Tag Archives: spirit house

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.

The Buddhist country temple in Thailand

The Buddhist country temple is often more modest than those found in Thai cities, but in them very interesting features, and a wide range of styles, can be found.

Most visitors start in Bangkok, where I expect the most extravagant temples in Thailand are located. I’ll start you off where I started, with a couple of country temples in the Ban Dung district.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

We arrived at both temples via red dirt roads. The first has an area of worship that is, from the outside, just a building.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

The inside is very modest as well.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

The newest and most outstanding feature of this temple complex is this unfinished school for new monks.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Pre-fabricated concrete buildings must be a relatively inexpensive option for creating an impressive temple. I’ve seen several, usually in poorer areas. Government buildings also seem to often be built this way.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

The decorative features of this roof are among the coolest I’ve seen. They include a number of intertwined Phaya Naga, with 3-headed 2-bodied Phaya Naga at the top of each roof. People here pronounce that “pa ya na”, but I suspect that the pronunciation might vary.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Thai … folklore holds the Phaya Naga to be semi-divine, demi-creatures, which possess supernatural powers as has been described in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.” – Wikipedia

Phaya Naga show up frequently in temples, with varying prominence. Very soon I’ll show you an island temple complex in a forest believed to be the border between the human world and the netherworld, and home of the Naga.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Although the walls are clearly unfinished, with rebar still sticking out, the shutters and doors are beautiful. I wonder if they were salvaged from an older temple.

There’s a white Buddha seated on a lotus flower nearby.

Buddha on lotus flower
Buddha on lotus flower

Spirit houses are also an important feature of temples in Thailand. They’re also found outside of businesses. Spirit houses are intended to provide a shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased. They’re often placed along an edge or corner of the property. There’s something different about this one; the fact that it appears alone, and away from the edges of the property, but my little Tukata tells me it’s just another spirit house. On the signs are the names of people who have passed away.

Spirit house
Spirit house

I was initially told not to photograph spirit houses, or really to take any notice of them. At first I hesitated, but I find them far too interesting to not take pictures. Like a true Buddhist, my little Tukata doesn’t try to change what she cannot control.

I like the spirit houses that look more like small houses or temples, like the one below, photographed at a different temple.

Spirit house
Spirit house

Pictured below is not a spirit house, I’m told, but a monument to a respected monk of the temple who passed away.

Monument to a departed monk
Monument to a departed monk

The second temple has much more typical Thai temple architecture, including a gate covered in Phaya Naga.

Temple gate with Phaya Naga, from inside the complex
Temple gate with Phaya Naga, from inside the complex
Phaya Naga on temple gate
Phaya Naga on temple gate

The temple looks to be another pre-fab concrete building, although this one is finished.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

It has some nice Phaya Naga flanking the steps.

Temple Phaya Naga
Temple Phaya Naga

On the gable is a figure that I haven’t seen on any other Buddhist temple: Garuda, dancing with a pair of Phaya Naga.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

“The Garuda is a large legendary bird, bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Garuda is the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu.”  The phoenix is considered to be a contemporary representation of Garuda. –  Wikipedia

Garuda dancing with Phaya Naga
Garuda dancing with Phaya Naga

Next to the temple above is another temple in a very different style.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

In the foreground above we see Phra Mae Thorani, the Buddhist Earth Mother.

The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her 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

Buddha summoning Phra Mae Thorani to come to his assistance - from Wikimedia Commons
Buddha summoning Phra Mae Thorani to come to his assistance – from Wikimedia Commons

Phra Mae Thorani often appears at Thai temples, and in my experience is always shown wringing water from her long hair.

Across the paved path is a gold Buddha seated between two Phaya Naga, and a building in which I suspect communal worship might normally take place.

Buddha and a country temple
Buddha and a country temple

Next to the other gate to the temple complex is a whole village of spirit houses.

The temple's village of spirit houses
The temple’s village of spirit houses
I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at these two temples.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 22 pictures below.