Buddhism

Biography of Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, a Former Abbot of Wat Nong Wang

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painting of people getting on and off a very busy train

The idea for Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa, the famous centerpiece of Wat Nong Wang temple in Khon Kaen city, came from the highly respected Phra Tama Wisut Tajan, the then abbot of the temple. Usually called Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, his life story is told in these mural paintings on the stupa’s fourth floor. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.). Thanks to Suttawan Bewer, Chutima Intarapanich, and… Read More

Buddhism

The Reclining Buddhas of Thailand

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large reclining Buddha in Entering Nirvana posture with designs painted on soles of feet

In most of the world, reclining Buddha images represent the Buddha at his death. But in Thailand this is usually not the case. Of the seven reclining postures used in Thailand, two are the Buddha on his death bed, one shows him passing to nirvana, and two are for his cremation; but all of these are rather rare. And none of these is the classic hand-holding-up-his-head posture, which tells a… Read More

Buddhism

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

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

The carved wooden doors and window shutters 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. The Buddha’s life story continues… Read More

Buddhism

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

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woodcarving of the Buddha walking with many disciples

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 half of the Buddha’s tale is told up… Read More

Buddhism

Mahanipata Jataka at Wat Nong Wang

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

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. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) 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

Buddhism

Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

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painted doors

The paintings on the window shutters and doors on the fourth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang feature four separate but related things – gods of the celestial bodies (เทพนพเคราะห์), daily Buddhas (พระประจำวันเกิด), the guardians of the directions (เทพประจำทิศ), and animals of the directions (สัตว์ประจำทิศ) –all in groups of eight. For religious purposes Wednesday is split into daytime and nighttime resulting in eight days in… Read More

Temples

Wat Nong Wang

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stupa seen from across a lake

Wat Nong Wang (วัดหนองแวง) is Khon Kaen city’s biggest, most important temple, and also its one must-see tourist attraction. It was founded in 1789, the same year the city was settled, though there are no old buildings left. It became a royal temple in 1984. About 55 monks and 225 novices live here. It’s ordinary in most regards, except for the stunning nine-story Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon, a stupa unlike… Read More

Buddhism

Mahanipata Jataka Murals in Thai Temples

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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, are morality tales in which the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) develops the ten paramitas (“perfections of character”) that one needs to master in order to reach enlightenment. Mural paintings… Read More

Buddhism

Vessantara Jataka Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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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

Folktales

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

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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. It’s much longer than the story as it’s normally told, but overall the plot is the same. And though I wrote it strictly following the outline provided by these 88 paintings and the brief poem… Read More

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Culture

Ground-Floor Isan Culture Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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mural of fifth khong

This is the second of two pages explaining the ground-floor murals inside Wat Nong Wang‘s Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa. These murals are all about Isan culture. Murals #1-23, about Khon Kaen history and the general introduction about the murals are on the first page. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) Northeastern Way of Life (24) Land of the Kaen.Khon Kaen is known to some as the land… Read More

History

Ground-Floor Khon Kaen History Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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mural of bueng bon lake

The ground-floor murals inside Wat Nong Wang‘s Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa show both Khon Kaen history and Isan culture. This twin theme was suggested by the abbot, Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, and the murals were painted by local artist Kru Thammarong Kaewboran. My thanks to Kru Thammarong for discussing the meanings of the pictures, and pointing out some of the specific things depicted in them – many have fun… Read More

Temples

The Luang Por Phra Phut Buddha Image

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Luang Por Phra Phut Buddha image

A very ordinary Thai temple in most regards, and not high on the list of Phuket’s main tourist attractions, Wat Phra Thong (วัดพระทอง) is nevertheless a great detour for temple enthusiasts. People come to the “Temple of the Golden Buddha” (named by King Rama VI while he was still just a prince) to see its unique namesake Buddha image, which is usually called Luang Por Phra Phut (the “Emerging Buddha”)… Read More

Temples

Wat Khuat Mak Dhamma Siri

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Wat Khuat bottle temple's wihan and stupa

Wat Khuat Mak Dhamma Siri (วัดขวดมากธรรมศิริ) is the eighth “bottle temple” that I have found in Thailand. It’s quite large and the bottle decoration (mostly from beer and energy drinks) is used throughout the whole temple, not just on a few buildings. It’s definitely worth the trip. Almost always referred to as just Wat Khuat (วัดขวด), which means “Bottle Temple,” it’s less than an hour from both Hat Yai and… Read More

Temples

Wat That Khon Kaen

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cloister around the stupa at Wat That

While Wat Nong Wang is Khon Kaen’s largest and most interesting temple, and the city’s only must-see attraction, Wat That (วัดธาตุ) at the other end of Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake is also worth visiting. Its soaring stupa and ubosot, which make a beautiful backdrop to views from across the lake, are frequently described by travel writers as classic Isan/Lao design, but both are actually Central Thai style. Wat That was founded in… Read More

Culture

Wat Pho Ban Nontan Meditation Hall Art

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picture of turtles carrying books on their back on Wat Pho Nontan meditation hall

Nobody knows when Wat Pho Ban Nontan began, but the many clay Buddhas found here show that it is very old. It was upgraded around 1789, when Khon Kaen city was founded on the other side of the lake. Up until the mid-20th century, it remained surrounded mostly by wilderness. Though the city has now engulfed it, the temple retains the wilderness connections as best as it can with some… Read More

Buddhism

Corpse Meditation Murals at Wat Um Long

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Wat Um Long corpse meditation mural

The small old ubosot at Wat Um Long in Thoen, Lampang province, is interesting and unusual in many ways. The most interesting for me is that the majority of interior wall space is covered with murals of a monk doing corpse meditation. (The rest are scenes from the life of the Buddha.) This is not an uncommon subject matter for inclusion in temple paintings, but it’s rare for it to… Read More

Buddhism

The Buddha Nearing Death at Wat Yang Tuang Wararam

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close up of buddha vomiting on mural painting at wat yang tuang wararam

The Buddha died of dysentery after eating his final meal. Specifically what that meal was is unknown, but the traditional account says it was spoiled pork. Some people (seemingly mostly Westerners who are uncomfortable with the idea of the Buddha eating meat, even though this is discussed in the Pali Canon many times) have decided that the final meal of “soft pork” was actually a type of mushroom and he… Read More

Culture

Mural Paintings of “Kalam” at Wat Nong Wang

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Buddhist temple mural painting of woman tying a mut mee silk pattern.

The third-floor murals inside Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple show kalam (คะลำ), an Isan word meaning “things people should not do.” Many of these social rules are about showing proper respect to those with higher status than you, but others cover safety, manners, etc. Even traditions that the modern age has made obsolete, such as #27 (because most houses now have electric lights), are still followed by some people.… Read More