Birthday Buddhist (eye)Brow Blessing
Wandering around Phnom Penh the late afternoon we noticed that a big gate still stood open… curiously we walked in and so, completely by accident we found Wat Ounalom, the center of Cambodian Buddhism. Built in 1443 and destroyed during the Khmer Rouge in the seventies it has a rebuild look. Except one ancient stupa that encloses a cave like tiny room with an eyebrow hair of Buddha. Yes, an eyebrow hair!
We have seen many Buddha relics scattered around Asia, like the temple of tooth in Sri Lanka, the tree of enlightenment in India, we walked miles to see various Buddha footprints in Thailand and Vietnam but this one was news. Thinking about it, relic hair seems not to be that unusual, as I remember how we were suppose to take in the scent of Mohammed’s beard relic in Turkey.
Wat Ounalom lacked the tourist crowds, which were all at the royal palace nearby, there were only the monks in their orange robes and us. But that did not mean tranquility. Moving towards the pagoda we passed another building with huge speakers and monks listening to pop music turned up to disco resonance levels.
At the pagoda we found that the doors to the eyebrow relic were closed… as an old man appeared out of nowhere with a key chain. He opened the big wooden doors to the pagoda and led us through to a small cave like niche with a Buddha statue and a table of offerings. The doorway is so low that to get inside we were almost kneeling down, which the man indicated to do anyway.
The man gestured that the eyebrow of Buddha was here, he gave us each an incense stick to offer Buddha, then he started to chant in Khmer and blessed us with water. A very special and charismatic experience. Especially as it was Tomek’s birthday, when he unexpectedly went through a rebirth and maybe became a Buddhist :)
After the ceremony the old man pointed to a cloth on Buddha’s lap and sort of indicated for us to make another offering. I am not sure where that note went but it is sure a lucrative business to give blessing to tourists :)
Statues guarding Buddha’s eyebrow.
The eyebrow pagoda in the background.
Neon pop culture at the temple.