PROJECT GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage's purpose in this project was to restore the Ubosoth of Wat Sra Bua Kaew in order to:
- preserve the charming traditional murals of this rural temple
- restore the northeastern Thai architectural style of the Ubosoth, and
- encourage continued pride in the traditional literature and arts of northeastern Thailand
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE BUILDING
The murals of Wat Sra Bua Kaew temple, located in rural Wang Khun village in Nong Song Hong District, Khon Kaen Province, represent one of few remaining examples of traditional village art of the central portion of Northeastern Thailand.
The murals, which cover the inside and outside walls of the Ubosoth (known in Northeastern Thailand as Sim), depict scenes from three stories.
The inner walls show episodes from the life of the Buddha, including his birth, the Great Renunciation, his vanquishing of Mara (the personification of evil), and achieving Nirvana. Pictures of the four previous Buddhas are also in the murals.
One of the exquisite interior murals
Examples of murals
Examples of murals
On the outside walls is the story of Sangkha Sinsai, a local folktale. Although the earliest temple murals seem to have been only of the life of the Buddha, folktales were later added. The principal reason for adding this folktale was as a didactic means for bringing to life lessons from the Dhamma. Sinsai was a virtuous ruler and warrior. Whenever Sinsai conquered others (including giants known as Yakkha or a kind of serpent figure known as Naga), he converted them to Buddhism. Village elders would have been able to use these murals to teach the younger population in the village about how to be a good person. The murals were thus more than just simple pictures; they comprised a part of the living educational process therein.
Close-up of same mural
Also on the outside walls are scenes from the northeastern recension of the Ramakian, which is based on the Ramayana and called the Phra Lak Phra Lam (Phra Rama Jataka). The murals are of interest because of their similarities and differences of the less well-known Lao version from the Indian and Thai versions.
The value of these murals is manifold. They represent both the local literary genius but also the heights indigenous art can reach in depicting favorite aspects of northeastern Thai literature. The murals also provide a view of traditional life in Khon Kaen Province. Of special interest is a view of the activities surrounding giving birth which shows a male midwife in attendance. Another scene shows the coronation ritual of a local ruler. Also shown is the wildlife of the time, including deer, crocodiles, wild boar, bees, fishes, and monkeys. Yet other scenes depict palaces, temples, city walls, as well as ordinary village houses. Buffalo carts and royal carriages can also be seen in the pictures.
According to information provided by the Royal Thai Government's Department of Religious Affairs, Wat Sra Bua Kaew was established in 1916. At about that time, the abbot, Phrakhru Wibun, constructed the present Ubosoth. Phrakhru Wibun was a widely-respected religious leader at this time who possessed a widely-recognized ability in architecture. He based the design of the Ubosoth at Wat Sra Bua Kaew on the one featured in his hometown temple in Borabu District of Maha Sarakham Province, to the south of Khon Kaen
RECONSTRUCTION AND CONSERVATION PROGRAM
At the end of 1998, the Siam Society learned of the murals in a report from one of its Honorary members. He informed the Council that the Ubosoth had wonderful murals that were in danger of being lost.
The threat to the murals came from the design of a new roof on the Ubosoth that had been built by the local community to replace the delapidated original which had been imperfectly patched by corrugated aluminum. It was found that the eaves of the new roof, built along more "modern" lines, were much shorter. As a result, the outside murals were exposed to the elements. If this situation could not be corrected, the murals could well be lost entirely.
As a part of its work to conserve Thailand's arts and culture, the Siam Society devised a project to conserve the murals of Wat Sra Bua Kaew in as short a time as possible. In this effort, the Society received financial assistance from the Netherlands Ambassador in Thailand as well as H.E.Korn Dappanransi, Member of Parliament from Khon Kaen Province, Asia Bank, Malifa Company, Ltd., Muang Thai Insurance Company, Ltd., and agencies of the Royal Thai Government in Khon Kaen Province. The Siam Society also received assistance from many individuals and institutions that kindly contributed advice and labor. The government of Sri Lanka also participated in the dedication through the donation of a sapling from the Holy Bodhi Tree (itself grown from a sapling of the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment) to be planted at Wat Sra Bua Kaew.
Wat Sra Bua Kaew Restoration Plan
Wat Sra Bua Kaew After Restoration (artist's conception)
After Restoration - a return to the glories of the past
At the official dedication in February of 2001, presided over by HRH Princess Galayani, it was found that the murals and their stories continue to attract tremendous interest.
Council members recognized that more than just restoring the temple's Ubosoth to sound architectural shape, this project would enable the villagers to sustain their traditional culture by using the Ubosoth as a focal point.
1. The murals are begining to fade
2. Apart form bening unsightly, these concrete-filled PVC pipes are totally inadequate to support the heavy concrete roof beams. So the precious, mural-covered, old brick walls are bearing nearly the full weight of the roof for now - but for how much longer?
3. The Roof: Before restoration.The narrow eaves of the Central Region roof style now expose the murals to sun and rain
Looking upward from inside the temple showing the huge reinforced-concrete beams and rafters that support the roof at present.
Detail from one of the exterior murals
Mural on an outside wall