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Thai Buddhist Temple Art, Artifacts, and Architecture

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Chasmac has traveled extensively and taken photos along the way. The pictures in this article are his own.

Buddhist Temples in Thailand

Thailand has no shortage of Buddhist temples. They are, almost without exception, strikingly beautiful. Even in small out-of-the-way countryside temples, it's not uncommon to find stunning art, sculpture and architecture. Temples and temple grounds are also mostly tranquil oases of calm, which, in addition to providing an atmosphere conducive to the spiritual pursuits of Buddhists, also provide a welcoming ambience for visitors to wander around at their leisure and enjoy the wealth of art and beauty all around them.

Giant temple guardian at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Bangkok

Giant temple guardian at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Bangkok

Yaksha: Temple Guardians

The fierce figure above isn't in an out-of-the-way countryside temple, but in Thailand's most revered temple: Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok.

This picture is of a temple guardian giant, known as a Yaksha, a fierce but benevolent nature spirit introduced to Buddhism from Hinduism. Yaksha are known in Thailand as "Yuk" and they are commonly seen, armed with giant swords, guarding temple doorways.

Golden chedi of The Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand

Golden chedi of The Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand

Golden Chedi at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Also at Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha), this Golden Chedi is a highly visible landmark. 'Chedi,' also known elsewhere as pagoda or stupa, are reliquaries. That is, they contain a relic of the Buddha or of a famous and revered abbot, or other relics of religious and (in the Kingdom of Thailand) sometimes royal significance. Some even claim to contain a relic of Buddha himself.

The Emerald (actually a form of jade) Buddha is quite a small Buddha image. It is housed in the main hall of the temple and is considered Thailand's most revered Buddhist icon.

The temple served as a royal temple within the grounds of the Grand Palace. The palace is no longer a royal residence, but both the palace and the temple provide settings for important state and religious ceremonial occasions. Apart from those occasions, the temple is open to the public (an entry fee for foreigners applies).

Bupparam Buddhist Temple in Chiang Mai

Bupparam Buddhist Temple in Chiang Mai

Wat Bupparam

Wat Bupparam (Bupparam Temple) is one of Chiang Mai's more striking temples. It has a long and colourful history. A former Royal Temple, established by King Muang Kaew, the temple dates originally from 1497 but has undergone frequent restoration.

The design is certainly eye-catching but isn't typical of this region's traditional style of temple architecture.

Wat Bupparam is situated on Tha Pae Rd, Chiang Mai. Many interesting Buddhist icons and animal sculptures (including Donald Duck!!) are strewn throughout the temple grounds. Wat Bupparam temple is open every day to devotees and visitors alike.

Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn, Bangkok, Thailand. Khmer-style architecture

Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn, Bangkok, Thailand. Khmer-style architecture

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Khmer-Style "Prang" of Wat Arun, Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun, on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River, is one of Bangkok's most prominent landmarks. Also known as the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun is named after the Hindu God of the Dawn, Aruna. The distinctive tower seen in the photo is called a prang, a Khmer-style pagoda,

The prang is studded with broken porcelain and seashells, and is one of Thailand's most famous and recognisable Buddhist structures.

Phra Mae Torani: Earth Goddess

Phra Mae Torani: Earth Goddess

Phra Mae Torani: Earth Goddess

Phra Mae Torani, the Earth Goddess, is a deity who entered Buddhism by way of Hinduism. In Buddhist legend, she was the witness of Buddha's enlightenment, and his protector. Statues of Phra Mae Torani always depict the legendary event in which she wrung the water from her hair, which swept away those intent on harming the Buddha and preventing his enlightenment. She can be found at numerous temples throughout Thailand.

Fasting Buddha at U Mong Buddhist temple in Chiangmai.

Fasting Buddha at U Mong Buddhist temple in Chiangmai.

The Fasting Buddha

The Fasting Buddha is a famous statue of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) on the grounds of U Mong Temple in Chiang Mai (also spelled "Chiangmai"). Around 700 years old, the temple is rich in ruins and very old broken Buddha images. The emaciated look of the Buddha depicts his unsuccessful attempts to gain enlightenment through asceticism and extreme austerity; a lifestyle completely opposite to his former life of luxury as a prince, which he had previously rejected in his search for the truth of the human condition. The eventual realisation of the futility of such ascetic practices led to his conceiving and embracing of "the middle way," which paved the way to his eventual enlightenment.

Wat U Mong (U Mong Temple) is located to the west of Chiangmai, at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountain.

Ganesh, a Hindu deity recognised in Buddhism

Ganesh, a Hindu deity recognised in Buddhism

Ganesh

The Hindu/Brahmin deity, Ganesh or Ganesha, is instantly recognisable by his elephant head on a human body. He is known in Thailand as Phra Pikanet and is widely respected in Thai Buddhism. Statues of Ganesh are fairly common on temple grounds and elsewhere.

Ganesh is revered as the "remover of obstacles" and is associated with good fortune and success in life and in business. He is also a spiritual patron of the arts, and his image may be seen prominently displayed on the grounds of many large media centres, such as radio TV stations and colleges of dramatic arts.

Three-headed Naga at Wat Bupparam in Chiangmai

Three-headed Naga at Wat Bupparam in Chiangmai

Naga: Serpent Temple Guardians

Naga, known in Thailand as Nak, are fearsome, sometimes multi-headed, serpent or dragon-like icons often placed as guardians at temple entrances. As with many other Buddhist icons, they arrived in Buddhism via Hinduism. They are mentioned in the great Indian epic Mahabharata in less-than-glowing terms, but elsewhere in a more favourable light.

In Thailand, they are held in high esteem as trusted protectors of temple artifacts.

© 2012 Chas Mac

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