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A Buddha in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Michael Babcock, Monday, July 1st, 2013

On our trips to Thailand there are many temples that we visit year after year; one of these is Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Over the years I’ve come to especially love one Buddha statue there and have photographed it frequently.

The full name of the temple is Wat Phra Mahatat Woramahawihaan, sometimes abbreviated to Wat Phra Boromathat. It is found a couple kilometers from the town center on Thanon Ratchadamnoen, the long street that runs the length of the town, and is easily reached by songthaew.

Statue 2004

The statue in 2004

This first picture shows the statue as I saw it in 2004. It shows a beautiful, stone statue that has weathered over the years. The cheeks have been gold-leafed by worshippers and the statue is dressed in a plain orange robe such as a simple monk in Thailand would wear.

(Click images to see larger version.)

The statue is one of many found in the Thap Kaset Congregation Hall, also knows as “The Gallery at the Foot of the Buddha’s Relics.” It’s a wihaan (or viharn) or meeting room found to the left of the main chedi – there’s a blue sign with an arrow pointing to it. Once you enter there’s a quadrangle with two levels of Buddha statues. It’s a quiet, peaceful place.

There’s something about this particular Buddha statue that attracted me from the beginning. According to my understanding, and verified by The symbolism,iconography and meanings behind the Buddha Image, this position of the statue represents:

Statue 2006

The statue in 2006

Absence of fear – either one or both arms are shown bent at the elbow and the wrist, with the palm facing outwards and the fingers pointing upwards. It shows the Buddha either displaying fearlessness in the face of adversity, or encouraging others to do so. The right hand raised is also referred to as “calming animals” and both hands raised are also called “forbidding the relatives”.

The next picture (to the right) from 2006 shows the statue substantially unchanged except that it’s now wearing a fancier robe – obvious when you click on the image to bring up a larger version of the picture.

I loved the simple rock statue, the weathered face with the gold leaf; it gave a peacefulness and the sense of aging to the statue, a hint that with the passing years, one can attain wisdom. It seemed to be an echo of the Buddhist teaching that everything arises and passes. As the statue slowly aged, it seemed to echo the fact that “everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.”

Statue 2007

The statue in 2007

I like this picture to the left from 2007 because it shows the Buddha statue without the orange robes: you can see how the body has been gold-leafed by worshippers over the years. You can see how the gold leaf on the face has weathered.

So it came as a bit of a surprise, and not a pleasant one, when in 2011 I arrived to find that the statue had been painted over in gold and black. Instead of an beautiful, aging statue the image now appeared to me to be new and garish, almost like a person who can’t accept that they are growing older and is doing everything in their power to stay young.

Staute 2001

The statue in 2011

The change in the Buddha ended up being a useful teaching for me. This periodic painting of beautiful old statues is not new for me in Thailand. It first happened at a temple in Chaiya many years ago. I should not have been surprised. Things age quickly in Thailand and there are often efforts to make things look new again.

On reflection, it turns out to exemplify the fact that “everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.” In this case, my beautiful “old” statue ceased: it arose as a painted “new” statue.

The Buddhist text called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dhamma) purports to be the first teaching of the Buddha after attaining enlightenment. From the Sutta:

As this exposition was proceeding, the spotless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma appeared to the Venerable Kondanna and he knew: “Everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.”

Staute 2013

The statue in 2013

These are the last two lines of the teaching:

Then the Blessed One made the utterance, “Truly, Kondanna has understood, Kondanna has understood!”

Thus it was that the Venerable Kondanna got the name Annakondanna: Kondanna Who Understands.”

It appears as if Kondanna became enlightened by realizing the truth that “Everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease” – not just as an intellectual concept but as an absolute knowing that informed the way he approached the world.

If we look carefully, at this picture from 2013, two years later (click on the picture to see a larger version), we can see small indications that the gold paint is already starting to age. It will be interesting to continue my yearly visits and to see how the statue continues to change, continues to age, continues to exhibit the nature of all conditioned things: arising, abiding for awhile, and then ceasing.


I previously blogged on this temple:


Written by Michael Babcock, April 2013

Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Michael Babcock, Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country and throughout the country there are numerous temples – wat, in Thai. One of my favorite temples is Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat. This temple is considered one of the three most important temples in the south of Thailand, the others being in Chaiya and Yala. A morning visit here is part the itinerary for Kasma’s Kasma’s trips to southern Thailand.

View of Temple

View of chedi

Its full name is Wat Phra Mahatat Woramahawihaan, sometimes abbreviated to Wat Phra Boromathat. It is found a couple kilometers from the town center on Thanon Ratchadamnoen, the long street that runs the length of the town, and is easily reached by songthaew.

This is the biggest temple in the south of Thailand. The most recognizable feature is the nearly 80 meter high chedi (stupa), which is crowned by a spire made of solid gold and weighing several hundred kilograms. The main chedi is surrounded numerous smaller black and white chedis. To the right of the chedi there’s an entrance to a sanctuary. In the middle is a stairway leading up to a platform about half-way up the chedi; this stairway is open only some of the time. The stairway is flanked by demons, apparently guarding the way. At either end of the room there are walls with interesting bas-relief on the walls.

Buddha Statues

Buddha Statues

Off to the left as you head towards the central sanctuary is a wihaan or Buddha image sanctuary. In the shape of a square, it has Buddha images on the outside around the square; there’s also an inner walkway with more Buddha images.

After you’ve visited the temple, be sure to go to the market area at the far end of the temple – they have some interesting southern crafts and snacks.

Rather than spend more time on description, I’ve put together a slide show to show some of the beautiful images found here. Photographs were taken by both myself and Kasma.


Nakhon Si Thammarat – Wat Mahatat Slide Show

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

You must have Javascript enabled to see the images.

View of Temple 1
View of the Temple 2
Entrance to Chedi
Sign Towards Wihaan
Thai Monks
Buddha Statue in Niche
Temple Roof
Temple Roof
Temple Guardian 2
Temple Guardian 1
Temple Bas-relief
Temple Detail
Buddha in Niche
Close-up of Buddha Statue
Temple Bells
Walkway with Buddha Statues
More Walkway
Inner Walkway
Temple Gong
Buddha Statue 1
Buddha Head
Temple Feature
Earth Mother Goddess
Temple Painting
Buddha Head 2
Buddha Head 2 Earlier
Buddha Image
Buddha Close-up
Buddha Close-up 2
Little Demon
Buddha from the Back
Elephant
Another Buddha
Buddha Statues

Here's a view of the chedi, which is above the main sanctuary
and several other buildings housing Buddha images

The chedi is in the right-hand corner in this view from the parking lot

The door at the end is the entrance to the chedi

Before reaching the entrance to the chedi at the end, turn
at the blue sign to enter the wihaan of Buddha statues

In 2007 we came across these novice monks leaving the area by the chedi

There are numerous interesting details in the
buildings around the entrance to the chedi

Don't forget to look up at the details around the roofs of the buildings

A view of one of the temple roofs, with its golden nagas

This demon guards the staircase leading up to the chedi

This demon and dragon guard the other side of the staircase

In the sala leading up to the chedi there are two
walls with golden bas-relief (to the right, here)

Here's a detail of the bas-relief

This is the Buddha statue at the end of one side with the bas-relief

Here's a close-up of the same statue

When the staircase is open you can go to a walkway around
the chedi, about halfway up - these bells are taken from there

This is the outer walkway in the wihaan off the entrance to
the chedi - it is lined with Buddha statues

Here's another view of the outer walkway, which has a mysterious, quiet feel to it

There's also an inner walkway, also lined with Buddha statues

At one end of this walkway is this huge gong - if you rub the
center in just the right way it makes a deep, resonant sound

One of the Buddha statues on the outer walkway

Cose-up of another Buddha statue in the outer walkway

This pillar is found at one of the corners of the outer walkway -
it shows the Buddha at the time of his enlightenment

Close-up of the statue of the Earth Mother Goddess, witnessing
the Buddha's enlightenment, from the previous image

Paintings such is this one adorn some pillars in the outer walkway

Close-up of one of the Buddha statues - painted gold and black

Here's the same statue in 2004 - before it was painted (see previous slide) -
like everything else, the Buddha statues are in a constant state of change

Here's one of the Buddha statues found on the inner
walkway, where they often are standing in a red alcove

Close-up of a Buddha in the inner walkway

Here's the same statue 4 years earlier - before restoration

Close-up (of a demon) shows some of the detail on the inner walkway alcoves

An outer walkway Buddha photographed from the inner walkway

The inner walkway has several of these elephants - the entire inner wall
has been wrapped by orange fabric, the same color worn by the monks

An outer walkway Buddha in a very different style

One last image showing several of the Buddha statues

View of Temple 1 thumbnail
View of Temple 2 thumbnail
Entrance to Chedi thumbnail
Sign Towards Wihaan thumbnail
Thai Monks thumbnail
Buddha Statue in Niche thumbnail
Temple Roof thumbnail
Temple Roof thumbnail
Temple Guardian 2 thumbnail
Temple Guardian 1 thumbnail
Temple Bas-relief thumbnail
Temple Detail thumbnail
Buddha in Niche thumbnail
Close-up of Buddha Statue thumbnail
Temple Bells thumbnail
Walkway with Buddha Statues thumbnail
More Walkway thumbnail
Inner Walkway thumbnail
Temple Gong thumbnail
Buddha Statue 1 thumbnail
Buddha Head thumbnail
Temple Feature thumbnail
Earth Mother Goddess thumbnail
Temple Painting thumbnail
Buddha Head 2 thumbnail
Buddha Head 2 Earlier thumbnail
Buddha Image thumbnail
Buddha Close-up thumbnail
Buddha Close-up 2 thumbnail
Little Demon thumbnail
Buddha from the Back thumbnail
Elephant thumbnail
Another Buddha thumbnail
Buddha Statues thumbnail

Wednesday Photos of Wat Mahatat

Previous Blogs on Nakhon Si Thammarat

  • Krua Nakhon Restaurant
  • Nakhon Si Thammarat Municipal Market
  • Written by Michael Babcock, July 2011

    Nakhon Si Thammarat Buddha (Wednesday Photo)

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

    Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

    Buddha Statue, Nakhon Si Thammarat

    Buddha Statue, Nakhon Si Thammarat

    What did it mean that he [Kondanya, an early disciple of the Buddha] had seen the Dharma? He had attained knowledge and vision that all things arise in the beginning, change in the middle, and pass away in the end. “All things” means all phenomena of body and mind, and these characteristics apply to all of them without exception.

    – Ajahn Chah, in Being Dharma, p. 155.

    From: Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings. Ajahn Chah, Translated by Paul Breiter. Shambala, Boston & London, 2001.


    See also:


    The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.