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

My Abridged Versions of the Jataka Tales

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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

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

Culture

Maha Sarakham’s Many Museums

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display cases with mushrooms

Maha Sarakham city is never going to become a top tourist destination, but if you do find yourself here, there’s an abundance of museums that can keep you occupied. None are worth a special trip – in fact, several are so small they hardly qualify as museums – but each has its own appeal. Boon Tam Tan Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์บุญตามทัน) This small private museum on the southern outskirts of the city… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Wat Mahachai Northeastern Local Culture Museum

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five broken Khmer statues

In 1964 Dr. Phra Ariyanuwat Khemacharee, the former abbot of Wat Mahachai, saw foreigners coming to Isan to buy ancient artifacts – Buddhas, Khmer stone carvings palm-leaf manuscripts, etc. – so he requested people bring these things to the temple to protect them. Later the two-story Northeastern Local Culture Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์วัฒนธรรมท้องถิ่นภาคตะวันออกเฉียงเหนือ วัดมหาชัย) was built to house the diverse collection that had resulted, including a lot of Khmer-era sandstone statues and… Read More

Miscellaneous

The “Thai” Alphabet

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mortar and pestle

Inspired by the amazing butterfly alphabet, here is my “Thai” alphabet. I know some of these “letters” are a real stretch, but they’re the best I’ve found so far. This project will probably be perpetually in progress since I’ll add add new, better letters and numbers as I find them.  

Culture

Boon Pha Wet Photo Essay

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people carrying Pha Wet banner through a rice field

These photos are from the Boon Pha Wet (บุญผะเหวด) festival in Ban Lan, Amphoe Ban Phai, Khon Kaen province taken on March 26-28, 2019. Thanks to everybody we met at the temple, especially Phra Tao, Paw Jan Sanit Khemla, and P’ Kruea for answering so many questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Pha Wet, a short version of the Vessantara Jataka (wetsandon chadok in Thai) folktale from the Pali Canon that… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Sawanvoranayok National Museum

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12 antefix tiles in a glass display case

The small Sawanvoranayok National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ สวรรควรนายก) began as the private collection of the local monk, Phra Sawanvoranayok, abbot of Wat Sawankharam, the temple in front of the museum. Besides a small collection of Thai Buddhas of various artistic styles, the majority of the museum’s items are Sangkhalok pottery and stucco from Si Satchanalai. Very little is from the Khmer era. As of February 2019, the only Khmer artifacts from… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

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headless and limbless deity stone carved statue

The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ รามคำแหง) is in Sukhothai, and naturally its principal focus in the ancient Sukhothai kingdom. Khmer items make up a very small part of the collection, but three of the ruins in the ancient city were originally built by the Khmer and later adopted and modified by Sukhothai kings, so there are some. As of February 2019, these are all the Khmer artifacts from a known… Read More

History

Khmer Artifacts in the Maha Viravong National Museum

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hand from statue from Phanom Wan Khmer ruin at Maha Viravong National Museum

Probably the smallest national museum in Thailand, the Maha Viravong National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติมหาวีรวงศ์) occupies one little room on the grounds of Wat Suttha Chinda in central Khorat city, 350 meters south of the Thao Suranari Monument. Most of the artifacts come from the private collection of Somdej Phra Maha Viravong (Oun Tisso), the temple’s former abbot. And since they were generally just given to him by locals, most of the… 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

Boon Khao Phansa Photo Essay

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monk walking on front of a Khao Phansa candle parade float with the Thao Suranari Monument and Chumphon Gate on it

These photos are from the Boon Khao Phansa (บุญเข้าพรรษา) celebration in Khorat city on July 27 and 28, 2018. Most of the parade float-making photos were taken on July 19. Thanks to Ajahn Mai at Wat Nong Bua Rong for answering so many questions. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khao Phansa and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions. Boon Khao Phansa, the first day of the Buddhist… Read More

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