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Vocational training at a Buddhist pagoda

 VietNamNet Bridge – Kom Pong Chray Pagoda, also known as Hang Pagoda, in Chau Thanh District, Tra Vinh Province, is famous for its traditional Khmer Theravada Buddhist architecture.

VietNamNet Bridge – Kom Pong Chray Pagoda, also known as Hang Pagoda, in Chau Thanh District, Tra Vinh Province, is famous for its traditional Khmer Theravada Buddhist architecture.



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The artisans at Hang Pagoda have turned the stumps of trees into unique artworks.

 

But it is becoming equally well-known for the wood carving workshop situated behind the pagoda. In operation for 13 years, the workshop has taught dozens of Khmer young people a means of earning their living.

Most Khmer pagodas in Tra Vinh, including Hang Pagoda are built on a wide area shaded by ancient trees. In the past when an ancient tree was cut down for wood to build a pagoda, its stump was left or cut up for firewood.

Venerable monk Thach Suong, the pagoda’s 23rd head monk, said that a decade ago, during a trip to teach Theravada Buddhism in Vinh Long, he was introduced to, and impressed by, products made from tree stumps.

He persuaded an artisan in Vinh Long to teach the craft to the pagoda’s monks and a workshop was established near the pagoda.

“I think carving is the only craft that can turn remnant tree boles into valuable products to be displayed at the pagoda. This way our monks can learn a new skill, which is important so that those who want to return to the secular life can earn a living,” according to venerable Thach Suong.

In 2005 venerable Thach Suong set up a carving club at Hang Pagoda, comprising 10 skilled monks able to teach the craft to Khmer youths and promote the pagoda’s handicraft products.

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The artisans at Hang Pagoda have turned the stumps of trees into unique artworks.

 

Son Chum of Soc Trang Province has studied the craft at Hang Pagoda for half a year because he “was taking holy orders at the pagoda and by chance saw the pagoda’s wood sculpture products in a newspaper. Many of them, especially the sacred objects made of tree stumps, looked sophisticated and I decided to ask to study at the pagoda.”

At the club, trainees are taught for free. Part of the money from product sales is sent to a fund for pagoda construction and part goes to the artisan monks and material costs.

This special vocational training school has helped hundreds of monks and Khmer young people inside and outside the province to earn a stable livelihood after leaving the priesthood.

Thach So Phiep of Hoa Loi Commune in Chau Thanh District, one of the first students at Hang Pagoda, said: “if we only do farming, we won’t make the most of our labor and time. If you are skillful and have esthetic sense, you can turn out beautiful and distinctive items of high value, meaning your earnings will be higher.”

From the skillful hands of the artisans come many sculptures of dragons, lions, tortoises, phoenixes, birds, and items representing the life and work of the Khmer people in the South, which are displayed all around the pagoda.

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So far, over 60 Khmer young people have been taught the craft. Photos: Nguyen Luan/VNP

 

Following the model of Hang Pagoda, eight of the 140 Khmer pagodas in Tra Vinh have set up wood carving workshops, generating about one hundred permanent jobs.

Duong Quang Ngoc, deputy director of Tra Vinh’s Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, said that they will “work with the provincial committee for ethnic affairs and the Patriotic Monks Solidarity Association to do more studies of the model and consider adding more crafts.”

Wood carving has helped disadvantaged young Khmer people build a better life while preserving a traditional Khmer cultural value.

VOV5

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