Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.)

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 a week. Of these four, only the daily Buddhas are commonly used in Thai temple art. The painter was Uthaitong Jantagon, from Kalasin.

painted doors
painting of the god Surya

The gods of the celestial bodies (planets, moons, etc.), each associated with a day of the week and based on the day of the week you were born, are used in reading the Thai horoscope (โชคชะตา – chok cha-da). Just like the western zodiac (Aries, Taurus, etc.) this supposedly can be used to predict people’s character and advise about what actions and decisions will bring good and bad luck in the near future. They are laid out in an auspicious order clockwise around the stupa and so do not follow the calendar. Though these gods are not often discussed in relation to directions, some sources say Shiva gave them direction duties too. The mounts shown below are typical for Thailand; these quite often differ with what’s used in India.

Each day of the week is also linked to an auspicious Buddha posture. These daily Buddhas, for the day of the week a person was born on, are often used when making merit at temples. They were originally (When it began is unknown, but it appears to have become popular during the reign of King Rama 3.) assigned to the same celestial bodies as the gods discussed above as a way to get people to rely on the Buddha for removing bad luck rather than those Hindu gods. Over time it transformed away from the planets to the birth-day system that Thais follow today.

Like the gods of the celestial bodies, the guardians of the eight cardinal and ordinal directions were adopted into Buddhism from Hinduism. While not often seen in Thai temples, they, or a similar set (Phanom Rung, for example, has Skanda for the south instead of Yama.), are often found at the Khmer-era temples found across Thailand.

Thai astrology book

While these gods and Buddhas are found Thailand-wide, the direction animals are an Isan-only tradition, and a largely obsolete one. (This is not related to the widespread animals of the Thai zodiac.) Besides serving as a local form of astrology, the direction animals can also be used to judge whether two people are likely to make good friends or not. To understand this complicated system requires reading a manual like ตำรา พรหมชาติ by คุณหมอใหญ่ (ลาภ กลั่นเจริญ).

The photos below start at the northeast corner, in front of the main stairs.

painting of the god Chandra riding a horse
Chandra – God of the Moon
Chandra (พระจันทร์ – pra jan) presides over Monday and is associated with the east. He is shown here on a horse, but usually rides in a chariot.
painting of a garuda
Garuda – The animal of the east.
painting of the god Indra
Indra – Guardian of the East
Indra (พระอินทร์ – pra een) is the god of storms, war, and the heavens. Usually called Sakka in Buddhist texts, he’s the king of all gods and the god who appears most often, by far, in stories of the Buddha’s lives.
painting of the Monday Buddha
Stopping the Flood (ปางห้ามสมุทร) – The Buddha posture of Monday. 1 Two postures are used for Monday. This is the less common one.
painting of the Tuesday Buddha
Preaching to Asurindarahu (ปางโปรดอสุรินทราหู หรือ ปางไสยาสน์) – The Buddha posture of Tuesday. 2 When used as part of the daily Buddhas the reclining posture represents “Entering Nirvana” instead of “Preaching to Asurindarahu” In fact, most people are unaware of the Asurindarahu story and always assume this posture is for the Buddha’s death.
painting of the god Agni
Agni – Guardian of the Southeast
Agni (พระอัคนี – pra ahk-ka-nee), also known as Pra Ploeng in Thai, is the god of fire.
painting of a cat
Cat – The animal of the southeast.
painting of the god Angaraka riding a bull
Angaraka – God of Mars
Angaraka (พระอังคาร – pra ang-kahn) presides over Tuesday and is associated with the southeast. His mount is a buffalo.
painting of the god Budha riding an elephant
Budha – God of Mercury
Budha (พระพุธ – pra pute) presides over Wednesday daytime and is associated with the south. His mount is a white elephant.
painting of a lion
Lion – The animal of the south.
painting of the god Yama
Yama – Guardian of the South
Yama (พระยม – pra yom) is the god of death and hell.
painting of the Wednesday daytime Buddha
Holding an Alms Bowl (ปางอุ้มบาตร) – The Buddha posture of Wednesday daytime.
painting of the Saturday Buddha
Protected by the Naga Mucalinda (ปางนาคปรก) – The Buddha posture of Saturday.
painting of the god Nirrti
Nirrti – Guardian of the Southwest
Nirrti (พระนิรฤติ – pra nee-reu-dee) is the god of death and misfortune. In the Indian tradition Nirrti is a goddess.
painting of a tiger
Tiger – The animal of the southwest.
painting of the god Shani riding a tiger
Shani – God of Saturn
Shani (พระเสาร์ – pra sao) presides over Saturday and is associated with the southwest. His mount is a tiger.
painting of the god Brihaspati riding a deer
Brihaspati – God of Jupiter
Brihaspati (พระพฤหัส – pra pa-reu-hat) presides over Thursday and is associated with the west. His mount is a deer.
painting of a naga
Naga – The animal of the west.
painting of the god Varuna
Varuna – Guardian of the West
Varuna (พระวรุณ – pra wah-rune) is the god of water and rain.
painting of the Thursday Buddha
Enlightenment (ปางตรัสรู้) – The Buddha posture of Thursday.
painting of the Wednesday nighttime Buddha
Retreat in the Forest (ปางป่าเลไลยก์) – The Buddha posture of Wednesday nighttime.
painting of the god Vayu
Vayu – Guardian of the Northwest
Vayu (พระพาย – pra pai) is the god of wind.
painting of a rat
Rat – The animal of the northwest.
painting of the god Rahu
Rahu – God of Eclipses
Rahu (พระราหู – pra rah-hu) presides over Wednesday nighttime and is associated with the northwest. Though not shown in the picture, his mount is usually a garuda.
painting of the god Shukra riding a bull
Shukra – God of Venus
Shukra (พระศุกร์ – pra suke) presides over Friday and is associated with the north. His mount is a bull.
painting of an elephant
Elephant – The animal of the north.
painting of the god Kubera
Kubera – Guardian of the North
Kubera (พระไพศรพณ์ – pra pai-sop), usually called Pra Guwane or Thao Wetsuwan in Thai, is the god of wealth.
painting of the Friday Buddha
Contemplation (ปางรำพึง) – The Buddha posture of Friday.
painting of the Sunday Buddha
In Pensive Thought (ปางถวายเนตร) – The Buddha posture of Sunday.
painting of the god Ishana
Ishana – Guardian of the Northeast
Ishana (พระอีศาน – pra ee-sah-na) is an avatar of Shiva, the god of destruction, and the namesake of Isan (Northeast Thailand). He often holds a naga in his hand.
painting of a cow
Cow – The animal of the northeast.
painting of the god Surya riding a kraisorn rajasri
Surya – God of the Sun
Surya (พระอาทิตย์ – pra ah-teet) presides over Sunday and is associated with the northeast. His mount is a kraisorn rajasri, a mythical lion-like animal from the Himmapan forest.
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