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Buddhism

A Buddha in Nakhon Si Thammarat

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. I’ve previously written a blog on Wat Mahathat in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

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 (offsite, opens in a new window), 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

Categories
Buddhism Travel

Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat

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 was part the itinerary for Kasma’s Kasma’s trips to southern Thailand. (She retired from the trips in 2020.)

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.

[portfolio_slideshow size=custom]

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

    Categories
    Buddhism Wednesday Photo

    Nakhon Si Thammarat Buddha (Wednesday Photo)

    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.