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Buddhist Cosmology in Food: a new audio visual resource

16 November 2015

Buddhist Cosmology in Food: new audio visual resource created by the Centre for Buddhist Studies

The relationship between humans and non-humans in Sri Lanka finds its expression more often than not by way of food offerings or feasts, which are prepared in the still largely female domain of the kitchens. This project explored the relationship in a series of mini documentaries in mixed medium (video, stills, sound) to be combined into a film and an accompanying article. As a group the videos provide a series of windows on to an integrated cosmology of food and merit with humans at the centre. They reveal an intricate network of relationships and dependencies, an economy of faith and a commensal community which includes the dead, gods, ghosts, animals and even relics of the Buddha.

The six short documentaries (4-7 mins) were filmed in Sri Lanka during three separate field trips in 2014–15. The first three videos were filmed in a small village north of Colombo and document a private food offering to the Buddha in someone’s home, a pūjā at a local shrine dedicated to the goddess Pattini and an all night cooking event culminating in a food offering to seven women, “milk mothers”, who are associated with Pattini. The fourth video was filmed in a suburb of Colombo and documents ritual feeding of crows to appease the planetary deity Senasuru (Saturn) with whom crows are associated. The last two videos were filmed in a medium sized town south of Colombo and partly in Colombo itself. The fifth video documents the “generosity stalls” where free food is prepared and handed out to passers by during the festival week of Vesak in May (commemorating the Buddha’s birth, awakening and death). The last video documents an alms giving to Buddhist monks on behalf of dead relatives; this includes offerings to the relic and the hungry ghosts.

Dr Langer explains: “I started filming some years ago after I had done an intensive two-week course on documentary filmmaking for fieldwork in Manchester, but this project was still a steep learning curve. I filmed all the events myself, produced a rough cut and added the voiceover (in Sinhala) and subtitles (in English). I had some help with editing from Azita Ghassemi, who did a great job, particularly on audio adjustments, effects and final touches. Two very talented students of film composition (Stathis Kampylis and Kostas Andrikopoulos) composed the music for the individual videos and the combined DVD. I decided against a narrator (these were not my stories to tell) and in favour of letting the food makers, organizers and other participants have their say. At various stages in the editing process I have shown the videos to the people involved to be sure they were happy with the result.”

Physical copies of the DVD were distributed to all participants in Sri Lanka in May 2015. The individual videos and combined DVD are now available online on the new departmental webpages along with image galleries and more information about the project as an open access resource.

The kitchen cosmology project features in the Being Human / Inside ARTS festival and a film screening is scheduled for Wednesday 18 November at 6.30 pm in the Dark Studio, Arnolfini. Attendance at the event is free but reservations are necessary and can be made here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/festival/events/2015/film-and-discussion-a-buddhist-cosmology-in-food.html

For more information and to access the free resources, see:

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/religion/buddhist-centre/projects/cosmology-in-food/

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