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Examining the Life of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej – Rama IX

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Introduction

Introduction by Michael Babcock

As the late King Bhumibol Adulydej’s funeral approaches, Kasma and I have been revisiting his life and feeling anew deep sorrow at the passing of this incredible man. I would have expected time (it’s 11 months since his death) to dull the grief somewhat: that has not been the case.

A friend of Kasma’s recently wondered what the fuss was about, why virtually an entire nation could revere one person so much. She wanted to better understand why Kasma is going to Thailand this year to take part in the ceremonies honoring the King.

Waiting to pay respects

Waiting to pay respects

As of September 4, over 10,000,000 people have come from across the country to pay respects before the Royal Urn at the Grand Palace’s Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall – that’s an average of 33,146 per day. On Sunday September 3 – 305 days after his death – a total of 45,125 arrived to pay their respects. The day Kasma and I went together in January we were just 2 out of nearly 60,000 people and waited 9 hours to get into the throne hall. Many people have gone multiple times. Donations from the people have amounted to 754,646,253 baht – around $23,000,000. (Figures from this September 4, 2017 Thai PBS article.)

Kasma put together this list for her friend. We invite you to follow some of the links and learn about this extraordinary being.

– Michael


Resources for the Life of King Rama IX

By Kasma Loha-unchit

King Rama IX

King Rama IX

“While I was in Bangkok I became how very aware people felt about your late King. Even then he was not well and there was a palpable feeling of worry and concern for him. That’s wonderful that you are going over early and can truly participate in honouring your finest monarch. Where can we read about his great works Kasma?”

              – Kasma’s friend’s question

Written Word Online

There are tons of books written about the King and his great works and words of wisdom, though the most precious are the books written in the Thai language and published within Thailand. In fact, anything about the King becomes best sellers these days. I recall how sad it was when I arrived in Thailand last November and all magazines on the news racks, local and international, had the King’s picture splashed on the cover in black and white and this continued for three months until the end of the year. The Bangkok Post published a tribute about the King’s life and the Thai Embassy has a page with a few articles about him, if you wish a quick and easy read about him:

Videos

King at Work

The King at Work

There are also a great number of YouTube videos with very touching images and stories. I particularly love the one put together by a couple of Thailand’s well-known documentary film makers in tribute to him; it’s a composite of flashbacks, images of sorrow, and the preparation and execution of the incredible mass singing of the Royal Anthem in his honor by hundreds of thousands gathered outside the Grand Palace a few weeks following his death. I’m reduced to a puddle of tears every time I see it and hear the King’s voice in an address he gave in 1976:

Here are a few more Youtube videos in English which will tell you the story why Thais love him so much:

And if you have time, the BBC filmed an excellent 2–1/2 hour documentary on the royal family in 1979, which you can also watch on YouTube:

Books

Rama IX with his people

Rama IX with his people

The above probably are enough to satisfy your interest, but should you be curious and wish to read more about the life of one of the greatest men to walk on this earth in the 20th century, here are my favorite books in the English language about him (although you may have a hard time finding most of them online):

  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work by Nicholas Grossman (Editor-in-Chief); first published 2011; ISBN 978-981-4260-56-5
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: Thailand’s Guiding Light (1996 The Post Publishing Public Co.. Ltd.); ISBN: 974-202-040-X
  • The Mahidol Family by Parichat Khumraksa (Translator: M.R. Usnisa Sukhsvasti), 2014; ISBN 978-616-374-073-1
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: The New Kingship (A Three-Volume Series: Vol. I : From Prince to King; Vol. II: Strength of the Land; Vol. III: By the Light of Your Wisdom) by Danai Chanchaochai; ISBN:978-974-9977-57-6 (an easy-read set)
  • The Revolutionary King: The True-Life Sequel to ‘The King and I’ by William Stevenson (first published in 1999); ISBN: 1-84119-451-4
  • The King of Thailand in World Focus (Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand, articles from the international press 1946-2006, first published 2007); Editor-in-Chief: Denis D. Gray; ISBN: 978-974-7348-54-5

Songs

There have also been dozens of songs penned and recorded by popular musicians in tribute to the King over his reign and following his death. Of course, they’re all in Thai except for two tributes by the international expat community in Bangkok. Here’s a nice one that I thought you might like (recorded a couple of years before his death):

Postscript

I think I’ve more than overwhelmed you with information about my beloved King. See what a short nine-word question can get you? The King has been the focus of my life this year and it’s been very hard to accept that the hero of my life has left.

King Rama IX

King Rama IX

 


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2017

Doi Suthep – A Personal View

Michael Babcock, Friday, February 20th, 2015

Doi Suthep Scene

Monks at Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is the most important temple in northern Thailand. This blog is a slideshow of images I took when visiting in January 2015. Temples in Thailand can consist of many buildings inside a compound (the wat). There is nearly always a stupa (called chedi in Thai) and a building with the main Buddha image.

The main feature of Doi Suthep is a large chedi in an inner courtyard; a sala around the courtyard contains temple murals and many Buddha statues. In-between the chedi and the sala is an area with many “chapels.” One of the customs at Doi Suthep (indeed, at many temples) is to walk around the main chedi 3 times in a clockwise direction. Outside the chedi area are many more statues and various buildings.

I love photographing temples in Thailand. Everywhere you look there are arresting visual images and details that are easy to overlook if you focus on seeing just the main attractions. Doi Suthep is particularly rich in photogenic features. I’ve been there many times and each time it is varied and different. This photo essay represents this year only.

Since one picture is allegedly worth 1,000 words, here is my “29,000 word” blog, each picture accompanied by a minimum of words to provide context.

You may want to walk through the photos by clicking on each image so that you can have time to read the accompanying text. Give time for the slides to load. Please enjoy.

Doi Suthep Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

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Doi Suthep is on a hill; this is the first Buddha image you see as you arrive at the base of the hill.

Passing shops, you come to the base of the stairs, where these Lisu girls wait to be photographed (for a fee). The Naga (mythical dragon) protects the stairs.

Being photographed can be boring work.

The lower staircase has some interesting details, such as this crocodile.

Another detail at the bottom of the stairs.

The stairs to the temple, with over 300 steps; a tram is available.

One of two giants who guard the top of the staircase.

The main chedi against a cloudy sky.

A Buddha in the inner courtyard surrounding the chedi, with murals on the wall in back.

Another Buddha statue: the inner courtyard is lined with different Buddhas and murals.

One of the temple murals.

A mural of the Buddha's Enlightenment as witnessed by the Earth Mother Goddess.

Close-up of the Earth Mother Goddess.

The roofs of one of the buildings on the compound.

The main chedi is surrounded by many chapels, such as this one.

Monks with the "9th pre-requisite" - a digital camera.

Many people, including monks, walk around the main chedi 3 times (once for the Buddha, once for the Dhamma and once for the Sangha).

The author of this blog. Photo by his wife, Kasma.

This statue is found in the area outside the main chedi area.

A statue of the Earth Mother Goddess in the area outside the main chedi area.

A view from outside the main chedi.

Two young Thai dancers in the area leading to the main chedi - there are usually entertainers there.

Close-up of one of the Thai dancers.

A guardian statue at a staircase outside the main chedi.

Solicitation for tips at a coffee shop at the top of the stairs.

Fried food for sale at the bottom of the staircase on the way out; that area is lined with shops.

Fried quail eggs at the bottom of the stairs. Delicious!

A photograph of Chao Dararasmi, Princess Consort of the Fifth Reign, one of many old photographs at the bottom of the stairs off the road.

Chao Dararasmi and her niece, a photo at the bottom of the stairs off the road.

We'll end with the first image.

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Written & Photographed by Michael Babcock, February 2015

 

Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

One of the highlights when we visited Northen Thailand earlier this year (January 2014) was the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Hosting the region’s largest collection of folk art and teak artifacts from the Lanna Kingdom, the adjective I would use to describe it is gracious. The highlights, aside from the art, are a beautiful golden pavilion, an elegant peaceful garden and a museum of Lanna art, contemporary and old.

This is a rather long blog with 6 sections:

(Click images to see larger version.)

Haw Kham – The Golden Pavilion

Outside the Cultural Park

Approaching the Cultural Park

Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

When we came here, I knew nothing about the place at all. As we walked in on foot towards the Cultural Park, we came upon a wooden walkway over a lovely pond, surrounded by natural beauty and peacefulness. In the back we saw the Golden Pavilion: a beautiful teakwood building in the Lanna style of architecture that was presented as a gift to the Princess Mother to celebrate her 84th birthday in 1984. It was constructed by 32 wooden houses given by various people in Chiang Rai out of love for the Princess Mother. The Golden Pavilion reflects the deep love and gratitude towards the Princess Mother and all that she had done for the Northern people.

Covered Walkway

Covered walkway

Pavilion detail

Detail of the Golden Pavilion

The walkway itself is a work of art, with it’s wooden beams and supports. There are lovely details on the sides of the pavilion as well (see upper right).

Elephant Carvings

Elephant carvings on the staircase

Doorway Detail

Detail above the doorway

The stairway and door of the pavilion are rich in detail and beauty, as these two pictures show: a row of elephants walks you up the stairs and on the lintels above the door, celestial beings great you.

At the bottom of the stairs we were met by a young woman in a lovely Thai dress who was our guide into the pavilion.

The Pavilion is not a museum. The idea was to include notable religious and secular objects, many used in Lanna ritual and displayed within context; there are ritual items such as candelabras, wooden standards and containers for floral offerings. The interior is candlelit and there is a feeling of sanctity. One of the more prominent images is a wooden Buddha statue named Pra Pratoh, which, according to inscriptions, was created in 1693.

Pavilion interior

Inside the Golden Pavilion

Central Pillar

Central pillar

Photography is forbidden inside the pavilion. The ritual objects are around a hallway or balcony surrounding the interior of the building overlooking a central courtyard with a white sand floor. A red and gold pillar rises from the center of the floor. It’s a lovely, quiet space.

You can see the inside of the pavilion in this picture (above left) from down below, looking up from the white sand floor. If you click on the (left) picture (to enlarge) you can see part of the walkway with the objects displayed in the back of the photo.

Candelabra #1

One candelabra

Candelabra #2

Another candelabra

Many of the ritual objects displayed in the Pavilion were candelabras that hold 7 candles. The two photos shown above were taken from outside the pavilion where a number of these candelabras were displayed around the building’s base.


Background of the Cultural Park

Princess Mother

The Princess Mother

Mae Fah Luang is one of the titles of Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother, who was the mother of the current King of Thailand. It means “Royal Mother from the Sky,” in part a reference to the Princess Mother’s work in bringing medicine to the rural areas of the north by helicopter, often accompanying the medical teams herself. The Foundation grew out of all of her work on behalf of the Thai people. It began life as the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation that the Princess Mother founded in 1972 to offer market access for craft-making villages in Northern Thailand; it was renamed in 1985 to reflect the increasing emphasis on social issues, including education and sustainable development, that were being developed based on the Princess Mother’s philosophy and ideas.

Water Basin

Lanna water container

The Cultural Park was established at what was called the Rai Mae Fah Luang, a center for education and skills training for hill tribe youth in Northern Thailand. It was established to house the Royal Collection of Lanna Art in order to make the art available to the northern people in order to educate them about their cultural heritage. It is the largest collection of Lanna art in the region.

The word Lanna means “a million rice fields” and the Lanna Kingdom was founded in the 13th century AD by King Mengrai. It was basically a federation of smaller princialities in the north, including areas in Burma, Laos, Thailand and southern China. Conquered in the mid-16th century by the Burmese, it became a vassal state of Siam in the late 18th century, remaining a loose federation with up to 57 city states or principalities. In 1892, Siam officially annexed Lanna and it became part of Thailand.

The Garden

From the Golden Pavilion, we spent time wandering around the second main feature of the Park: the garden, a botanical collection with indigenous and rare plants from the northern region.

Air Plants

Giant air plants

Tropical Leaf

Tropical leaf

The garden has some beautiful specimens, such as these giant air plants (above left). Many plants have interesting leaf structures.

Pond

Pond and urns

3 statues

3 garden statues

There are graceful details throughout, such as these urns at the edge of a pond. Statues are nestled in amongst the plants.

Stones #1

Stone garden

Stones #2

Stone garden

There’s a lovely use of rocks and stones to add accents and interest, such as the two photos above.

Carving #1

Garden carving

Spirit House

Spirit house close-up

Carving #2

Carved pillar

These three photos show some of the other features in the garden.

Wall

Wall with carvings

Carving Detail

Carving detail

Even the walls of the building are interesting, with wooden carvings part of the structure.


Haw Kaew – The Museum

The other main part of the Cultural Park is the Haw Kaew. According to the brochure handed out at the Park, “Haw Kaew presents a permanent exhibition based on artifacts and religious items made from teak, as teak was used in people’s everyday lives. In addition there are revolving exhibitions featuring “topics related to the diverse ethic cultures of Lanna.”

Painting

Portrait of the Princess Mother

Museum Entry

Museum entry

One of the first things that you see when you come into the museum is a portrait of the Princess Mother. It is hard to convey the devotion that most northern people feel for this extraordinary woman. She was instrumental in bringing education, skills training, medicine and dental care to the rural northerners. In the west we seem to have a somewhat jaundiced view of royalty. It’s different in Thailand because of the dedication of the current royal family, which began with the Princess Mother. (See the Wikipedia entry on Srinagarindra (the Princess Mother).)

Painting

By Dr. Kamol Tassanaanchalee

Bas Relief

Creation by Jarron Chaijajit

Banner

Modern banner

The museum includes a collection of contemporary art by northern Thai artists. Above left is a painting by Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee based on what the sign calls “Thailand’s most popular love song” – Lovelorn Song, the lyrics by Chalie Intravichit. In the center is a wood carving – “Creation,” by Jarron Chaijajit. To the right is a banner, attributed only to “a Chiangrai artist.”

Modern Sculpture

Modern sculpture

Sculpture Close-up

Close-up of the sculpture

Sculpture Detail

Sculpture detail

I loved this wooden sculpture with all of it’s textures and folds.

Naga Carvings

Lanna temple naga carvings

Enshrined Buddha #1

Enshrined Buddha

Wooden carving

Wooden carving

Still, the bulk of the collection consists of older Lanna art. Above left is a row of nagas (the naga is a mythical dragon) taken from various Lanna temples. The museum includes a number of enshrined Buddhas, such as the one in the center above. There are numerous wooden carvings, such as the one above right, presumably of a celestial being or princess.

Manuscript Chest

Manuscript chest

Enshrined Buddha #2

Another enshrined Buddha

The picture above left shows a manuscript chest that would have been used to store Buddhist scriptures. To the right is a teak carving of the Buddha enclosed by 2 protective nagas; the sign for this piece says “Enshrining an image of the Lord Buddha Shan.

The Slideshow below has further images from the museum.


Note: There’s also a smaller buiding on the grounds called the Haw Kham Noi . It houses mural paintings originally done in tempera painted directly on teak panels in a temple in Phrae province; they were saved from sale as antique by the villagers and sent here for safekeeping. We did not see the murals when we were there.


Location

อุทยานศิลปะวัฒนธรรมแม่ฟ้าหลวง
313 หมู่ 7 บ้านป่างิ้ว ต.รอบเวียง อ.เมือง จ.เชียงราย 57000
โทร. 053 716 605-7, 053 601 013 โทรสาร 053 712 429
อีเมล : rmfl@doitung.org

Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
313 Moo 7, Baan Pa Ngiew
Tambon Robwiang, Amphoe Muang Chiang Rai,
Chiang Rai 57000 Thailand
Phone: 053 716-605 (to 607), 053-601-013
Fax: 053-712-429
Email: rmfl@doitung.org

Hours 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed Monday
Entrance fee: 100 to 200 baht.
Bangkok Post Map of Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
Mae Fah Luang Map of Chiang Rai (with center)
Website (in Thai only)

Explore Further

Information from this blog comes, in part, from the following websites:

See Also


Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Outside the Cultural Park
Golden Pavilion
Pavilion detail
Covered Walkway
Elephant Carvings
Doorway Detail
Pavilion interior
Central Pillar
Candelabra #1
Candelabra #2
Air Plants
Tropical Leaf
Pond
3 statues
Carving #1
Carving #2
Stones #1
Stones #2
Spirit Houses
Spirit House
Wall
Carving Detail
Princess Mother
Water Basin
Painting
Museum Entry
Paintingn
Bas Relief
Banner
Modern Sculpture
Sculpture Close-up
Sculpture Detail
Naga Carvings
Enshrined Buddha #1
Wooden carving
Wooden Carving #2
Manuscript Chest
Enshrined Buddha #2
Headboard
Naga
Enshrined Buddha #3
Buddha Statue

The pond and walkways approaching the Cultural Park

The Golden Pavilion - Haw Kahm - at Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park

Details on the side of the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kahm)

Covered walkway approaching the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kahm)

Elephant carvings on the staircase to the Golden Pavilion

Detail above the doorway to the Golden Pavilion

The white sand floor and the Golden Pavilion from below

Central pillar at the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kahm)

Candelabra at the base of the Golden Pavilion

Another candelabra at the base of the Golden Pavilion

Some air plants in tho Cultural Park's garden

Tropical leaf at the Cultural Park's garden

Pond with urns at the Cultural Park's garden

3 statues at the Cultural Park's garden

Carving found in the Cultural Park's garden

Carved pillar in the Cultural Park's garden

Stone feature in the Cultural Park's garden

Another set of stones in the Cultural Park's garden

Spirit houses in the Cultural Park's garden

Close up of a spirit house in the Cultural Park's garden

Wall with carvings in the Cultural Park's garden

Detail of the carving on the building wall

This relief of the Princess Mother is found outside the museum

A common Lanna feature outside homes - water for washing your hands

Portrait of the Princess Mother in the Museum's entry

In the entry room of the Museum

Modern painting By Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee based on the love song "Lovelorn Song"

A modern wood-carving titled "Creation," by Jarron Chaijajit

Banner by a (modern) Chiang Rai Artist

Modern wood sculpture

A close-up of the modern wood sculpture

Detail of the modern wood sculpture

Naga carvings from Lanna temples

Lanna depiction of an enshrined Buddha

Wooden carving

Decorated panel below one of the ceilings

Manuscript chest for Buddhist scriptures

Sign says "Enshrining an image of the Lord Buddha Shan (Teak)"

Carved demon on the headboard for a bed

Sign says "Naga, temple roof decoration"

Buddha enshrined in a painted, wooden cabinet

Buddha statue. So peaceful.

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Buddha Statue thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, October 2015

Wat Phumin in Nan – The Murals

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Perhaps the most famous temple murals in Thailand are at Wat Phumin in Nan in the North. This is a quick look at the history and at some of the enticing scenes that can be found there, taken on our visit to Nan in January of 2014.

The temple murals were one of the features of Northern Thailand temples that most intrigued me when we visited there this past January. Most temples had murals and some of them were quite fascinating (as were the murals at Wat Phumin).

(Click images to see larger version.)

Mural #1

The artist & his lady

Much of the information in this blog comes from the book Reading Thai Murals by David K. Wyatt; copyright 2004 and published by Silkworm Books in Chiang Mai. (Reading Thai Murals, Amazon) Rather than being comprehensive (you can read Wyatt for that), I’m going to quickly go over some of the history and then include a slideshow of images that caught my eye as I wandered around the interior of the temple (for quite some time).

Seen here, to the left, is, perhaps, the most famous of all the images from Wat Phumin. Anyone who has visited Nan has seen it on any number of souvenirs, t-shirts and posters. Local tradition has it that this image shows the artist, Thit Buaphan, himself with a female companion.

Wat Phumin #1

Wat Phumin exterior

Wat Phumin #2

Wat Phumin exterior

The main building at Wat Phumin is both the “ubosot” (ordination hall) and the “viharn” (meeting hall). (At some temples these will be two separate buildings.) It’s in the shape of a cross (cruciform) built on the back of two giant nagas (the naga is a mythical serpent, much like a water dragon). The main entrance is guarded by two “singh” (mythical lions).

Buddha Image

Main Buddha image

In the center of the building there is a 4-sided Buddha statue, with a Buddha facing in each of the 4 directions (towards the doors). The statue is in a posture known as “Subduing Mara” or “Calling Earth to Witness” and represents the Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment. At that moment, Mara mocks Buddha and asks how he can claim to be enlightened, who is there to witness his enlightenment? The Buddha takes one hand and points to the earth, indicating that the Earth Mother Goddess will bear witness.

Murals

A wall of murals

Really, though, the main attraction in this temple is provided by the murals. The picture to the right shows how entire walls are completely covered with murals. These murals were painted beginning in 1894 by a Thai Lue artist named Thit Buaphan, who was well known for painting the murals at Wat Nong Bua (also in Nan Province). He had many assistants and the work continued into the 20th century.

The main story represented here is a story of one of the Buddha’s past lives – one of the so-called Jâtaka stories. There are roughly 550 “official” stories and, in addition, another 50 or so stories about previous lives that are included in a collection called the Paññâsajâtaka, known mainly in Burma, Northern Thailand & Laos.

Mural #2

Mural of the main story

At the time the murals were painted, Nan was a separate kingdom that was a vassal-state to the Kingdom of Siam. In 1893, Siam made Nan give half of its kingdom to the French to become part of French Indochina, in order to appease the French. One of the reasons that Thailand was never colonized was because, on several occasions, they made gestures such as this to appease the western powers. Obviously, this move was not popular in Nan.

The main story depicted at Wat Phumin is a story that (according to David Wyatt) is found in just a few manuscripts and most likely only published in Laos. Wyatt knows of no other temple where this story is portrayed. The story concerns an orphan, Gaddhana, who went searching for his absent father (said to be the god Indra, disguised at an Elephant). As Wyatt says (on page 21):

. . .The theme of orphanhood thus is repeated, acted out in the panels of the mural at Wat Phumin, though the orphanhood is the condition of lacking a father and not lacking a mother.

The message that viewers were reading off the walls was from a cautionary tale of persistence through adversity, in a world suffused with evil in which virtue was rewarded eventually.

Mural #3

Woman weaving

Wyatt says the story was chosen as a subtle criticism of Siam’s actions in giving Nan’s land away, chosen because more overt criticism was impossible.

Along with another Jâtaka story on the walls, and interwoven as part of the stories, we see the portrayal of ordinary, day-to-day life in the late 19th century; it is these depictions that set the murals apart and account for their fame. Amongst numerous individuals in the midst of daily activities, we also see representations of Europeans, hill tribe people, animals and lovers, both heterosexual and transgender. It is a marvelous celebration of life.

Slideshow – Murals at Wat Phumin in Nan

Rather than point out slides and themes, I’m going to insert below a slideshow of some of the wonderful images that you can see at Wat Phumin. Where I’m able, I will point out what is being portrayed (often relying on David Wyatt); otherwise, I’ll let the slide speak for itself.

Rather than setting the slideshow to run by itself, you may want to simply click on each picture to see the next image, so that you can go as slowly as you might like to enjoy the images.

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Mural #1
Mural #2
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Mural #3
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According to local tradition, the rightmost figure is the artist, Thit Buaphan

Gaddhana asking his mother who was his father

Gaddhana and his mother. The 2 boys above are playing a game

Close-up of Gaddhana and his mother

Transgender couple

Women going to market

Men & women flirting

Woman at spinning wheel and an aggressive musician

Mural showing a woman weaving

Hilltribe people with a dog barking at them

Elephant and soldiers

The Buddha and disciples

The artist, Thit Buaphan, and his lady companion

Europeans at a dock

According to Wyatt, a Nan monk

"Helping seek the Lord Buddha" (Wyatt)

Serpents; perhaps a depiction of the Buddhist hell realm

Europeans unloading a ship with (apparently) 4 London bobbies

Close-up of Europeans unloading a ship

"People entering a city" (caption says)

"Escalator" picture; caption says they are on their way to heaven

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Written by Michael Babcock, July 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

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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
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Columns
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Carving Close-up
Long Table
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Hornbill
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Wooden Carving
Wooden Carving
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Rock Garden
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Statue
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Interior Shot
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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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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