Thursday, July 30, 2009

Images from Phra Pathom Chedi - Nakhon Pathom Part 2

Not a lot of the old glory of an ancient city has been preserved in Nakhon Pathom - Thailand's oldest, but Phra Pathom Chedi (the world's tallest buddhist monument) provides a lot of the icing on a cake to satisfy a tourist's appetite. It is also the perfect place to visit if you want to soak in on the active practice of Buddhism. This is a living encyclopedia of a buddhist life - with tradition easily observed among the locals visiting the temple.

Now, why are lotus flowers very conspicuously popular in Buddhist temples? Why not a rose, an orchid - or a sampaguita? Aside from the symbolic meaning of a flowering plant with roots that stay in the muck, but the flowers succeed to float up beautifully and rise from the ground, the lotus (Sanskrit and Tibetan padma) is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and one of the most poignant representations of Buddhist teaching.

For completion, the Eight Auspicious Symbols (Ashtamangala in Sanskrit) are a group of lucky Buddhist symbols that appear on many Buddhist textiles, objects and paintings. Each symbol represents an aspect of Buddhist teaching and when they appear together, their powers are multiplied.

  1. Parasol (chattra) - royalty and spiritual power
  2. Golden Fishes (suvarnamatsya) - good fortune, fertility and salvation
  3. Treasure Vase (kalasha) - spiritual and material abundance
  4. Lotus (padma) - mental and spiritual purity
  5. Conch Shell (sankha) - the fame of Buddha's teachings
  6. Endless Knot (shrivasta) - infinite wisdom of the Buddha
  7. Victory Banner (dhvaja) - victory of the Buddha's teachings and wisdom over ignorance
  8. Wheel (dharmachakra) - the teachings of the Buddha
The color of the lotus has an important bearing on the symbology associated with it:
  • White Lotus : This represents the state of spiritual perfection and total mental purity (bodhi).
  • Pink Lotus : This the supreme lotus, generally reserved for the highest deity. Thus naturally it is associated with the Great Buddha himself.
  • Red Lotus : This signifies the original nature and purity of the heart (hrdya). It is the lotus of love, compassion, passion and all other qualities of the heart.
  • Blue Lotus : This is a symbol of the victory of the spirit over the senses, and signifies the wisdom of knowledge.

Concrete benches at the vicinity of the central sanctuary (boht).

Write down your "intentions" and be blessed...

Fashionably practicing faith...

Jackfruit tree (langka/katahal/knol/makmi/mit/kanoon) adorned with a red ribbon and a yellow textile at the temple grounds.

Novice monks

We took a stroll outside the temple complex, leaving the roundabout so we can see a bit of the city. We found a moat (below) and a public park with colorful exercise gadgets for everyone to use. Nakhon Pathom is like any Thai cities, albeit less populous; and the air is fresher.

Other Places to visit in the city of Nakhon Pathom:

1. Wat Sisathong - This is where the "God of Darkness" - Phra Rahu resides. Inside the temple is the giant statue of Phra Rahu.

2. Phra Ratchawang Sanam Chan Palace - With its unique mixture of Thai, English Tudor and French architectural styles, this palace is a delightful sight to visit. Built back in 1907 by command of King Rama VI when he was still the Crown Prince, this palace is situated beside the Silpakorn University. Notice the statue of a black dog, yah leh (King Rama VI's pet), in front of the palace grounds (info details c/o Paknam Web:

3. Silpakorn University - If you enjoy just observing people, this university campus will be a great place to cool your heels. On the grounds are students selling shirts. A cafeteria is situated near the lake.

4. Damnoen Saduak - This is the real deal of Floating Markets, not the artificial one that tourists are taken to in Bangkok.

As the sun sets...

Plumeria trees (above) rise around the Phra Pathom Chedi temple grounds. Its heavenly smelling blooms are called different names in the region, its english name of Plumeria is derived in honor of French botanist Charles Plumier, while its common name of Frangipani is after an Italian noble family.

In the Indochina region, the plant is called Hoa su in Vietnam (its smell accounts for the mythical name of north Vietnam's Perfume Pagoda), pokok bunga camboja or cambodian tree-flower in Indonesia and Malaysia, Champa flower in Cambodia, Hindi and Laos (thus Chomsy Hill in the heart of Luang Prabang is so named), Dama de Noite in Brazil, Kalachuchi in the Philippines, Sacuanjoche in Nicaragua, etc. Its scent is an alluring potion that's associated with the Malay folkloric monster - the pontianak. In Bangladeshi culture, its white variety (as well as other white flowers) is associated with death and funerals. In Pacific Islands (like Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands), they are used to make leis.

In literature, Percy Beshey Shelley alludes to it in "Indian Serenade": "The champak odours fail / Like sweet thoughts in a dream." It is even mentioned in Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and Rabindranath Tagore's "Crescent Moon". It is also the national flower of Nicaragua and Laos. The flowers (2nd photo from the top) come out commonly in whites, pinks and yellows.

Thailand offers a rich place to feast our eyes on! But the best time to visit the country is after the summer heat wave between mid-March to May. Temperatures can soar to really harsh and harmful degrees. To be able to optimize a visit during the aforementioned months, carry an umbrella, put on your sunblock and drink lots of water in between. Being Asian, I am sun-weaned, but there are forces of nature that I have learned never to take on without precautions.

For information on how to get to Nakhon Pathom and more -

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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