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Rare poise

Bangkok Post, Thursday, September 24, 2009

A lakeside temple and museum provide Phayao the edge it's been missing thus far.

For over 500 years, Phra Chao Ton Luang has stood as the principal Buddha image of Phayao, a modest northern province enveloped by rugged mountain landscape.

Not only does the gigantic size of the image create wonderment, the splendid soft lines and calm expression on his face also demonstrate superb artistic skills of ancient craftsmen.

This hugest Chiang Saen-style Buddha statue in the Lanna region is enshrined inside Wat Si Khom Kham, a highly-revered place of worship that is a gateway to the province's rich history and cultural heritage.

Lying at the heart of the vast temple compound is the Phayao Cultural Exhibition Hall or Ho Watthanatham Nithat, a two-storey museum whose lively exhibits revolve around the theme of indigenous story-telling, providing visitors with a vivid account of the origin as well as evolution of the province, literature, folk wisdom, culture, tradition and the people's way of life.

The key figure behind this treasure trove of information, put together in 1996, is Phra Ubalee Khunupamajarn, the 92 year-old abbot of Si Khom Kham Temple, who has devoted the past 40 years of his life preserving his homeland heritage.

With great perseverance and a profound understanding of Lanna archaeology, the abbot has managed to keep Phayao's past alive. He set about the task by gathering ancient artefacts and historical relics he recognised would be of immense value.

Declared a province only in 1977, archaeological evidence scattered all around town points to Phayao's glorious past when, as a powerful kingdom known as Phu Kam Yao, its influence extended to the upper Mekong basin in the early 12th century.

The assortment of over 1,000 pieces of rare artefacts, laid out in a neat orderly manner, are a tribute to the abbot's tireless effort and his determination to ensure the former glory of Phayao is not lost on coming generations of Thais.

Among the highlights are sandstones carved in art forms symbolic of the province like exquisitely-sculpted pedestals for Buddha images, or the sandstone crown of Luang Por Buddha Sien.

Antique masterpieces occupying several corners of the building are conspicuous by the artistry and sophistication of their creators, such as dharma scripture cases layered with traditional gilded black lacquer, and sattaphan, elaborate wood-carved altar screens with seven-spiked candle posts decorated with fragments of multi-coloured glass, which were popular during Lanna religious rites.

Easily the most notable section is the stone inscription hall showcasing engraved laterite columns that are mostly associated with the neighbouring Sukhothai province, the birthplace of Siamese written language, when in fact Phayao is home to the largest number of stone inscriptions in the entire country.

Out of as many as 112 ancient stone columns which have been discovered throughout the province, over 30 are on display in this spacious hall to reflect the advanced civilisation that prospered in this region.

After the museum tour, take time to appreciate stunning murals inspired by national artist Angkarn Kalayanapong, and Phaptawan Suwannakudt, a protege of legendary painter Paiboon Suwannakudt, which adorn the walls of the temple's ordination hall sitting next to Phayao's largest lake, before soaking up the pleasant tranquility of Kwan Phayao at sunset.

Ho Watthanatham Nithat is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm everyday. For further details, contact 054-410-058.

source: http://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/travelscoop/24414/rare-poise

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