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

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

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

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

Boon Pha Wet Photo Essay

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

The Kacchapa Jataka (#273)

scene from the Kacchapa Jataka, a turtle biting a monkey's penis as the Bodhisatta watches

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

Boon Bang Fai

mural of Boon Bang Fai rocket festival tradition

Boon Bang Fai (บุญบั้งไฟ) is Month #6 of Heet Sip-Song – The Twelve Isan Merit-Making Traditions. Known as the Rocket Festival in English, Boon Bang Fai (literally “fiery tube”) is one of the iconic elements of Isan culture. The largest rockets are four meters long (plus a longer tail section), hold 120 kilograms of gunpowder and climb several kilometers high (an airplane pilot once claimed to have seen one at… Read More

Boon Pha Wet

mural of Boon Pha Wet tradition

Boon Pha Wet (บุญผะเหวด) is Month #4 of Heet Sip-Song – The Twelve Isan Merit-Making Traditions. The being who would eventually become the Buddha lived, he tells us in the Pali Canon, over 100,000 lives before reaching enlightenment. As the Buddha he recounted many of his past lives (called “Jataka” in English; chadok in Thai) and 547 stories about them have been formalized into their own chapter in the Pali… 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