haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2005, vol 1 no 1

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Patricia Prime, New Zealand

Underground

I remove my shoes and walk along the path towards the temple. The forecourt is lined with Tibetan herdsmen and their families who have come down from the mountains for a festival. Their hair is matted, their clothes rumpled, but on their weather-beaten faces there are enormous smiles as they offer fruit and incense. Some of the men lie prone in the dirt, their bare feet rough and blackened. Beautifully patterned, immense cylinders - prayer wheels - spin giddily. Religious offerings are sold at little stalls. Smoke rises into the clear blue sky from huge white incense jars. I buy a bundle of red incense sticks.

temple dawn unseen
until it bleats
sacrificial lamb

It is pandemonium outside the temple - monks and nuns say prayers and chant. Bells ring. A sheep bleats. Chickens squawk. Doves flap and coo. At the door a monk smiles and presents me with a muslin prayer scarf, then leads me to the front of the queue. The air is heavy with the smell of unwashed bodies and incense. I pass from bright sunlight into total darkness, illuminated only by flickering candles and I'm swept along with the crowd down a long tunnel. It is hot and claustrophobic. The only sound is the pad of bare feet on compressed mud. Deeper and deeper I approach the core of the Bhakor Temple: a cave, a shrine of tribal worship. Here in the crush of devotees the silence is broken only by soft murmurings. The saffron-clothed monk guides me to the shrine itself in a cavity in the rock face. Covered by a white muslin cloth and garlanded with flowers is the monumental figure of a golden Buddha, protected by a wire fence and guarded by several monks. Numerous tokens of worship lie strewn on the floor beneath the figure: flowers, small shrivelled fruits and candles

underground
the fragrance of marigolds
mixed with incense

I can hardly breathe in the stale atmosphere. The air is not only choking and smoky, it also seems charged with erotic energy. The colour red - the colour of sacrifice - stains the ancient walls. They seem to close in around me. It is like being enveloped in a vast womb. I say a brief prayer, light my incense sticks from a guttering candle and place the muslin scarf across the railing safeguarding the Buddha. The guide ties a scarlet thread around my wrist as a blessing and leads me back up the winding tunnel. Gasping for air, I fight my way through the melee and stumble into the fresh air and daylight.

after the visit
a night walk
towards the moon

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