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.
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.
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.
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.
It isn’t always clear to me what the moral of the story is, and in some cases there may not be one.
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 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.
Below is Wat Phra Thaen’s village of 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
Some monks would isolate themselves in the forest, live in a hollow tree, eat only fruit, and spend their days in meditation.
The scene below seems to simply show a teacher at work. Several giant birds seem to be enthralled with the lesson.
A giant monk-like figure currently under construction is by far the largest effigy at Wat Phra Thaen.
Below is a whole array of figures and some interesting architecture.
A closer look at the 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.
The golden hour cast a flattering light on the Buddha, monks and temple in the picture below.
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.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.