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Wat Phra Mahatat
Wat Phra Mahathat, founded over 1,000 years ago, is the largest wat (temple) in southern Thailand. Its most noticeable feature is a 78 meter high chedi (the Thai word for stupa), with a several hundred kilogram gold spire at the very top. It’s full name is a mouthful — Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihaan, sometimes abbreviated as Wat Phra Boromathat.
The wat is said to have a relic of the Buddha and even if it is not true (if one gathered all the relics of the Budda found in the world, how many bodies would he have had?) the effect of the devotions of the worshippers through the years is undeniable — this is a place that feels holy. My favorite area is one of the wihaans (Buddhist image sanctuary) directly next to the central sancutary (bot) that is crowned by the huge chedi. It gives the feeling of being underground, although it is ground level with windows opening out, in the shape of a square. There are Buddha statues around this square, at ground level and also on a raised level behind these ground-level Buddhas. The area is open to the outside and little birds fly in and out, twittering. People, mostly Thais, walk around the images, maybe stopping at one to give a wai (holding the hands in front of one’s forehead), to rub a gold leaf on an image or simply to pay respects.
There is often a monk sittiing at one corner who gives blessings to people who come and ask. At another corner there is a large, circular gong. There is nothing to strike the gong with but there is a raised center that is very shiny — when rubbed continuously in the right way the gong begins to vibrate most wonderously. Occasionally someone with the knack will fill the area with sound.
The variety of images and expressions is marvelous. One of Kasma’s trip members once got very frustrated and asked “Why are there so many different statues of the Buddha????!!!!” The diversity is quite wonderful, really. It is so hopeful — it affirms that anyone willing to look within and practice can find the Buddha within (so I‘m told).
Within niches in some of the bases of the Buddha Statues there are statues of the Earth Mother Goddess, who has an important role in Thai Buddhism and is one of the images most often seen in temples. The story is that as Buddha was meditating towards enlightenment, Mara was tempting him and throwing out all the distractions possible. When Mara asked contemptously “Who will witness your enlightenment?” Buddha pointed to the earth — the Earth Mother Goddes would witness. And she wrung out her hair and the water from it swept away all the distractions of Mara. In the Thai temples this incident obviously has grabbed the imagination of the Thai people.
I always spend a good deal of time walking around the square of images and greeting old friends, Buddha images not seen since the previous visit. I always take a picture of my favorite, never quite catching the serenity and peace of the image.
I I always go away from my walk feeling at peace, wishing such equanimity and calm could be a bigger part in the rounds of daily living.
One of the treats of a Thai temple — there is the existence of exquisite little details, often hidden away in plain site. I’ll include a picture of one found on one of the Buddha platforms. I’ll also include a picture of the top of a roof with its “Naga” (dragon) to protect against flying spirits.
© 2004 Michael Babcock. |
Last updated 27 August 2004.