In my hometown, I am familiar with one temple in particular. Not only is this temple a destination for those studying Thai traditional paintings from educational institutes such as the Suphanburi College of Fine Arts where I teach, it is, in my opinion, the finest place for those studying traditional Thai wall murals in the entire province.
These murals are the works of royalist compositionist experts from by-gone days. Since each one has been meticulously painted, they are a fine source for research and analysis for students of traditional Thai art. Moreover, every piece stretches from the artist’s imagination in a unique and personal way.
Wat No Phuttangkul is located in Tambon Phiharn Daeng, Suphanburi Town on the western banks of the Tha Cheen River. No-one knows, however, the exact year the temple was built and by whom.
According to local legend, Laotians from Vientiane who had fled their homeland due to revolt there, settled down in the vicinity of Tambon Phiharn Daeng. And it was here that they established a house of priests chapel. Again, the actual year is unknown.
After, a royal Phraya founded a temple named Wat Makham Nor. The temple kept this name till a new abbot called Phra Suvarnvernkhun arrived and took charge – he renamed the temple, as it is known to this day, Wat No Phuttangkul.
Legend goes that an old abbot of the temple had the murals crafted in the late Ayutthaya era as the style is similar to that time. The imaginative murals can be found on the interior and exterior walls of the chapel. It is said that the murals are chiefly the workmanship of royalist mural compositionist Nai Kham who had been one of the original Laotians who fled Vientiane for Suphanburi.
Supposedly Nai Kham had 3 siblings but was parted from them during their hazardous trip to Siam’s new capital Krungthep. When it became known to local civil servants that Nai Kham had been a former muralist in Vientiane he was ordered to start painting at Wat Suthat.
On completion of the murals at Wat Suthat, Nai Kham intended to trace his 3 brothers. It was then that he found out that they had settled in the north-western province of Suphanburi just a 2 days boat ride from the capital. He finally managed to locate them in Tambon Phiharn Daeng.
When Nai Kham himself decided to settle down in the district he became aware that the local temple needed some work done on it, and it was then that Nai Kham took charge of the abbot’s wishes. Unable to complete this stupendous task alone, Nai Kham invited other mural compositionist relatives of his from Krungthep to assist on the project. When the murals were finally finished Nai Kham ventured to work on other craftsmanship at near-by Wat Pratusarn.
These exquisite murals include mainly the legendary Buddhist era which depicts the 10 lives (10 Jakatas) of the Lord Buddha before he was born into human form. They are:
1. Temiya Jataka – Temiya, the mute Prince
2. Mahajanaka Jataka – Mahajanaka, the lost Prince
3. Sama Jataka – Sama, the devoted Son
4. Nimi Jataka – Nimi, the noble King
5. Mahosadha Jataka – Mahosadha, the clever Sage
6. Bhuridatta Jataka – Bhuridatta, the Naga Prince
7. Canda-Kumara Jataka – Canda-Kumara, the honorable Prince
8. Narada Jataka – Narada, the great Brahma
9. Vidhura-Pandita Jataka – Vidhura-Pandita, the eloquent Sage
10. Vessantara Jataka – Vessantara, the charitable Prince
Over recent years the temple and murals have twice come under repair, the last time being 2007. And so, murals which had once been rather dilapidated have now been returned to their original form. Wat No Phuttangkul is under the protection and preservation of the National Commission of Fine Arts.
I would care to invite everyone with an interest in traditional Thai art to visit Wat No Phuttangkul in Tambon Phiharn Daeng in Suphanburi Town. Situated just a few kilometers from the main market area, it can easily be reached by samlor or tuk-tuk. For further information on visiting this beautiful temple contact www.thai-blogs.com. Click here to see the location marked on a map.
Ajarn Phaen Ekchit teaches at the Suphanburi College of Fine Arts.
Translation by Stephen Cleary.