BHUTAN MONASTERY, NOVICE MONK
Punaka Dzong, Bhutan
Noting that the majority of Bhutanese monks come from poor families, the official Bhutanese travel sites assert that these poor families all believe it is an honor to let their sons receive religious training and that all monks are among the most happy persons in Bhutan. The sceptic in me suspects there is an additional, powerful, financial incentive, as these monasteries are heavily supported by the government and they provide free education to these novice monks. In exchange for room and board, these novices learn how to read both English and Sanskrit but they live very simply and spend long hours creating manuscripts, religious artifacts, sculptures and statutes, or painting thangkas, (Tibetan Buddhist paintings on cotton, silk appliqué), offered for sale in special shops or to lucky tourists. This novice was sewing on a thangka, working in a dark room with strong side light coming only from an open window to his left. The line of his arm, as he reached across his body, struck me as particularly lovely, and the chiarascuro effect of the dark shadow in the background and strong highlights on his arm and shave head captivated me. These Caravaggesque lighting situations and opportunities for high contrast photography, always draw me in, like a month to the flame.
Monasteries and convents are common in Bhutan. Both monks and nuns keep their heads shaved and wear distinguishing maroon robes. Their days are spent in study and meditation but also in the performance of rituals honoring various bodhisattvas, praying for the dead, and seeking the intercession of bodhisattvas on behalf of the ill. Some of their prayers involved chants and singing accompanied by conch shell trumpets, trumpets made from human thighbones, metal horns up to three meters long, large standing drums and cymbals, hand bells, temple bells, gongs, and wooden sticks. Such monastic music and singing, not normally heard by the general public, has been reported to have "great virility” and to be more melodious than the Tibetan monotone counterparts.
For location search on the map for Punaka, Bhutan.
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