The Witch’s Stone Garden

I wrote before about the magic of the fireflies on a river in Cherating, but I am going to mention magic again in a different context. Namely because I feel like I stepped into a Buddhist version of Narnia.

A few kilometres outside of Vientiane in Laos is the Xiang Khouan, or Buddha Park, something vaguely resembling the Gaudi Gardens in Barcelona. Basically, it is a small park absolutely overflowing with concrete creations of all shapes and sizes, from small little Buddha statues to an immense pumpkin shaped construction topped with a spiky, branch-like spire and filled inside with whacky sculpted figures.

Now I’m not really an expert on Hindu and Buddhist lore, but if this garden is anything to go by, the guy who created it would sure have been an interesting person to meet. There are some of the usual depictions of Hindu deities, complete with multiple arms, heads or tails. Indeed, these features are often utilised to their utmost; I counted no less than eighteen arms on one statue. However, as well as various Hanumans (monkey god) and Ganeshes (elephant god), there are also many more fantastic mythical masterpieces. Mermaids, monsters, figures emerging from the mouths of fish and an awful lot of images featuring both wings and serpents tails, which seemed an interesting dichotomy given the religious context.

Halfway down the garden is a giant statue which from the back could quite conceivably be a standing Buddha, which to be fair you could be forgiven for expecting in a Buddha Park. But once you turn to face it, you see that the figure actually has the triple-headed face of a scary monster, the toes of its shoes gape open as toothed jaws and its arms are holding the figure of an unconscious woman. There are lines of maidens bearing offerings next to warriors poised with bows and spears. Cute little animals, but also a man pulling the legs off a giant grasshopper.

Yet despite the strangeness of many of these apparitions, they somehow manage to work with the landscape, becoming a part of it rather than an imposition on it. Seated Buddhas are tickled by the leaves of trees and stone snakes seem to twine around roots or slither straight out of the ground.

But what makes it all seem so magical is that everything seems to be caught mid-motion, as if they really had been turned to stone by the White Witch and are waiting for Aslan to return to rescue them. they are all mythical creatures captured in her castle. There’s even one that reminds me of a faun. I’m sure that if Aslan came along, the creature would start running again. Spears held aloft would be thrown, arrows would be fired and nymphs would continue to dance.

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