Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kuan Im shrine and Wat Kalayanamitr


Wat Kalayanamitr
Voice of sermon flew in the air as I walked along Wat Kalayanamitr community. That mystic voice led me the way to the gate. I believe the first thing any visitor see from the distance, the Chinese red and white lanterns which are swaying, are capable to explain briefly about Wat Kalayanamitr’s history.
Lord Nikornbodin, a great nobleman in Rattanakosin kingdom’s King Rama III throne, was the initiator of Wat Kalayanamitr construction. The Lord’s father was a Chinese merchant, later got accredit from King Taksin the Great, Thonburi dynasty, and became คุณหลวง. For having true faith in Buddhism, Lord Nikornbodin bestowed his house and nearby land to be a location for a temple. Lord Nikornbodin had served King Rama III with honesty and loyalty. By that reason, he had an honor to be called as “a good friend” of King Rama III. The temple construction was completely finished in 1825. Lord Nikornbodin had an intention at the beginning that he would dedicate the temple to be the royal temple. King Rama III appreciated his willing, so his majesty named the royal temple after Lord Nikornbodin’s last name, Kalayanamitr, which also means “a good friend”.
Since Lord Nikornbodin was Chinese descend, Wat Kalayanamitr’s architecture has an integration look between Thai and Chinese arts. Behind the red front door, a huge Chinese limestone arch places upon a golden censer. It was brought from China through bark, the same as other statues and decorations in the temple. I saw people gathered at the censer, prayed in silence toward three Buddha images and stabbed joss sticks in. Traditionally, Buddhism begin the worship by prostration with three of joss sticks which are signs reminding goodness of Buddha, his teaching and monks. The three Buddha images place at the center of the temple’s pavilion. พระพุทธไตรรัตนายกs stand on the right and left hand sides พระสังกัจจายนะ, smiling Buddha. พระสังกัจจายนะ is differentiated from common Buddha image due to his facial expression and body. As he is plump, he is seen as figure of luck and plentitude that really matter to Chinese people.
At the side of those, six of golden Chinese Gods sculptures stand. The God of Luck is in the first order since it is priority concerned. He is the plumpest among the sculptures. The rest of them are Gods of constancy, love, fighting, cure and wealthy. Notably, some people touched the sculptures, asking for blessings.
After walking around the pavilion, the sound of drums got louder as I stepped closer to the main monastery. I was stunning with a huge golden Buddha image, sitting in the center of the main monastery. With 19 meters height and 20 meters long measure in the posture of meditation, พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก has become the biggest Buddha image in Bangkok. Local residents call พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก as Tor monk, named accordingly to Lord Nikornbodin’s nickname. Although it was built in Rattanakosin kingdom, it has four arts characteristics. King Rama III impressed with Ayudhaya kingdom’s miracle Buddha image at Panacherng temple, which was constructed 685 years ago, therefore the royal architectures designed พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก with the Buddha image at Panacherng’s pattern. Amid similarity, there’s difference. พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก smiles, while most of Ayudhaya’s Buddha images looked solemn. พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก design might influenced by Sukhothai kingdom’s arts. During that era, people lived in peace and abundance. The kings treated people as good as their own children. It is seen as Eutopia of Thailand. Even though life in Rattanakosin kingdom is not perfect, still people live without tragedies. By that reason, พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก has common characteristic with Sukhothai kingdom’s Buddha image arts. Or you can say that พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก is the blend combination between arts of Sukhothai, Ayuddhaya, Rattanakoson and Chinese arts.
Inside the main monastery, the mixing arts of architectures reflect Thai and Chinese nationalities. Mural is drawn with pictures of flowers. Altar tables and vases upon are decorated with bas-reliefs of golden dragons, tigers and angels. Alongside with mural, some people took bottles of holy water and mystic symbol papers for worship. Those papers are hardly to seen in other Thai temples as it initiated in China. They believe that drinking holy water with the papers ash would obviate the persons from darkness and accusation. While sound of เซียมซี shaking continued, I found origin of the sound I heard at first. There are two of huge ancient drums near the gates, symbols of victory. Hence, people hit the drums with belief that it might bring luck. However, I didn’t see anyone frown inside the monastery, all smiled.
Various kinds of bells hang around the temple area. Seniors always say that ones may find peace when listen to the sound of swinging bells. By the reason, temples construction usually comes with bells in Rattanakosin kingdom as people have lived in peace. Thus, after worship, people will hit the bells, calling for peace in their mind. On the left hand side of the main monastery, a bell tower sets majestically. The gigantic brass bell inside, with 30 meters height and 9 meters width, is the biggest bell in Thailand. It was constructed in 1933, an era of Rattanakosin kingdom’s King Rama VI. One part of the message engraved on the bell said “the bell builder offers it for the temple, merits for King Rama I through VI ”. King Rama I was the primary king of Rattanakosin kingdom.
The bell is the connection between whole Thai kingdoms, Sukhothai, Ayuddhaya, Thonburi and Rattanakosin. I can say that because at the beginning of Thai administration in Sukhothai kingdom, King Ram Khamhaeng the Great used the big bell as justice calling, people hit the bell in front of the royal palace, asking for inquiry. In another case, the name of the kings appears on the bell not only refers directly to the kings of Rattanakosin kingdom, but also the kings from Ayuddhaya and Thonburi. Ayuddaya’s the first, tenth and twenty-seventh king were named as King Rama I, II and III subsequently. And King Thaksin the Great, the primary king of Thonburi kingdom, was named as King Rama IV. The monk at the temple calls this ‘a puzzle’, very few people perceive the message’s hidden meaning.
Moreover, the small monastery and chapel were created with Thai and Chinese arts. Chinese pagodas place around. Chinese and Thai have been deep rooted for hundreds years since Sukhothai kingdom. Besides Chinese involved with merchant, they and Thai people had close relationship. During Thonburi kingdom, King Thanksin the Great settled Chinese community, they truly adored him. After the king moved the capital to another one, some of them still stayed, then became neighbors with local people. Chinese people are one of the major key in preserving Thai unity. Cultures or use of language may adjust as the time pass, but the only thing which lasts long, be stable and unchanged in Thai society is the religion. It connected Thai and Chinese with common belief, and with that belief, it has kept the harmony survive until now.Along riverside at the back of the temple, Chinese community remains. And other religion churches nearly locate. I looked into the sky, the top of the temple, Christian church, mosque and Chinese pagodas came in my sight in the same. This peaceful view might looked the same as Eutopia dream of ancestors.
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Pieces in Thonburi Era are evidenced inside the architectural building of Kulayanamitra Temple and the nearby ancient Chinese village that was initially dwelled by King Tak-Sin’s supporters in 1767-1782. Entering the other side of Bangkok is Thonburi, the shorten-glamour town of Thais before Bangkok, where situates many importance ancient places back in Thonburi Era and Ayudthaya Era such as Arunrachavararam Temple, King Tak-Sin the Great’s statue, an old Chinese village near Kulyanmitra Temple next to sacred Kuan Yim shrine, Moleelokayaram Temple or 327 years Wichai Prasit Fort.
The temple has shown the beautiful Chinese Art blends with Thai culture, even added more sacred to the place and completely the worship place for both Thai and Chinese. We have been told by a monk that this temple was built up by JaoSua To or the ancestor of Kulayanamitra family in King Rama III era. With his faith towards religion, he bought the areas for his family house before dedicated to religious purpose, that is, the creation of Kulyanamitra Temple.
It’s about 2 in the afternoon as we are moving to another observation. Kuan Yin shrine is located on Klong Bang Kok Yai in Kudee Jeen community (Chinese Monk’s house), supposedly named as many Chinese living there, facing the Chao Praya River of Thonburi side. We walk through the small path that leads us to the Goddess of Mercy. The surrounding ambience feel the sense of community of helping and caring to each other; the olds are bubbling about their pasts or things around them that could be claimed, children are playing around with the gang, some households build up their fronts as a small noodle restaurant and an order-in restaurant, some open as engine care (fixing; bicycle, any machines, TV, radio) or a small clinic, that seems to be remain since years as if she has prospered merci to people in the village.
It is a bit dark and humid during the walkway then the light brightens up showing the way out to the open land of Kuan Yin shrine.
Kuan Yin is another episode of Pra Po Thi Sat Kuan Yin that was born female for showing gentle and giving merci to the earth.
According to the Chinese traditional history, Princess Myo San, the third daughter of King Myo Juagn, aimed to help release pain and grieve occur in humanity and animals after had been practiced in Buddhism but it disobeyed her father’s purpose to arrange her a marriage. She was tortured, punished, exiled by her father’s greed in power but she never angry or blamed to his action. One day, King Myo Juagn had a serious illness that none of medicine could cure, caused by karma he did with his daughter. Princess Myo San heard about her father sickness by second sight then sacrificed her eyes and arms as to give his life. By the scarification, she earned the eternal worship and has been known among Chinese by her merci, forgiveness, love and kindness for years.
The sign is at your left in front of a small the Chao Praya river port, if you walk from Kulyanmitra Temple. The weather is not too bad during this summer because the wind breezes vapor from the ChaoPraya’s surface up to the walk path of the shrine, the fine heat-loosen the visitors’ temperature.
The red colored at the shrine and its courtyard, the fascinated red area, significantly presents an overwhelmed welcome for visitors as wishing them luck for coming in a meantime for going out; red is the color for luck according to Chinese beliefs.
On the day, silence covers as if she is forgotten; unlike crowded Yaowaraj. Anyhow, it has brought peaceful to the place for some visitors like us to respect and be pleasurable of the olden place.
Although, the red of the shrine is not as red as it was but becoming the sacred red that remains as central-minded for Chinese and Thai-Chinese to pay respect for over 200 years.
The area around the shrine is clean, no dry leaves on the ground as it has been taken care also plants have been decorated which gives a well-shady among the walk way.
Grasping around the shrine, it likes a house of old Chinese custom that is well decorated of Chinese animals’ signature; the dragons, the lions and Chinese arts that are unified with historical of Chinese characters.
As I walked closer to the entry, the smell of scent was spreading all over the place as if shown many people’s faith and sacred to the place. The entry is separated into two; one on the right, I assume, for going in and the exit is one on the left, walking in a square shape. In the middle is the light shining up from the sun facing Kuan Yin statue where the shadow covers like she remains her duty of giving merci, prosperous, wealth, health and happiness for the comer as they are here to wish for.
Chinese worship is different from Thai kind in a mean of beliefs. In Chinese custom, everything during worship process until the end always means to something such as 5propitios fruits, for example; orange for family’s or one’s auspicious, apple for healthiness or peach for longevity and to worship gods and goddesses in heaven. Silver and gold papers are burnt to the angles when asking for wealth and richness or oil that fills the lamp for the flame of lives in which Buddhist has shared the same belief as well as การเสี่ยงเซียมซี .
Whatever they ask for, they will first give to the upper part with the faith that results will come after which different from Thais’ that Buddhism is mind-centered to reduce anxiety and concerned.
At the right, there is another shrine of Chinese God and Buddha statues situates together similarly shown in Kulayanamitra Temple of the united among two races and tradition. Sanctity remains even the aged of this place is older. The cabinet of the ancestor’s names stills there as if protecting and caring for this sacred place for the younger generation to meet, also, to remind of their faiths toward religious and to realize its value toward humanity.


Before the time of Kuan Yin shrine installation in King Rama III, there were originally shrines situated two significant Gods of Chinese; Jo Sue Kong and Kuan U, which were built after they followed King Taksin to Thonburi as his important supporters.
Its history was not officially recorded but has been told as Fujians from China, the originated ancestors of Simasathien and Tuntivejjakul, were here to worship the shrines but found them decayed. Instead of restore the old, they rebuilt them into one and replaced the recent Kuan Yin Shrine for worshipping as the reason that Kuan Yin patronized the journey of พระพุทธไตรรัตนายก or Sum Por Kong establishment at Kulyanamitra Temple.
They found the shrine was left, assuming, when the Chinese followed King Rama I to Bangkok and sheltered in Sam-Peng market for merchandising. Then, the name of Kien Un Keng Shrine, situates of Kuan Yin; the goddess of mercy, has emerged in Thailand.
Coldness airs from the humidity in granite around the shrine that is usually used in many shrines around the country.
And art painted inside might be destroyed by the ages and times but stills be its value and story is told for visitors.
The front wall facing with the riverside looks alive even engraved on the stone. It tells the story of Chinese living cultural, social status, wealth, and the vital commerce of Chinese. It looks so much alive as they are really telling the story by themselves every time I concentrate. And that’s a charm of the place.
This is the evidence that prove the history of Chinese-Thai relations. Besides, trading field that Chinese has taught Thai for over times, the important factor that should be remembered is the community of King Taksin’s army’s energy in supporting food, water, and suppliers to won over Burma and also the reunite of collapsed Ayutthaya.
It also proves Chinese and Thai relations are firm throughout art and architecture that were engraved and created.
Moreover, it is not only the shelter for Chinese and Buddhism but also Christian and Islam, everyone is living together with the same faiths they have in religious for years after years.




OVERDRIVE: Civilisations in conflict - but we can handle it



Even at the very micro level, we routinely witness clashes between the khaek civilisation and the jek civilisation in Thailand.
Khaek is a convenient term that Thais use to refer to Indians.
Jek denotes the Chinese.
One such clash is taking place at a site where I am building a house on extended land for my family.
It would not be surprising to witness similar clashes between the khaek and the jek elsewhere - clashes that profoundly shape the way the Thai people live, speak, act, worship and believe.
In the backyard of my house will stand a spirit house.
Next month a Brahmin priest will conduct a sacred ceremony to erect the spirit house for the god or the gods to reside.
The gods will live side by side with my family and ensure that we live in peace and with happiness.
Coincidentally, my next door neighbour is also building a new house.
He is spying on what we are doing.
He has just consulted a feng shui master on the design and the construction of his house.
Feng shui is the Chinese art of living in harmony with nature.
My neighbour sometimes sneaks onto my site to send out a signal that I am not building my house within the principles of feng shui.
Apparently, he believes that the spirit house is not good enough for me to ensure luck and prosperity.
This is a big difference in our values.
I am more inclined toward the khaek civilisation.
For, through the spirit house, I want peace and happiness in my house.
My neighbour strictly follows feng shui because he wants luck and prosperity for his family.
Jamlong, the head of the construction site at my house, remarked with a good heart about the rivalry that is going on between the two beliefs.
"It is fun as we are going to see a fierce battle between the feng shui master and the priest," he said.
As Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister, leads a top-level delegation to Thailand to open up a new era of bilateral relations, he will immediately recognise the profound influence that India has had on Thailand for thousands of years.
Thailand is a recipient country of two great civilisations - India from the West and China from the North.
But the influence from India is deeper, forming layers and layers in the foundation of Thai civilisation.
From religion to the arts, language, music, culture, law and literature, you see significant Indian elements in the ways of the Thais.
We borrowed ideas from India and used them rather conveniently until they were considered Thai ideas.
It was Emperor Asoka of India who in the third century played a key role in turning Suvarnabhumi, or the Golden Land, into a more civilised land.
Before, the local people in Suvarnabhumi worshipped ghosts and gods, who were believed to reside everywhere in rivers, in trees, in mountains, in the fields.
Emperor Asoka sent two chief missionaries to the east to propagate Buddhism.
One missionary went to Suvarnabhumi, the other to China, to then go on and teach Buddhism in Korea and Japan.
But before that, Hinduism, brought to this region by Indian merchants, had strengthened its foothold in the Cham civilisation of Vietnam and the Khmer civilisation, as witnessed by the grandeur of Angkor Wat.
When King Rama I, who founded Bangkok in 1782, wrote his own version of "Ramayana", originally written in Sanskrit by Valmiki, he did so in a poetic style and it now has its theme rooted in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace of Bangkok.
"Ramayana" is widely read by Thais, who also adapted it into khlon plays.
It's immediately recognisable by the fact that the kings of the Chakri Dynasty use the title Rama, a name derived from the "Ramayana".
One of our deputy prime ministers, Dr Vishanu Krua-ngam, has a khaek first name.
Lord Vishnu is one of the Indian Gods.
But somehow the Indian elements have permeated Thai culture so deeply that we have forgotten their origin.
Pragmatic as we Thais are, we have also come to assume that the Indian elements are Thai.
Then the jek came later on with their forceful civilisation, their food, customs, beliefs and trading practices, to provide a topping for Thai civilisation.
Feng shui is only one of the examples.
The Chinese began building Chinatown from the founding of Bangkok.
We can also see the Indian community, around Phahurat near Chinatown.
Somehow the Chinese have overshadowed the Indians and now exert more influence on the Thais.
Yet the Indian spirit is always there in the consciousness of the Thais.
For the Thais, whether it is khaek or jek, we don't mind as long as it works.
Thanong Khanthong The Nation

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