Bangkok Post reviews
Museum of local wisdom
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: December 6, 2012 at 8:15 am
A Thon Buri temple has more than sacred statues for Buddhists to worship, there is also a cultural exhibition for everyone to explore
The statue of former abbot Phra Phaowanakosol Thera, or Luang Pu Eiam.
A group of culture enthusiasts studied the gable of the prayer hall to see Chinese-influenced cotton rose motifs, and later worshipped the ordination hall's Sukhothai-style principal Buddha. But their trip to Wat Nang Ratchaworawihan in Thon Buri's Chom Thong district was not complete without visiting its museum on local ways of life.
"I started Wat Nang Museum about seven years ago," said Phra Khru Anurak Paithoon. "Seventy percent of the displayed items belong to the temple and the rest were donated by local villagers, including those who fled to the temple during air raids in World War II. The farming tools were brought from my family's fruit orchard."
The museum is comprised of three major sections: the Villagers' Tools Zone, Buddhist Items Zone and Traditional Medicine Zone, all based on the actual condition of this farming community and its residents whose ancestors were mostly royal court officials during the Thon Buri period.
Stepping into the museum, the first room boasts an exhibition and findings about the history of Wat Nang and Wat Nang community. According to the exhibition, Wat Nang Ratchaworawihan was apparently a small temple built in the early Ayutthaya period amid fruit orchards in the Bang Nang Nong and Bang Khun Thian areas. The principal Buddha statue in the vihara (prayer hall) suggests the temple and Wat Nang community date to the early Ayutthaya era.
The statue is made of sandstone and covered with gold lacquer _ a popular style of art during the early Ayutthaya period. The 6km Klong Dan, or Klong Sanam Chai, was dug during the reign of King Chairachathirat of Ayutthaya (1534-1546). It was a major route for boats travelling from Ayutthaya to the Tha Chin river and then to the Gulf of Thailand. It starts at Bangkok Yai (Bang Luang) Canal near Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen and joins Bang Bon and Maha Chai canals.
A book of poems from the early Ayutthaya period, Klong Kamsuan Samut, describes Klong Dan as a route to the sea for those in and around Ayutthaya. In 1831, it became so shallow that King Rama III ordered Phraya Choduek Ratchasetthi (Thong Chin) to oversee the hiring of Chinese labourers to dig the canal deeper. In the past, there was a tariff collection checkpoint alongside a section of Klong Dan from where Klong Dan and Klong Bang Luang meet near Wat Pak Nam to Wat Upsornsawan (Wat Moo). Some poems and words of the old generations describe the area as where various kinds of vessels gathered on their way from Bangkok to other major towns. Every vessel had to stop there and pay tariffs accounting for 10% of the goods aboard. Today, there is no trace of the checkpoint.
After learning about Klong Dan, the visitors will reach the Villagers' Tools Zone on the first floor and part of the second floor. The area showcases an old-style Thai kitchen, baskets, farming tools, children's toys, textbooks and stationery of yesteryear. Visitors will feel like they are entering an old-style fruit orchard and a traditional Thai house, imagining how the villagers worked on their crops, wove baskets, fixed their boats and cooked rice and food using an old-style stove.
From the Ayutthaya period until a few decades ago, the residents of Wat Nang community mainly grew fruits and vegetables for sale. Popular fruits were the hom thong and nam wa varieties of bananas, mangos, Burmese grapes (mafai), lychees, coconuts, betel nuts and leaves. In the orchards here fruit trees are grown on strips of raised ground separated by irrigation ditches.
The size of land for growing fruit trees here was not measured as rai but khanad according to the number of strips of raised ground. Each strip was usually 2.5m wide and each irrigation ditch was 1m to 1.5m wide.
Farmers grew either only one kind of fruit or several kinds while raising fish and planting vegetables like morning glory in the ditches.
Many buyers would come to the community to buy farm produce, especially the famous betel nuts and leaves known for tasting so good that the people of Ayutthaya travelled far for them during that period.
"The community was full of fruit orchards and once famous for lychees that tasted so sweet and had small seeds," said Phra Khru Anurak Paithoon. "At present, there are fewer orchards left with farmers growing banana trees and mainly selling banana leaves. More villagers lease their houses to others."
After the farming section, the visitors proceed to the Buddhist Items Zone on the second floor. It displays what the temple and monks received from Buddhists. Highlights include book cabinets from different times and in different styles _ those fully decorated with gold leaf, those depicting Chinese-style paintings and those adorned with gold lacquer.
Visitors should not miss the opportunity to worship the life-sized statue of former abbot Phra Phaowanakosol Thera, or Luang Pu Eiam. The monk was born to an orchard farming family in Bang Khun Thian in 1832 and passed away in 1926. He was known for his knowledge of traditional medicine and magic spells. He was highly respected by King Rama V. According to oral history, before King Rama V paid a state visit to Europe in 1897, he came to meet Luang Phu Eiam at the temple. The abbot blessed the king and predicted that the trip would go smoothly but he would be challenged by an untamed animal. The monk then taught the king a magic spell for taming creatures. Later in Paris, a French prince invited the king to watch a horse riding and polo match and asked if Siam had many untamed horses and any tricks to control them. The king replied: "We have some." He then cast a spell upon grass and gave the grass to an untamed horse. He then rode it around the field.
The last section to see is the Traditional Medicine Zone displaying herbs, tools and recipes, especially palm leaf manuscripts. The museum mirrors the importance of local wisdom, the relationship between temples and local ways of life and the interdependence between people and monks in Thai society.
Farming tools and various kinds of boats and fishing tools are on view. The farming tools are mostly from the fruit orchard of museum founder Phra Khru Anurak Paithoon, above right.
Wat Nang Ratchaworawihan Museum for Education is open to all on weekends and holidays from 1-4pm and from 9am- 4pm daily for group visitors. Admission is free. For advance reservations, call 087-009-2900 or 089-792-1131 or fax 02-875-4405. For more information, visit www.watnang.com.