Tag Archives: Buddhism

Wat Phra Thaen and a cast of thousands

Wat Phra Thaen is a temple surrounded by giant sculptures that tell a wide selection of Buddhist folktales and parables. From the street you can see two giant Buddhas and dozens of human and animal figures, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

Not every sculpture and scene are part of a story. Below I’ll tell you the ones I know, mostly as told to me by my little Tukata.

Note the old man with the young wife in the ox cart in the picture below. They are situated in a fairly prominent spot near the front gates of the temple.

Chu Chuuk and Amitada
Chu Chuuk and Amitada

The old man, Chu Chuuk, seems to have taken advantage of many who were just trying to be good people. His friend owed him money, and had to give him his beautiful and good hearted daughter Amitada. She was so good to him that his peers started to criticize their own wives, so Amitada asked for a slave, so that she wouldn’t be seen to work quite so hard. Chu Chuuk asked the prince, who aspired to be a Buddha. The prince gave Chu Chuuk his own son and daughter. Chu Chuuk took a wrong turn on his way home, and was seen the the king. The king paid Chu Chuuk with money and food for the return of his niece and nephew. Chu Chuuk was so greedy that he ate until he burst. His wealth was offered to Amitada, who declined, and simply went home to her father.

Cobra with eggs
Cobra with eggs

A monkey and an elephant wanted to be good creatures, and to serve the Buddha. The monkey brought the Buddha a gift of wild honey. The elephant, shown here bringing flowers, offered to serve him – it sounds like the elephant offered to become the Buddha’s beast of burden.

Buddha with monkey and elephant
Buddha with monkey and elephant

It isn’t always clear to me what the moral of the story is, and in some cases there may not be one.

New construction of a giant monk-like figure
New construction of a giant monk-like figure

An angel-like being took the form of an old man and went to speak with a king. He explained to the king that he had no wife, and badly needed one. The king aspired to a Buddha-like level of goodness, and offered his own wife to the old man. The queen in the scene below seems to approve of the arrangement. The angel-like creature then revealed itself, and the king got to keep his wife.

The king, the queen, and the old man
The king, the queen, and the old man

The Buddha left his home and life behind to seek enlightenment. When his mother became ill he returned to help her and to be with her when she died.

The Buddha and his dying mother
The Buddha and his dying mother

Below is Wat Phra Thaen’s village of spirit houses.

Spirit houses
Spirit houses

Phra Mae Thorani , the earth mother of southeast Asia, came to the Buddha’s aid when Mara, the Evil One, tried to stop him from reaching enlightenment.

“Mara brought his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, and tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and fled, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning Phra Mae Thorani to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment.” – A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Some monks would isolate themselves in the forest, live in a hollow tree, eat only fruit, and spend their days in meditation.

Monk in a hollow tree
Monk in a hollow tree

The scene below seems to simply show a teacher at work. Several giant birds seem to be enthralled with the lesson.

A teacher at work
A teacher at work

A giant monk-like figure currently under construction is by far the largest effigy at Wat Phra Thaen.

New construction of a giant monk-like figure
New construction of a giant monk-like figure

Below is a whole array of figures and some interesting architecture.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

A closer look at the reclining Buddha.

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

Zoom in for a close look at the figures on the rooftop in the picture below. There are some very cool Phaya Naga, including a couple entwined with some kind of Thai mermen.

Some great rooftop figures
Some great rooftop figures

The golden hour cast a flattering light on the Buddha, monks and temple in the picture below.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

The temple below has a unique style. I haven’t seen one quite like it. The Phaya Naga flanking the stairs are entwined with Thai mermen like on the roof above, something I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.

City Pillar Shrine, Udon Thani & Ban Dung

A City Pillar Shrine is built to house a City Pillar or lak mueang, placed in most Thai cities to be the center, heart and soul of the city and her citizens. The Pillar is a continuation of ancient customs in which a City Pillar was erected first and represented the intent to build a city.

Ban Dung City Pillar
Ban Dung City Pillar

The shrine is also believed to house Chao Pho Lak Mueang, the city spirit deity. In the cities of Udon Thani and Ban Dung, and probably in many other Thai cities as well, there are other guardian and protector spirits and deities to honor, and so the City Pillar Shrine is part of a complex of shrines and effigies to those deities.

City Pillar Shrine, Udon Thani

Udon Thani’s  City Pillar Shrine is a sort of park in Udon Thani’s city center with a number of shrines and temples, and a large statue of the Udon Thani Province‘s protecting god.

Udon Thani's City Shrine
Udon Thani’s City Shrine

The City Pillar is visible inside of the shrine in the picture below. People remove their shoes before entering this shrine as the would a temple, and kneel and pray before the Pillar.

Udon Thani's City Shrine
Udon Thani’s City Shrine

Wetsuwan is one of the Four Heavenly Kings; four Buddhist gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.

Wetsuwan is the chief of the four kings and protector of the north. He is the ruler of rain.  He is often associated with the ancient Indian God of wealth, Lord Ganesh. His name means “he who hears everything”.

The Chinese depict Wetsuwon as a human king, but in Thailand he is depicted as a Yaksa, a usually friendly nature spirit, often appearing in southern Asia as a guardian deity. He is seen as the guardian deity of the Udon Thani Province.

I’m sure whether Chao Pho Lak Mueang is a proper name or just a title applied to any city spirit deity, but I was told that the name of Udon Thani’s guardian deity is “Udon Thani”. It is said to reside in the shrine below.

City Pillar Shrine
City Pillar Shrine

The gold statue in the middle of the shrine, in the picture below, may be an effigy of the guardian deity, or may be seen as the deity itself, I’m not sure which.

The park is surrounded by government buildings, including the Udon Thani Provincial Hall and the Office of Buddhism. Smaller villages in the area still have faded pictures of the departed 9th king, who passed away nearly one year ago at the time of my visit, but the center of Udon Thani displays a new picture of the 10th king.

Udon Thani Provincial Hall
Udon Thani Provincial Hall

Apparently there’s always construction going on in the park. There’s still lots of room for new stuff. The structure below reminds me of the one built in Bangkok for the cremation ceremony of Thailand’s 9th king which took place at the end of October.

A new structure in the works
A new structure in the works

The interior of the building below is lots of pillars, and nothing else.

An empty building
An empty building

The Chinese temple is interesting for many reasons, starting with its very different style.

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

The cute Phaya Naga in front of the temple would seem to be an acknowledgement that this Chinese temple is located in northeastern Thailand.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

A small building nearby offers a good look at some little Chinese dragons.

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon

It’s a great little structure with a lot of detail.

On the grounds of the Chinese temple
On the grounds of the Chinese temple

Dragons and various other creatures decorate the roof of the temple…

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

…and the rest of the temple as well. This temple was fenced off for some reason, so it wasn’t possible to get a closer look.

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

Placed around the temple are the animals of the Chinese zodiac; below are the rabbit and the ox.

Rabbit and ox
Rabbit and ox

City Pillar Shrine, Ban Dung

In Ban Dung I visited Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine.

Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine
Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine

The most prominent feature of this park is a large statue of  Por Si Sut Tho, the Phaya Naga who lives in the Kham Chanot Forest. “Por” is an honorific commonly given to Si Sut Tho that is normally applied to monks, which he is not. “Chao”, which is apparently also used at times, is normally applied to kings, which Por Si Sut Tho also is not.

Por Si Sut Tho
Por Si Sut Tho

My little Tukata tells me that Por Si Sut Tho takes the form shown below, with a human upper body (or even a fully human form), when he emerges onto the land, but takes the more commonly seen serpentine form when he’s in the water.

Por Si Sut Tho
Por Si Sut Tho

There are a number of nice buildings in the park, and there may be interesting stories behind the entities to whom they are dedicated. The shrine below has something to do with Por Si Sut Tho and his wife, Ya Bat Tho Ma.

Unidentified shrine
Unidentified shrine

Below is the shrine of Ban Dung’s City Pillar.

Shrine of Ban Dung's City Pillar
Shrine of Ban Dung’s City Pillar

Below is the City Pillar itself.

Ban Dung City Pillar
Ban Dung City Pillar

Please enjoy the Udon Thani City Pillar Shrine gallery of 18 pictures below, and the Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine gallery of 8 pictures below that.

Fire and brimstone monk deals sternly with monkey bite

After sustaining a monkey bite one must of course seek out a fire and brimstone monk to expel any malign spirits or influences. We left the paved roads for those of red dirt and drove deep into the countryside, passing many rice and sugar cane fields and rubber tree plantations along the way.

Rubber tree forest
Rubber tree forest

I’ve found the rubber tree forests especially interesting, having never seen one before Thailand. Those above have the sap collecting bowls tipped down. When collecting the bowls fill with a white liquid that seems to at least partly solidify before it is collected.

Northeast Thailand countryside
Northeast Thailand countryside

In the middle of all of this uninterrupted agriculture we arrived at a gate, currently under either repair or construction.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

One monk lives at this temple. He has one of the most bizarre collections of religious accoutrements I’ve ever seen.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

When he appeared he patted my belly and compared it to that of his enormous orange Buddha.

Buddha with centipede
Buddha with centipede

A 19th century Tibetan poet warned his fellow Buddhists that “if you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.” I don’t really know of any connection with centipedes in Thai Buddhism. I have no idea why this Buddha has a giant centipede on his shoulder.

A cobra is coiled around the Buddha, apparently watching his back. Phaya Naga are sometimes portrayed as more common snakes.

Cobra guarding the Buddha
Cobra guarding the Buddha

This monk also has in his collection a large cobra with 9 heads.

9-headed cobra
9-headed cobra

He also has a Phaya Naga in a form with which I’m more familiar, giving a ride to a red humanoid that I haven’t identified.

Phaya Naga and rider
Phaya Naga and rider

The monkey bite victim and her mother changed into garments resembling baptism robes and sat in chairs at the edge of the temple, still just under the roof. The monk shouted the loudest I’ve heard from a monk and threw water on them. I’m not sure I would describe it as angry, but forceful would be fair. Later I was told that he was not speaking in Thai. It may have been Cambodian.

Outdoor Buddha
Outdoor Buddha

The monkey bite victim has had serious health problems for some time. I’m told that doctors know what it is, and she has been receiving treatment for some time. It seems that her mother has been seeking spiritual remedies to supplement the medicine.

Outdoor reclining Buddha
Outdoor reclining Buddha

Later the fire and brimstone monk produced dolls, similar to Ken and Barbi, and having gotten my attention, proceed to use them to act out the bumping of uglies. Apparently he was offering to bring his spiritual powers to bear on our sex lives. My little Tukata declined his offer.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

The open roof behind the orange Buddha may be intended to let rain fall into an odd pool behind him. In this pool sit pink-skinned baby Indras on lotus flowers.

Pink-skinned baby Indras on lotus flowers
Pink-skinned baby Indras on lotus flowers

I’ve seen fish raised in pools like this.

Phaya Naga in outdoor pool
Phaya Naga in outdoor pool

I’ve seen creatures something like those below, but these seem to have the lower bodies of mermaids, so I’m not sure.

Unidentified creatures
Unidentified creatures

I had no idea that Buddhist temples like this existed. I was glad to see it for myself, and also that our visit was brief.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 14 pictures below.