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Archive for April, 2014

Wat Nantaram in Chiang Kham

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Wat Nantaram – วัดนันตาราม – is a quite beautiful Tai Yai (Shan-style) temple in Chiang Kham, which is in Phayao province, Thailand. Thailand has so many temples that at times you can get “temple fatigue;” then you come across one such as Wat Nantaram and all fatigue is forgotten.

Windy Road

The road to Chiang Kham

View

A view along the road

We drove to Chiang Kham from Nan up twisty, windy roads (such as the one to the left) through the hills and mountains. Although it is only 400 or so meters above sea level, it seemed higher. We stopped many times to enjoy beautiful views such as the one above right.

Note: There is a slideshow of all of the images at the bottom of the blog.

Entryway

Entryway to Wat Nantaram

Deva

Celestial being on a pillar

(Click images to see larger version.)

We arrived about mid-day and, after having lunch right next door, we approached the temple compound on foot. Through the gate was a long driveway lined with pillars topped by statues of celestial beings. We lingered a while to take some pictures of these statues.

To the left of the driveway there were a number of Sai trees, popularly known in the U.S. an the cannonball tree, with their lovely blossoms. These trees are often found on temple grounds, for the Buddha was born under a Sai tree, which lowered one of its branches to help support his mother.

The Exterior of the Viharn

Temple Front

Wat Nantaram viharn

Temple Door

The entryway to the viharn

When I first saw the main building, the viharn (sermon hall), it literally took my breath away. It’s a golden teak wood temple in Burmese (Shan) style, with the distinctive roof architecture. It was built in 1925.

In the picture upper left you can see that two singh (mythical lions) flank the entryway as protectors while two (presumably celestial) beings wai (clasp hands in the front) in greeting.

Celestial Greeter

Celestial greeter

Roofs

Some roofs of the temple

It took us awhile to even enter the viharn. First, the two lovely greeters called out for our attention. Then there were the interlocking roofs to admire along with the lovely juxtaposition of the carved wooden scrollwork on the various roofs with the decorated wooden shutters on the windows.

Temple Front

Close-up of the front

Entry Detail

Further detail at the front

We took some time to admire the lovely details of the front, some of which are shown above.

Inside the Viharn

Temple Interior #1

Inside the viharn

Temple Interior #2

Another view of the interior

I found the interior of the viharn to be immensely calm – a sacred space. Dark and somewhat mysterious, there is a feeling of quiet devotion here, of goodness, of peace. There are golden pillars, decorated ceilings and varnished, dark wood floors. The room compels silence and reflection.

Buddha Statue

The main Buddha image

Buddha Statue

Close-up of the Buddha statue

The main Buddha image is very appealing. It portrays a younger Buddha with a luminous smile. (Do click on the image to the right to see a larger version.)

Buddha Statue #2

Another of the Buddha images

Statue Close-up

A close-up of the second Buddha

On the left side of the main Buddha image are two Burmese-style Buddha statues. For some reason the Burmese-style Buddhas are often (always?) white. The statue is resting on a lotus blossom and, like the middle image, has a radiant smile.

2 Buddhas

The statues from the side

Buddha Statue #3

Another Buddha statue

In temples I like to walk around the entire area and look at the statues from all angles.

The picture on the left shows the two Buddha statues mentioned above as photographed from the side.

On the right is another one of the Buddha statues, this one found to the right of the central Buddha statue (as you face the altar).

Temple Ceiling #1

Part of the ceiling

Temple Ceiling #2

Detail of the ceiling

At any temple in Thailand it pays to look everywhere, even at the ceiling. The ceiling at Wat Nantaram is quite elaborate, as these two pictures of separate details show.

Other Buildings at Wat Nantaram

Other Buildings

Other building on the temple grounds

Building Interior

Inside one of the other buildings

We spent quite a bit of time inside the main building (viharn) before exploring the rest of the temple grounds. Above left are two of the other buildings. The picture to the right shows the interior of one of the more interesting remaining buildings.

The altar here has a distinctly Chinese character. It shows three representations of Quanyin, the Goddess of Compassion. In the middle (see picture above right) is a statue of Quanyin in her guise as Avalokiteshvara, a many-armed Bodhisattva personifying perfect compassion and who refrains from entering the bliss of Buddhahood in order to help all beings attain enlightenment. The two flanking statues in back, looking very Chinese, are also representations of Quanyin showing her holding a vase with the dew of compassion.

Many-armed Statue

Close-up of the center statue

Wood Carven

Close-up of a wooden carving

On the left is a close-up of the center statue, Quanyin as Avalokiteshvara with her many arms.

To the right is a close-up of the wooden carvings that surround the room.

This temple is definitely worth a special trip from Nan when you are in the region.


Slideshow of Wat Nantaram

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Windy Road
View
Entryway
Deva
Flower
Temple Front
Temple Door
Celestial Greeter
Roofs
Temple Front
Entry Detail
Temple Interior #1
Temple Interior #2
Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue #2
Statue Close-up
2 Buddhas
Buddha Statue #3
Temple Ceiling #1
Temple Ceiling #2
Other Buildings
Building Interior
Many-armed Statue
Quanyin
Wood Carven

The road to Chiang Kham from Nan is quite windy!

One of many beautiful views on the road from Nan to Chiang Kham

The gate and entry to Wat Nantaram

The entryway is lined with celestial beings on posts

Blossom of a Sai tree, which the Buddha was born under

The viharn at Wat Nantaram

Close-up of the entry door to the viharn at Wat Nantaram

A pair of celestial beings greet you as you enter

The Shan-style roofs of the temple

A close-up of the entryway to Wat Nantaram

Further detail of the front of Wat Nantaram

Inside the viharn at Wat Nantaram

Another view of Inside the viharn at Wat Nantaram

The main Buddha image and altar at the viharn of Wat Nantaram

A close-up of the main Buddha image at the viharn

A Buddha statue to the left of the altar

Close up of the second Buddha image

The two Buddha statues from the side

This Buddha statue was to the right of the altar

The ceiling of the temple is elaborately decorated

This is a detail of part of the ceiling

Two other buildings on the temple grounds

Inside one of the other temple buildings at Wat Nantaram

This many-armed statue is Quanyin in her guise of Avalokiteshvara

One of the flanking statues of Quanyin

A close up of one of the wood carvings that surrounds the room

Windy Road thumbnail
View thumbnail
Entryway thumbnail
Deva thumbnail
Flower thumbnail
Temple Front thumbnail
Temple Door thumbnail
Celestial Greeter thumbnail
Roofs thumbnail
Temple Front thumbnail
Entry Detail thumbnail
Temple Interior #1 thumbnail
Temple Interior #2 thumbnail
Buddha Statue #1 thumbnail
Buddha Statue thumbnail
Buddha Statue #2 thumbnail
Statue Close-up thumbnail
2 Buddhas thumbnail
Buddha Statue #3 thumbnail
Temple Ceiling #1 thumbnail
Temple Ceiling #2 thumbnail
Other Buildings thumbnail
Building Interior thumbnail
Many-armed Statue thumbnail
Quanyin thumbnail
Wood Carving thumbnail

For further exploration:


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014

Black House (บ้านดำ) Museum in Chiang Rai

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

In Chiang Rai we visited one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever experienced anywhere. The Baandam Museum – พิพิธภัณฑ์บ้านดำ – บ้าน (baan) meaning “house” and ดำ (dam) meaning “black” – is actually (also) the residence of National Artist Thawan Duchanee. And what a residence it is!


Spoiler alert: When I visited here I had no preconceptions of what I was going to see. The experience was probably much stronger because of that. If you’d prefer an experience unfettered by knowledge, you may want to skip this blog.

Here’s a link to practical details about the museum (hours, location). There’s also a slideshow of images from the museum (with many more images than in the blog).


2 Houses

The front two buildings

The “museum” or “house” is actually a compound with over 40 buildings spread across a wide area. The house of the artist is one of the buildings, one of several not open to the public. The other buildings vary in degree of access: some are open and you can go into them; on others the doors are locked and fettered; others are closed but you can see into the windows; others are covered spaces easily visible and accessible.

(Click images to see a larger version.)

At the entry there are two beautiful buildings: a smaller one in front with a larger one behind, both reminiscent of (echoing? based on?) temples or of buildings you’d see on a temple ground. At this point, I though that these two buildings were the entire museum.

Small Building

Smaller building in front

Wood Carving

Wood carving on the small building

From the very start, encountering the front building, the eye is arrested by details: glorious and detailed wood carvings flanking and on the doors and above the lintel; statues in front; crushed rock enclosing the base of the building; triangular wooden carvings of nagas supporting the upper sides, just as they do at most temples in Thailand.

Carved Door

The front building’s carved door

Carving Detail

Detail of front door carving

To the left is the entryway to the smaller, frontmost building: a carved door  with a fanciful scrollwork of leaves and branches above the door.

To the right we see the carving on the door itself up close: an array of courtiers or celestial beings.

This frontmost building is not open to the public.

The second building, from the outside, could be a viharn, an assembly hall for the laity at a temple, which usually houses the principal Buddha image. It’s plainer on the outside (by comparison to the first building) and has some lovely wooden carvings on the facade. The lower portion is all natural wood.

As you enter the building, the interior is mostly dark, lit only by light through the doors and windows. It is a vast, open space with beams, filled with objects everywhere you look. The architecture of the building may resemble a Thai Buddhist temple but the interior of a temple was never arrayed like this room.

Here’s some of what I saw.

Columns

Columns of wood carvings

Carving Detail

Close up of a carved Garuda

Carved wooden pillars in groups.

(Do click on the pictures to see a larger version with more detail.)

Long Table

The long table

Hornbill

Hornbill head surrounded by feathers

A long table laid with two long snake skins and statues, the table surrounded by large black chairs with legs made from buffalo horns.

A hornbill head mounted in the middle of a circle of peacock feathers.

And more.

This building is just the beginning of Thawan Duchanee’s world.


Exit the back door to the rest of the compound. There are at least 40 other buildings, each one compelling attention in a different way. There are: many temple-like bulidings; open air structures (salas); circular white buildings (which echo certain temple structures as well); a building like a giant whale; an open building with huge drums; skulls lining a building’s perimeter.

Rock Garden

Rock garden in front of a building

Although there was a great deal of black, there was also quite a bit of natural wood in the buildings, with salas and a few white buildings acting as a counterpoint. Very little feels modern here. Rather than plastic or shiny metal (with an exception or two), there is wood (lots of wood), stone and clay tile – materials that call to mind the world of nature.

One of the most striking features for me were the stones. Many buildings are preceded by areas with crushed stone of various sizes, often with other large stones, reminiscent of a Zen rock garden.

Wooden Carving

Wooden carving, scrollwork

And everywhere there are the wooden carvings: lovely, detailed depictions of nagas, devas and courtly figures with exuberant scrollworks of leaves and branches.

With all the differing structures and the differing features there is still a coherency to the compound, the indication of a single vastly creative mind at work, a mind fascinated with natural objects: bones, skulls, snake skins, horns, wood, shells, crocodile skins, rocks and stones.

It was fascinating to wonder through the compound, a bit dreamlike and almost outside of normal time and space – going from structure to structure, first caught by an entire building, then focusing in on a whole carving, then captivated by a detail and then drawn into a further detail.

Statue

Statue guarding the door

There are many temple motifs: nagas on buildings and doors, carvings of celestial beings, here and there a Buddha statue. There also is an erotic component, such as the statue with the stiff phallus guarding a white circular building or in the arrangement of a row of conch shells.

I’ve heard the opinion that the museum is very dark or even “creepy” (because of all the black and the bones, the skulls). I disagree. I found it incredibly life-affirming. The whole of life is arrayed here: the sublime and the earthy, heaven and hell. Always, the natural objects return you to this world.

Entering some of the buildings is like entering a shrine more than a museum. To enter one of the small, white circular buildings you first must pass the phallic guardian. The room is surrounded by chairs made from water buffalo horns resting on animal skins with an animal skin on the seat. Some chairs are interspersed with statues. The center of the room is filled with a huge alligator skin surrounded by hundreds of large shells.

Interior Shot

Inside a small circular building

You tread softly here. There is a stillness that you hesitate to break. You are careful not to change the position of anything: everything is just where it belongs. Why the chairs? What kind of a assemblage would take place here?

Traditionally, round buildings such as this on temple grounds house depictions of Buddhist hell. Certainly, the Thais who visit the room have this context for what is inside. In such a building at a temple there might be statues or paintings depicting the horrors of hell and often a deva or spirit in a chair sitting in judgment: in (some) Buddhist cosmology when you die, you are sent to a place where your entire life is appraised.  In this room there are animal elements (the horn, the animal skins), a strong element of the sea and water (the shells and alligator) and the chairs: perhaps they are an invitation to sit, to examine the totality of one’s life from a different, wider perspective.


Thawan Duchanee was born in Chiang Rai in September 1939, making him 74 years old. There’s a marvelous photograph of the artist here looking like a Taoist sage. He studied both in Thailand and Europe (at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam).

When he returned to Thailand, he became controversial. According to The Nation, “Thawan developed a unique style of artistry using black and red tones, based on the styles of traditional Buddhist art to explore the darkness lurking within humanity.” (The Nation article on “The 40 Most Internationally Acclaimed Thais”.) The Black House was begun in 1976. He was named a National Artist in 2001.

A blog devoted to him explains his work like this:

He then began to explore and reexamine the insanity, degeneration, violence, eroticism, and death lurking in the heart of modern man as they are involved with religion. Mr. Thawan expressed these concepts with a startling technique utilizing a black tone, drawing from the wellspring of traditional Thai Buddhist art and Buddhist thought.”

                          – Quote from thawanduchanee.blogspot.com.

Some of his exhibits were so controversial that they were attacked.

Talking of his home and the museum, the artist said:

The Black House evokes the past Thai civilization in a contemporary manner. I try to bring the spirit, heart and soul in their life [into the pieces]. (From Time Magazine’s The Dark and the Light Side of Thai Art.)

The Black House Museum contains almost no paintings or drawings: it is composed of buildings, objects and sculptures. The whole compound is a three-dimensional work of art.


I’ve put together a slideshow that details some of my wanderings that day at the Baandam Museum. I hope that some of the numinous nature and sense of wonder comes through, some of the sense of wandering and discovering yet another unique vision. What the slides can not convey is the solidity of the objects, the visceral reaction to bone, shell and skin.

Details about the museum (hours, location) are found after the slideshow.

I’ll close with this quote from the artist, taken as printed (no punctuation or line breaks) from  thawanduchanee.blogspot.com):

Do not seek for understanding, in the temple of mysterious Feel them my friends from heart to heart Do not ask the meaning of the stars in the constellation Smile of the baby in the cradle of mothers Sweet fragrance in the pollens of flowers It is the work of art !

my friends… In the deepest of my mystic mind, come closer to my spirit Listen to my heartbeat, without word


Slideshow of บ้านดำ (Black House)

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

2 Houses
Small Building
Wood Carving
Carved Door
Carving Detail
black-house-06
Columns
black-house-08
black-house-09
black-house-10
Carving Close-up
Long Table
black-house-12
black-house-13
black-house-14a
black-house-14
Hornbill
black-house-16
Wooden Carving
Wooden Carving
black-house-19
black-house-20
black-house-21
black-house-22
black-house-24
Rock Garden
black-house-25
black-house-26
black-house-27
black-house-59
black-house-60
black-house-28
black-house-29
black-house-30
black-house-31
black-house-32
black-house-33
black-house-34
Statue
black-house-36
black-house-37
Interior Shot
black-house-39
black-house-40
black-house-41
black-house-42
black-house-43
black-house-44
black-house-45
black-house-46
black-house-47
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black-house-49
black-house-50
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black-house-52
black-house-53
black-house-54
black-house-55
black-house-56
black-house-57
black-house-58
black-house-61
black-house-62
black-house-63

You see these two buildings at the very front of the Black House Museum

This is the smaller building in the front

Carving of a naga on the frontmost building, similar to those found in temples

The entryway to the first building is a carved door flanked by elaborate carved scrollwork

Figures carved on the first building's doorway

An elaborate wood carving, part of the second building

A forest of carved, wooden pillars inside the larger second building

The pillars cry out to be looked at, examined

A naga on one of the carved wooden pillars

Garuda head on one of the wooden columns

Further close-up of the Garuda carving

The long table in the front building

This statue is found on the long table

A close-up of the statute

Interior shot with hornbill sculpture

Fanciful sculpture utilizing a hornbill head encircled by peacock feathers

Close-up of the hornbill sculpture

Another building on the grounds after exiting the front buildings

The wooden scrollwork on the front of the building

One of the nagas guarding a building entry

A different naga at a different building

The roofs of yet another building

A cage with a bird on the compound

Bones and a skull underneath one of the buildings

This building has a stone and rock garden in the front

A close-up of the stone and rock garden

Stone monoliths on the grounds

One of many statues found around the property

A multi-bodied/headed naga, just as you'd find in a temple

Door panel behind the multiple naga

Close-up of a similar panel showing nagas

More carving (with many celestial beings) above a door

Two of the buildings on the compound

One of the artisans at work

This building is reminiscent of a Christian church (on the outside)

It has this elaborate array of items at the door

The inside is surrounded by chairs covered in animal hides

There are three, smaller white circular buildings together

This statue guards the door of one of the small, circular buildings

The interior houses an array of large shells

One of the statues on the surrounding wall

Chairs with animal hides line the walls

The interior of another of the small, white circular buildings

The interior of the 3rd of these buildings

A fanciful building, reminiscent of an exuberant whale

The outside of this sala is lined with skulls

Close-up of one of the skulls,

A bathroom in one of the buildings, perhaps a guesthouse

Another rock and stone garden precedes one of the structures

One of the doors on the structure

The eye focuses in . . .

. . . and keeps going

A "singh" (mythical lion) at the bottom of the carving

A further close-up of the "singh" (mythical lion)

An area with a circle of bones underneath a building

A close-up of the bones

Another edifice with its temple-like roof and its wooden carvings

The carving above the lintel

This sala has rough-hewn tables and chairs

Two favorite motifs: wooden carving and animal skull

Another of the buildings

A statue of Ganesh

On my way out I focused in on this building . . .

. . . housing 3 Buddha statues

Here's a close-up of the two frontmost Buddhas and an end to the slide show

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Carving Close-up thumbnail
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Details About Black House

Baandam Museum
414 Moo 13 Nanglae
Muang, Chiang Rai, 57100 Thailand
Tel/Fax : (66) 53 – 776 – 333
Mobile: (66) 83 – 336 – 5333
Open Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed from noon to 1 p.m.)

Leave plenty of time to wander.

Here are two maps:

It is found 1.9 kilometers pas Chiang Rai University by turning left on Soi 13. After nearly half a kilometer turn left note a small soi and you’ll soon see it on the left.

Links to Other Sites


Written by Michael Babcock, April 2014