Dambulla – Buddha’s eyes, stillness and light

By Emma. Pour l’article de Damien, cliquez ici. Click here for photos of there.

Caught up in an itinerary with no rhyme or reason, we headed North to visit the cave temples of Dambulla where Buddhas lounge, meditate and die in faint, dusty light. The sculptures are beautiful, the light too. The eyes captivating and dismissive.

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In Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje captures and reveals  the ritual and ceremony of the painting of a Buddha’s eyes:

There is a ceremony to prepare the artificer during the night before he paints. You realize, he is brought in only to paint the eyes on the Buddha image. The eyes must be painted in the morning at five. The hour the Buddha attained enlightenment. The ceremonies therefore begin the night before, with recitations and decorations in the temples. Without the eyes there is not just blindness, there is nothing. There is no existence. The artificer brings to life sight and truth and presence […] He moves forward accompanied by a second man, who carried brushes, black paint and a metal mirror. He climbs a ladder in front of the statue. The man with him climbs too.  This has taken place for centuries, you realize, there are records of this since the ninth century. The painter dips a brush into the paint and turns his back to the statue, so it looks as if he is about to be enfolded in the great arms. The paint is wet on the brush. The other man, facing him, holds up the mirror, and the artificer puts the brush over his shoulder and paints in the eyes without directly looking at the face. He uses just the reflection to guide him – so only the mirror receives the direct image of the glance being created. No human eye can meet the Buddha’s during the process of creation. Around him the mantras continue […]

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