Proverb Murals at Wat Nong Wang

people doing different things

The fifth-floor murals inside Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple tell forty Isan proverbs about living a happy, successful, and moral life that monks sometimes mention in their sermons. Many of these English sentences are clunky, but they read more poetically in the original Isan. Explanations are given when needed, though a few are self-explanatory. Many of them are no longer widely used and some of… Read More

Phra Lan Chai Archaeological Site

wide view of shrine

Never excavated, little is known about Phra Lan Chai Archaeological Site (แหล่งโบราณคดีพระลานชัย), though the mix of laterite and sandstone along with the apparent size suggest the possibility it was a Khmer temple. When I asked about it in the village I was sent to an old man who told me that the local legend, which he heard when he was young, is that it was used for worship during late… Read More

Confucius in Thailand

statue of Confucius

One of the China’s foremost philosophers and political reformers, Confucius (ขงจือ/Kong Jeu in Thai) is a globally known icon of wisdom. Although there is scant evidence confirming any specific details, Confucius’ traditional life legend has a distinct lack of drama, success, and supernatural, which gives it far more credence than the magical background stories of most Chinese mortals who were later transformed into deities. Though there are, unsurprisingly, alternative Confucian… 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

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 to the main stairs. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to… Read More

Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

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

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

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 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

The Kacchapa Jataka (#273)

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

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

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. (The lead painter was Uthaitong Jantagon from Kalasin.) It’s much longer than the story as it’s normally told, but overall the plot is the same. And though I wrote it following the outline provided by… Read More

Ground-Floor Isan Culture Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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

Ground-Floor Khon Kaen History Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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

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

Wat Pho Ban Nontan Meditation Hall Art

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

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

Corpse Meditation Murals at Wat Um Long

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

The Buddha Nearing Death at Wat Yang Tuang Wararam

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 (including many Westerners who are uncomfortable with the idea of the Buddha eating meat, even though his meat eating and his explicit rejection of requiring monks to be vegetarian is discussed in the Pali Canon many times) have decided that the dish,… Read More

Mural Paintings of “Kalam” at Wat Nong Wang

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

The second-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