Those silent gods

When I was young I visited a temple built into a mountain.

To get there we journeyed deep into the jungle, where we climbed a hundred stone steps  littered with large, frightening grey-brown monkeys.  Upon reaching our destination, the  mountain peak fell away on one side exposing the temple to the heavens, high in the sky yet within caverns.  Stone statues with gritty texture and fine features towered larger than life over smaller gilded icons set into alcoves and perched upon rock altars.  There beside the stone gods stood their blessed messengers, shaven monks in rough robes, lined in rows like sentinels and exuding such peace that for a moment the jungle stood still.

The smells of the jungle: the monkeys, the foliage, and the damp earth, mingled with the heady scent of incense and the odor of worshipful bodies pressing close to touch a god.  Closer to the main temple, the metallic smell of old rock and trickling cave water, oily to the touch, took hold of my senses.  It was late in the day, and the sun added that hot smell I have only found in the jungle, of photosynthetic processes happening on a grand scale.  Rotting vegetation and animal waste added a tangy edge to the cacophony of scents.

The screeches of monkeys defending the temple steps, jungle birds squawking in branches above, quiet hymns and prayers within the temple caves, and the sound of the quickening of my breath filled my ears as I gazed into those unblinking stone eyes looming over me.  Close to me a young monk whispered his thanks for another day of life.  The ground underfoot was rough cave floor and pebbles and dust shorn from the mountain out of which the temple was carved, a fine contrast to the smoothly polished steps I climbed from the soft jungle floor.  Suddenly alone in an alcove, I dared to put one hand to the face of a deity.  Like a pumice to my palm, that cheek and those lips appeared finer than my own features.  Such fine detail born of such rough material.  My throat was dry from the dust and incense, and a sip of water from a bamboo ladle tasted slick and woody, as though taken from a leaf after a rain.

Another glance, and we started down those hundred steps to the jungle below, and the path leading out of the deep, dark green to the bustling city beyond.



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