Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wat Rong Khun, the monkless White Temple

Construction on Thai artist/architect Chalermchai Khositpipat's life-long project, Wat Ron Khun, the White Temple, outside the city of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand started in 1997 and is slated to continue for three generations.  As explained by our host, Chef Suwanee, the temple not only provides commentary about Thai culture, Buddhism and the artist's personal artistic vision, it also provides jobs and training for thousands in the area, in the arts, in the tourism sector, in the trades.  It is not only a temple to Buddhism but a legacy for the community.

While most temples are gold and gilt and red and green and blue and every color of the rainbow, the White Temple is....uh, white. It's decorated with glass and mirrors, silver and tin.  Khoitpipat feels that gold is representative of greed, corruption and temptation while white represents purity and truth. The only gold structure on the 5 acre site is building housing the toilets.  Also unique to Wat Rong Khun is that it is maintained by staff and volunteers and not by monks.

A turret from the golden restroom building next alongside one of the many umbrella/tree turrets.

"I am determined to return my life to my country, my religion, and all people around the world.  It was my strong intention to build a temple in imitation of heaven. I wanted it to be a heaven on earth.  I built a main building in the Buddhist monastery. I wanted it to be like a house of the Buddha with white color representing His purity and white glass representing His wisdom shining all over the earth and the universe." Chamlermchai Khosipipat

Posing with the artist...rather, posing with a plastic cut-out of the artist.  He was in Bangkok the day we were there. We're wearing matching Lanna-fisherman pants.  We are so cool.

ever-ongoing construction.  all part of his plan.

It's quite impossible to capture the scale of the project -- the sheer size of the temples and grounds as well as the enormous attention to detail. It's massive and yet every last tiny little thing is clean, decorated, painted, and adorned.

There is no admission fee.  Visitors can make small donations to the project (nor more than 10,000 Bhat $330 and there are no plaques acknowledging any donations anywhere as is common practice), and purchase artwork -- on the grounds is also a huge exhibition of his 'Masterworks' collection of paintings and sculptures.  Visitors can also contribute in another way that we found really touching, by buying a silver ornament (for 30 Bhat, $1, which I doubt even covers the cost); you add to the others.  When I say others, I mean the hundreds of thousands of others.  If you look up at the covered walkways you'll see them hanging overhead.  See?  There are a few. 

O, taking a moment to write and hang a message

The wat grounds has the 9 traditional temple structures but it also has man contemporary art pieces incorporated into the traditional design.  As you approach the main temple, for example, you must first pass thru a piece called 'Hell.' (To get to heaven you have to go thru Hell) The path is flanked by two seas of hands -- grotesque outstretched arms making desperate gestures and clawing their way to the surface. I noticed this quiet, pleading pair.

Before you set foot on the serpent fenced bridge over the ponds that surround the main temple you pass by two 2.5 m tall guards. Just a wee-bit intimidating.  Also intimidating are the temples' staff urging you via a public address megaphone to "Move along!" "ONE WAY!' "KEEP MOVING!" It wasn't busy so we did not get much scolding as I dallied with my camera waiting for the rest of the fam to catch up.

Inside the temple, traditional rules of etiquette are observed:  no photography, (bare) feet tucked under (mermaid style) if you sit, revered silence out of respect to those worshipping, covered shoulders and legs.  The temple interior is full of scaffolding and you can watch a team of artists at work on traditional murals and....very untraditional murals.  This is one of the things the White Temple is famous for -- the juxtaposition of images of Buddah, his story, paintings of Thai life and culture and also....George W. Bush riding a missle, Osama Bin Ladden's face peering out of a giant skeleton's eye socket. Superman.  Many Star Wars characters doing battle, etc.  All apparently a commentary on human fascination with good vs. evil and the fact that ancient religions and modern life are one, part and parcel.

There were two fans running in the temple and sitting in front of the fans were Thai worshippers....enjoying the gentle breeze and texting on their smartphones.

No comments: