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Ajarn Prasit: He lives and works on a mountain top

Face behind Big Buddha

Monday, November 5, 2007
It's a BIG day at the Big Buddha. High above Phuket, we are privileged to look on as the face of one standing buddha is sanded smooth, then lifted into place.

At the same time, the face of a second standing buddha is brought from its mold. Smaller molds over its eyes and mouth are gently chipped away, then the polishing of the face begins.

Overseeing the work is the Ajarn (professor). That's all the workers ever call him, although his full name is Prasit Lubliam. He is a self-made specialist in this unusual line of construction work and oversees every aspect of the erection of the Big Buddha.

Having designed the small wax model on which the Big Buddha is based, he also involves himself with every detail, usually a quiet and encouraging figure alongside the teams of workers.

We catch him one morning, in his white helmet, right on 7.15am, leaving his humble shack. His temporary home is not far from the giant concrete structure, and he has some of the best views in Thailand right on his doorstep.

Joggers and walkers already make the Big Buddha part of their morning exercise, going up through serene jungle countryside, passing spectacular views.

From the top, property developers must look out over both sides of the island and wonder at these billion-dollar vistas.

It's the perfect site for an awe-inspiring concrete structure that will eventually be covered in white marble and topped with a gold top-knot. The Big Buddha is already visible for dozens of kilometres out to sea.

Atop a 380-metre hill five kilometres up from Chao Fa Road West in Chalong, the statue is becoming one of Phuket's most significant landmarks, at 45 metres the tallest in Thailand and among the tallest sitting Buddhas in Asia.

It will eventually bring visitors not by hundreds or the thousands, but by the millions. Buddhists and tourists alike are bound to find it irresistible.

While the Ajarn is now entering his 60s, he can sometimes be seen clambering across the Big Buddha's scaffolding network of branches, just like the lithe young men and women builders.

Today, amid the mist and rain of a hilltop storm, he scales shorter heights to check the face of the standing buddha, another of his creations.

The two standing buddhas will be guardians at the entrance to the exhibition hall beneath the Big Buddha.

Through this entrance, then hoisted up on ropes inside the structure, goes much of the equipment destined for the Big Buddha's shoulders and face.

Today there's a clanking like the sound of bells at a cathedral as metal struts are carried up to the top to reinforce the wooden branches as the head and face are rounded out.

A stream of visitors flock in and out as work continues. It's a Sunday, but there's no rest. Workers have been forced to take shelter in the rain, but the standing buddha needs a face today.

Down below at the entrance shrine, hundreds of worshippers, many dressed in white, are joining the monks to chant and pray. It is Buddhist Lent.

The Big Buddha's religious significance is already as great as its bulk. It is also a monument to the generosity of the thousands of locals and overseas visitors who have given for its construction, as well as the diligent committee that oversees the project.

While the Ajarn is a modest man, it is he who guides the workers at every step. Wherever he is working, a calculator is close at hand, just in case he needs to do some thinking.

There are no blueprints. The planning and the process of erection spring entirely from his lively brain.

Today the Ajarn hauls on the rope that carries the face of the standing buddha up to its permanent home. He shares the pleasure of the workers in the special nature of their labor.

His every move is calm and considered and he meditates daily to focus on the construction. Once the concrete shell is finished, his work will be done.

Like thousands of others, he is looking forward to the day in 2008 when the Big Buddha has its white marble coating and a face to show the world at every sunrise.


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Thursday July 18, 2024
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