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

Sra Pleng Ancient Quarry

rock wall with cut marks

Sra Pleng Quarry (ลานหินตัดสระเพลง) is hidden away in a forest at the foot of the Sankamphaeng Mountains in the south-central part of Ta Phraya National Park. A geologist from the Ministry of Mineral Resources who visited identified this grey sandstone as from the Phu Kradung Formation, which dates to around 150 million years ago. Geological maps of Thailand I’ve seen show this area to be the younger Sao Khua or… Read More

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

painting of people getting on and off a very busy train

อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) 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. It begins in the northeast corner, next… Read More

The Reclining Buddhas of Thailand

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

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 and 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

Boon Khao Jee Photo Essay

women making khao jee at the temple

These photos are from the Boon Khao Jee (บุญข้าวจี่) ceremony in Ban Hua Na, Amphoe Nong Ruea, Khon Kaen province on February 7-8, 2020. Thanks to Pra Kru Sathaphon Thammasan, Mae Turian, and Khun Pam for helping me out. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khao Jee and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions. Preparation The day before Boon Khao Jee was a mostly… Read More

Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

painted doors

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… Read More

Wat Nong Wang

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

Boon Khun Lan Photo Essay

man putting sack of rice on the pile

These photos are from the Boon Khun Lan (บุญคูณลาน) ceremony in Ban Thung Nang Ok, Amphoe Mueang, Yasothon province on December 30, 2019 to January 1, 2020. Thanks to Mae Nang, Mae Yewa, Khun Noi, Khun Noot, Khun Wii, and everyone else in the village for being such great hosts and answering all my questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khun Lan and an overview of heet… Read More

Boon Khao Kam Photo Essay

two monks walking in and out of ubosot

These photos are from the Boon Khao Kam (บุญเข้ากรรม) ceremony at Ban Khok Nong Waeng, Amphoe Non Daeng, Nakhon Ratchasima Province between November 29 and December 10, 2019. Thanks to everyone there, especially Phra Khru O-Pat, Phra Bunserm, Phra Apichat, Mae Wanni, and Mae Un, for being so helpful and welcoming me at the temple for ten days. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khao Kam and an… Read More

Prang Phon Songkhram Khmer Ruin

bannalai and gopura

A temple for one of the 102 arogayasala (hospitals) built by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219), Prang Phon Songkhram (ปรางค์พลสงคราม) follows the standard design of arogayasala, including being built primarily with laterite, using sandstone only for trim. The only original entrance is through an eastern gopura. It’s cross-shaped with small chambers to the east, south, and north (which still have their roofs) and an uncarved lintel over the outer front… 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 tot-sah-chat chah-dok (ทศชาติชาดก) or phra-jao-sip-chat (พระเจ้าสิบชาติ ) in Thai and the Mahanipata Jataka in English (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… Read More

Kuti Ruesi Ban Nong Bua Rai Khmer Ruin

platform in front of temple

At the foot of Phanom Rung mountain, Kuti Ruesi Ban Nong Bua Rai (กุฎิฤษีบ้านหนองบัวราย) was the temple for one of the 102 arogayasala (hospitals) built by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219) around the empire. Like a lot of his projects, it was not fully completed. Like other arogayasala, it’s built with laterite using sandstone for the trim and has a single east-facing tower for the main sanctuary with a single bannalai to its southeast, both… Read More

Kuti Ruesi Ban Khok Mueang Khmer Ruin

pond in front and temple in background

Just 750m away from Prasat Muang Tam, Kuti Ruesi Ban Khok Mueang (กุฏิฤาษีบ้านโคกเมือง) was built much later by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219) for one of the 102 arogayasala (hospitals) he opened across the empire. It has the standard arogayasala design: a single east-facing tower, a single bannalai southeast of the tower, an enclosure with just one gopura, and a rectangular pond outside to the northeast; all built of laterite with sandstone only for trim. The main prang,… Read More

Prasat Ban Bu Khmer Ruin

south side of temple

Prasat Ban Bu (ปราสาทบ้านบุ) is one of the 17 dharmasala fire shrines King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219), a devout Buddhist, built along the road from Angkor to Phimai, and one of only two in Thailand that have been restored; Prasat Ta Muean being the other. The clear color difference shows that over half of the laterite blocks used to rebuild it are new. Prasat Ban Bu is a single east-facing… Read More

Arogayasala and Dharmasala

typical dharmasala

One of the great things about visiting Khmer temples is that most have their own unique style. But in Thailand there are two exceptions to this, the arogayasala (hospital) and dharmasala (resthouse) temples, all of which have the same general layout and design as the others. Both of these were specialized temples commissioned by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1182-1219). One of the greatest Angkor kings, he restored a beleaguered empire… Read More

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