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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Bangkok, at Wat Arun

Many of Bangkok’s most famous temples and historical monuments lie on the banks of the Chao Phraya River which flows through the city and the best way to visit them is by a motor boat.  These boats offer a refreshing alternative to the Bangkok notoriously congested traffic.

Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn, is a Buddhist temple (or ‘wat’) is the most famous temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.  At first I confused it with ‘Temple of Doom’ of Indiana Jone’s movie. Actually it is called Temple of Dawn as the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple on the Chao Phraya river creates a wonderful cinematic vision. Also, the Temple of Dawn derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, the charioteer of Surya, the sun. ‘Arun’ in Sanskrit means the rays of the rising sun, thus Aruna is often personified as the radiations of the rising sun and became a symbol of Dawn.

During the war with Burmese and Chinese armies in the 1760’s the Ayutthaya Kingdom was essentially in ruins. One of the Siamese general fighting the war, Phya Taksin, viewed the Wat Makok temple ruins at dawn from the Chao Phraya River and swore to rebuild it once the war was over.

General Phya Taksin led the liberation of Siam from Burmese occupation in 1767, and the subsequently unified Siam after it fell under various warlords. As the King of Siam, he then established the city of Thonburi as the new capital near the Wat Makok temple, as the city of Ayutthaya had been almost completely destroyed by the invaders. He rebuilt Wat Makok and renamed it Wat Jaeng, Temple of Dawn. The temple was highly revered, and for a time even held one of Thailand's greatest Buddhist relics, the Emerald Buddha.

Phya Taksin was overthrown and executed in a rebellion by his long-time friend Maha Ksatriyaseuk who then assumed the throne as Rama I, founding the Rattanakosin Kingdom and the Chakri dynasty, which has since ruled Thailand.

Rama II restored the Wat Jaeng temple abandoned after Phya Taksin was overthrown. He embarked on an ambitious building project that raised the central pagoda higher and redesigned the aesthetic of the temple. He also renamed it Wat Arun, keeping the theme of dawn but connecting it with India, homeland of Buddhism. Construction began under Rama II was completed by Rama III around 1847. This is the temple we see today, towering over the Bangkok skyline as one of the most iconic structures in Thailand.

Keeping with Thai architectural styles of the time, Wat Arun is full of ornament. Its massive pagoda in the center, called the prang, a stupa-like pagoda, was inspired by Khmer architectural traditions. The central prang is about 80 meters tall, inlaid with seashells and colored porcelain. It is considered the tallest prang in Thailand and is surrounded by four smaller prangs. Each of the four corners of the temple contain images of guardian gods of the four directions. The grouping of five pagodas represents Mount Meru, the central mountain of Buddhist cosmology, based on Hindu cosmology as the home of the gods and the center of the physical and spiritual universe.



Sunday, June 28, 2020

Bangkok, at Wat Pho

I have been a few times to Bangkok, and this was my second time to visit Wat Pho temple. Although it was my second visit, it refreshed my memories from long ago about this impressive temple. The hot humid summer did not deter me and the tourists coming to this temple that morning.

After passing the Chinese Giant Guardians, the Tha Tian entrance gate, I went straight into the Temple of Reclining Buddha. Like any other temple, you need to take your shoes off to enter, and all visitors must wear appropriate clothing, that means no exposed shoulders or skin above the knee. Then, straight from the entrance the first thing I found was the side of Buddha’s head sitting nicely on his right arm. The size of his head is amazing, and the elongated reclining body made the statue even more impressive. It stands 15 meters tall and 46 meters long, covered in gold leaves shining majestically in the rather dark room, making its presence dominating the whole room. Not sure about the weight of this gigantic Buddha statue, but the entire statue had a brick core, which was molded with plaster before finally being gilded.

His fish-shaped eyes made of white mother of pearl looked like lost in a thought. The crown on his head, or Ushnisha , symbolizes his Enlightenment, and the small dot between his eyebrows, or Urna, symbolizes a third eye, which in turn symbolizes vision into the divine world. His long earlobes symbolize a conscious rejection of the material world in favor of spiritual enlightenment.

After walking together with so many vistors along the 46 meters long reclining body we reached his feet, which are also gigantic in scale, 3 meters high and 4.5 meters long! The base of these feet are also inlaid with mother-of-pearl, engraved with carvings to display the symbols of Buddha. On the soles of his feet, there are 108 auspicious signs such as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers, and altar accessories by which Buddha can be identified. At the center of each foot there is a circle representing a chakra or 'energy point'. Many visitors were immersed in the beauty of this golden Buddha and the symbolism it represented.

Although the reclining Buddha looks like someone relaxing on a sofa, it is actually a representation of Buddha’s last moments on earth during his illness. It represents the moment he was about to enter parinirvana, the nirvana after death. He is lying on his right side with his blissful face resting on a cushion as he supports his head with his hand.

As a way of commemorating his passage to the afterlife, his disciples built a statue of him in this pose. This is now the grand, golden statue that lies inside Wat Pho. Decades later, more versions of reclining Buddhas were created all over South East Asia.


Source: Wikimedia

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Bangkok, in the Morning

Bangkok in the Morning perhaps is a better representation of the real Bangkok, rather than the touristic image it has during day time and during night time. No wonder, most tourists searched for those attractive places during day time and the entertainments at night time. Not many tourists want to wake-up early in the morning to see the people of Bangkok getting ready and rush to work, to beat the traffic jams.

Even less tourists wake-up earlier than 6AM to see the monks go on a daily alms round to collect their food of the day. I happened to woke up early in the morning one day and went with my camera to the see the early morning roads and to visit Wat That Thong temple located in the heart of Bangkok, Ekkamai area, that is not on most tourists itinerary.

On the streets and at the Wat That Thong temple, I saw many monks in orange robe wandering with a bowl in their hands. Traditionally in Theravada Buddhism, monks would get up as early as 4 am, do some prayers to the Buddha and meditate, and then have a light morning meal. After that, they might go for alms round in the community, return to monastery and have the meal together before 12 noon.

Mothers have been cooking food for monks and giving alms since the dawn of Buddhism over 2,500 years ago. Specifically, almsgiving is a tradition of Theravada Buddhists, who are an overwhelming majority in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Laos. By bringing monks food each day, the faithful are investing in the faith, and in doing so they too make merit to nourish their own souls.

So, on that day I felt like giving alms to the monks, but we must remember that most of the monks are vegetarian. The food should be simple as the monks generally must eat whatever foods are given to them. But it is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual realm and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of the secular society. Indeed, it was always the best food from our kitchen, as it was intended not just to give food to the monks but also to demonstrate the giver’s selflessness and commitment to the faith. It is the worldly duty of the layman, as a way to maintain a direct connection with the Lord Buddha.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Hi Seoul Festival, Pop Music

The Korean popular music or K-pop has become a global phenomenon featuring distinctive blend of catchy melodies, slick choreography and stage effects. The success of K-pop is also attributed to the attractive performers spending years in grueling studio learning and practicing to sing and dance in synchronized perfection. The songs typically consist of one or a mixture of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B, and electronic music.

In October, the ‘Hi Seoul Festival’ was going on at Gwanghwamun Square. It was a large annual performing arts festival to promote international unity by enabling people to communicate with one another through music and non-verbal performances, going beyond the barriers of language, race and age. Hundreds of performances by teams from around the world are presented during the week-long festival.

One of the performances in the festival is off course the Pop band. Korean pop music has been around in Korea for some time, but it’s only in the past decade or so that it’s made significant inroads into the mainstream music world. The Korean youngsters love their Korean pop music bands and are proud of them gaining recognition on an international level as well.