I arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that I first left Wat Arun – and then it was to go to the Sangha Hsopital. One of the reasons for that was because I didn’t know how to get around outside of the temple: my kappiya, who had been expected to join me from Malaysia, had been delayed and I don’t handle money. He didn’t turn up until near the end of my stay.
But on the Wednesday Phra Naam was finally free from his studies for a day, and he also needed to go to Hospital. For the past few months I have been having some discomfort with my eyes, with blurry patches swimming around obscuring the vision.
This had gotten worse since arriving in Bangkok, and was threatening to interfere with the photography, so it seemed best to see someone about it. When we got there though the monastic beaurocrat refused to let me see a doctor as, despite the fact that my ordination name is written into my passport, I was not an accredited monastic in his eyes.
Phra Naam suffered a similar fate: he is accredited, but he is also foreign and seemingly does not have the same standing as a local monk. In any case they kept him waiting for around an hour and a half before telling him that the skin specialist he needed to see wasn’t coming in that day.
(Fortunately in the evening my very kind supporter Namfon arranged for us both to see specialists at a private hospital, where I was diagnosed as having nascent cataracts. I can’t say this surprised me given my age and the amount of time I have to spend at the computer these days, but it was not welcome news. It seems I will probably be able to manage for a year or two before an operation becomes necessary.)
By the time we left the Sangha Hospital it was already mid-morning, and I still needed to get some photography done that day, so we went to the Wat Phra Kaew in the Royal Palace grounds as it was on the way back to Wat Arun.
I was very surprised to see how many people there were there. I had thought that with the flooding just receding from the country that the tourist population would be down and that it would be a good time to go because of that, but it seems that everybody else must have had the same idea, and Bangkok at least, was crowded with tourists.
There were also bus loads of local tourists, and school parties, etc. and each and every one of these thousands of people had a camera or a phone-camera, and it was almost surreal inside the grounds, with thousands of people walking round in random directions taking millions of photographs, and I began to wonder whether my taking yet more was really worthwhile.
The main reason I had wanted to go to Wat Phra Kaew was for the Ramakhein murals on the walls of the cloister, which surrounds the temple compound. There are around 176 different sections to the murals, detailing the main events in the long national epic, which is based on the Indian epic the Rāmāyana.
As usual with the epics a lot of the story is taken up with battles and fighting, and is in stark contrast to the Buddhist epic of the Bodhisatta’s career developing the perfections through life after life, which are mainly tales of heroic acts of wisdom and goodness, culminating in his Life as Buddha, which are the other main themes of the mural painting in Thailand.
But still, as it forms a major part of Thai culture and consciousness, and it seems to me to be at least as relevant to present it as it does to show the same sorts of themes which are found, for instance, in Angkor.
A couple of sections were closed for ongoing renovations while we were there, but I still managed to take hundreds of photographs of the murals that day. But I was unable to finish the work, as I simply ran out of strength and energy, so it required a return trip the following day to complete the work.
In fact though to do it anything like justice, it would have taken weeks of work. As it is I managed to publish around 150 photographs of the murals alone, but I was not able to identify any but a handful of the scenes.
On the second day I completed photographing the murals and also managed to photograph some of the buildings around, but unfortunately – or perhaps, given its sanctity, fortunately – photography is forbidden inside the main sanctuary, where the national palladium Phra Kaew is installed, so I didn’t manage to get any photographs of the main image.
The link above will take you to the main collection, with more information on the temple and the murals. A small selection are shown below.
View from the River
School Kids on Culture Tour
Viharn and Chedi