The Sin Sai Story at Wat Nong Wang

painting of Sin Sai story on window shutters

The translation of the story is not yet finished. I have set the post to public so that the QR code at the temple does not lead to a broken link. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) This version of the Sin Sai (สินไซ) folktale comes from the 120 paintings on the second-floor window shutters and doors of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple… Read More

How Sumana-Setthi Was Converted To Buddhism By A Toothbrush And A Prostitute

historic painting from India of man plowing field with two oxen

A little-known peripheral figure in the Buddha’s life story, Sumana-Setthi’s (สุมนะเศรษฐี) conversion is one of many great folktales in ancient Buddhist texts. This one is found in the non-canonical Dhammapadatthakatha, the commentary on the Dhammapada book of the Pali Canon. My version here is abridged and, I think, improved from the original. Once he became a Buddhist, Sumana was an ardent supporter of the Buddha. And because of the vast… Read More

Phadaeng Nang Ai

shallow lake with lots of grass growing in it

One of the best-known folktales in Isan, the romantic legend of Prince Phadaeng (ผาแดง) and Princess Nang Ai (นางไอ่) explains the formation of Sakon Nakhon province’s Nong Han (หนองหาน) lake, the largest natural lake in the northeast. Some people in Udon Thani tell the same tale about their famous “Red Lotus Lake,” which is also called Nong Han. This version of the story was written by my friend Amaralak (Pim)… Read More

The Legend of Nang Oraphim and Thao Pajit

two statues of torsos in Phimai National Museum

The classic love story between Nang Oraphim (นางอรพิม) and Thao Pajit (ท้าวปาจิต) is a widely known Thai folktale (some even consider it a non-canonical Jataka tale) with many different versions. The story as told in Khorat province is based on the town of Phimai where locals have declared the ruined Meru Brahmathat stupa as the cremation site of the villainous King Brahmathat. Some locals take the story one step further… Read More

The Buddha’s Life Story (Part 1) at Wat Nong Wang

woodcarving of Prince Siddhattha seeing an old man and a sick man

อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) The carved wooden doors on the sixth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell many of the main episodes from the Buddha’s life up to and including his enlightenment. The artist was Tawon Gonkaew. The story begins at the northeast corner on the east wall (in front of the stairs) and is told counterclockwise around the stupa.… Read More

The Buddha’s Life Story (Part 2) at Wat Nong Wang

woodcarving of the Buddha walking with many disciples

อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the fifth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell some episodes (the story is far from complete) from the Buddha’s life following his enlightenment. The story begins at the northeast corner on the east wall (in front of the stairs) and is told counterclockwise around the stupa. The first… Read More

My Abridged Versions of the Jataka Tales

man lifting a chariot over his head

The Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) recount stories from some of the past lives of the being who would eventually reach enlightenment as the Buddha. Often compared with Aesop’s fables (Aesop’s and the Jataka tales even share some plots), the Buddha-to-be is often born as an animal and he frequently overcomes difficult situations or solves problems in creative and comical ways. Even though they’re a part of the Pali Canon… Read More

Mahanipata Jataka at Wat Nong Wang

woodcarving of a giant naga and a man threatening two others with a sword

อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the seventh floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell the last ten Jataka tales. The artist was Tawon Gonkaew. The Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) are a collection of 547 birth stories from the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) recounting pre-enlightenment lives of the Bodhisatta (what… Read More

What the Bodhisatta was Born as in the Jataka Tales

mural painting of a gold-trimmed elephant and a man taking one of his tusks

These are all the past-life incarnations of the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) as recounted in the Jataka tales. The first of the two lists simply records his main character in each of the 547 stories while the second tallies all the individual lifetimes found in the Jataka tales taking duplicates, multiple lifetimes, and passing mentions into account. Any list of this sort will be inexact because it’s not… Read More

Mahanipata Jataka Murals in Thai Temples

temple mural painting of naga on anthill

The 547 Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) recount stories from some of the past lives of the being who would eventually become the Buddha. The final ten stories, called the Mahanipata Jataka in English and tot-sah-chat chah-dok in Thai (and often known as “The Ten Great Birth Stories of the Buddha”), are morality tales in which the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) develops the ten paramitas (“perfections of character”)… Read More

King Culani-Brahmadatta’s Wise Mother

This fantastic short story is taken from the Maha-Ummagga Jataka Tale (#546), but it’s not actually a part of it. It’s a footnote in the book The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births (E. B. Cowell ed., Cambridge University Press, 1895-1907) and is told by one of the ancient scholiasts to demonstrate the exceptional wisdom of Queen Talata, who is smarter than all ten of the royal advisers.… Read More

The Kacchapa Jataka (#273)

In the late 19th century, the first team to translate the entire collection of Jataka tales into English felt this story was so indecent that they published it only in Latin so only scholars could read it. Here is a short version of the story in English. After the Buddha ended a bitter feud between two of the king’s military officers by preaching about loving-kindness, he told some of his… Read More

Vessantara Jataka Murals at Wat Nong Wang

Vessantara Jataka mural of gods caring for Prince Vessantara's children while Jujaka sleeps in a tree

The third-floor murals inside Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple tell the story of Prince Vessantara (Phra Wetsandon in Thai). It’s the last of the 547 Jataka tales, a collection of birth stories from the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) recounting some of the Buddha-to-be’s pre-enlightenment lives. The Jataka tales are, for the most part, morality stories in which the Buddha-to-be somehow overcomes… Read More

Nang Phom Hom, “The Fragrant-Haired Lady” (Long Version)

Nang Phom Hom story painted on window shutters at Wat Nong Wang

This version of the Nang Phom Hom folktale is based on the paintings on the third-floor window shutters and doors of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple in Khon Kaen city. (The lead painter was Uthaitong Jantagon from Kalasin.) It’s much longer than the story as it’s normally told, but overall the plot is the same. And though I wrote it following the outline provided by… Read More

The Nandivisala Jataka (#28)

scene from the Nandivisala Jataka, the Bodhisatta as an ox pulling loaded carts

A clique of the Buddha’s monks taunted and insulted other monks when they disagreed with them on something. When the Buddha was told about their behavior he scolded them and then told them this story of one of his past lives so they would understand that speaking with kindness rather than hostility is beneficial. — — — The Buddha-to-be was born as an ox. His owner named him Nandivisala and… Read More

The Culla-Paduma Jataka

mural painting of Bodhisatta's wife pushing him off the cliff from the Culla-Paduma Jataka in ubosot of Wat Thung Si Muang

One of the Buddha’s disciples, while out on a morning alms round, saw a woman so beautiful he fell in love at first sight. After returning to the monastery, his obsession with her made him depressed and ill and he could no longer concentrate on his studies or meditation. The Buddha told him he should stop thinking about her and then to remind the disciples that all women are ungrateful… Read More

About the Legend of Nang Phom Hom, “The Fragrant-Haired Lady”

Nang Phom Hom story painting at Wat Nong Wang

The Isan-Lao folktale of Nang Phom Hom (นางผมหอม) is about a girl whose father is the king of elephants and who is later turned into a monkey by a ghost before she and her family are finally able to live happily ever after. As with most ancient folktales there are many versions told across the region with the same overall plot, but different details. The story is well known. It… Read More

The Legend of Nang Usa from Phu Phrabat

Nang Usa's tower in Phu Phrabat Historical Park in Udon Thani, Thailand.

Phu Phrabat Historical Park, spread out around the top of a small mountain range, was an important Dvaravati religious site from around 1000-1200 CE. It was deep wilderness, but as many as 100 monks resided here and they adapted the rocky landscape into shrines and dwellings. Many Buddhist rock carvings and bai sema sacred boundary stone markers from that period remain, as well as pre-Dvaravati cave paintings. But the natural… Read More