went to another festival that did not involve fireworks being shot at me, but instead at and around a dancing dragon. This Miaoli Hakka festival is called “Bombing the Dragon” and it’s easy to see why. After a few days of dancing dragons visiting storefronts and asking for red envelopes in exchange for good fortune, they are brought to an area where they dance around firecrackers. The dancers must wear protective eyewear, hoods, and masks, though a respirator is something I’d personally rather have. Even though I was further back (though still quite close), I was happy to have a mask and I will say that old clothing, earplugs, and a mask are all essentials when visiting.

  

  

Above: top, a dragon much like what was in the festival sits as the crowd arrives; bottom, festival-goers practiced their own dragon dance as a dragon team prepared for the night.

Above: a hanging dragon made of fireworks lights up as festival goers watch.

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Nanfang’ao Mazu Temple, Yilan County

Nanfang’ao (南方澳) is a small but important fishing port in Yilan County, located on Taiwan’s eastern coast. I visited 南方澳 a few weeks ago with my wife’s family on a somewhat dreary overcast day.

One of the main draws to the town is the city’s Mazu temple. A temple for Mazu (媽祖) would be fitting here, as she is the goddess of the sea and heavily respected and loved in Taiwan.

I’m not extremely happy with this shot, but it was hard to take. I could obviously not fire a flash and the only light was the dim overcast coming in through the opening. I opened the aperture up, but this created issues with focusing everything.

Partway through the visit, a large group brought Mazu statues to have blessed at the temple.

  

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Priests at Mazu Temple

This was taken at a recent celebration at Mazu Temple, Jhubei. These men were part of a group of about seven who participated in a small “side ceremony” as festivities and fireworks filled the rest of the area. My 35mm f/1.8 was pushing it, though I was able to get decent shots without blinding them with flash at ISO 1600.

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