Wood fire kiln blessing ceremony
On Thursday, June 28, the blessing ceremony for the new Cambodian wood fire kiln took place in Lowell. In order to ensure a successful project, the potters Yary Livan and Proeung Kang made offerings and prayed to the designer of Angkor Wat, King Suryavarman II, whom Yari calls “the hero of construction.” Proeung just arrived from Cambodia where he teaches at the Secondary School of Fine Arts. Yary and Proeung had not seen each other for a long time, although they both grew up in the same village along the Mekong Delta and studied pottery together.
Two Buddhist monks in bright orange robes from the Vatt Khmer temple in Lowell came for the occasion. On the altar, Yary prepared offering of grapes, apples, cherries, and a whole roast chicken (complete with dipping sauces!), next to a vase of white daises and purple chrysanthemum.
Cambodian customs are a mix of animism, Hinduism, Buddhism. The altar incorporated the symbolically important Hindu number of seven. Yary said traditionally the altar holds seven different kinds of food and seven kinds of fruit, what he called “seven times seven.”
Marge Rack, professor of art at Middlesex Community College (MCC), gave a welcoming address, translated by Tooch Van, International Student Advisor at MCC, to the approximately fifteen people attending. She said that this project was “a dream come true,” and it was her vision to build a ceramics community that not only included Lowell but Cambodia as well.
An achar, or master of ceremonies, lit three tall white candles placed on an orange brick and recited a blessing in Pali, the liturgical language of Buddhism.
The two monks chanted a Sanskrit sutra while dipping flowers into pottery bowls of water and sprinkling water over the kiln’s foundation.
At the altar, Yary lit a candle next to the chicken while Proeung poured pinot grigio over the chicken. Holding a bundle of incense sticks, Yary prayed and chanted over the offerings, then placed one burning incense stick each into an apple, a grape, a cherry, and the chicken.
The art department of MCC generously presented Yary and Proeung with a hand truck so they won’t hurt their backs! They will be helped by Samnang Khoeun, an architect and Yari’s former apprentice, and Vanny Hang, a sculptor from Lawence who is a specialist in ornamentation. The artisans collaborate together in their studio in the Western Studios building in Lowell.
Earlier, Celeste Bernardo, the new Superintendent of Lowell National Park, said that “heritage is made strong by the many cultures in our community,” and that the Lowell community helps spread and continue the traditions of the Cambodian people.