In my last post I wrote about the tour my friends and I went on when we visited some of the local hilltribes in North Thailand. Our main reason for booking this tour was to visit Wat Rong Khun, more famously known as the White Temple. Located just outside of Chiang Rai, the Northern most province in Thailand, this completely white structure lined with silver that sparkles in the sun is one of the most unique temples found in Thailand. Designed, constructed, and funded by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the project began in 1997 when no public funds were available for the temple's much needed restoration. Chalermchai decided to completely rebuild and design the project at his own expense. To this day he has spent about 4 million baht on the project, and restricts outside donations from exceeding 10,000 baht so as not to be influenced by big donors. It is free for all to visit and there is also an interesting museum of the artists painting right outside the temple.
The white temple, representing the purity of the Buddha, is full of symbolism. Before entering the main building visitors must cross over a bridge suspended over hundreds of upward reaching hands. This hell of hands represents those who have succumbed to greed, longing, and desire. The act of crossing over the bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth is symbolic of abstaining from these wordly desires and obtaining happiness. After crossing over the bridge one is met by two creatures at the Gate of Heaven: Death and Rahu, who decides the fate of the deceased. Once inside the main building there is a suprising change. The interior is covered in bright colors with western superheroes like Superman, Batman, and the Matrix's Neo set amongst chaotic murals with images like the twin towers falling, nuclear war, and fiery orange flames. Suddenly you see Kung Fu Panda, Angry Bird, Hello Kitty, Micheal Jackson, Freddy Kruger, and Harry Potter. The list of pop references goes on. These unusual murals are meant to show the wickedness of the world, yet the presence of superheroes reminds us that we have the power to do good amongst the evil of the world. The images create a feeling of hope rather than despair.
As ornate and beautiful as the temple already is, it is not yet finished. The artist doesn't anticipate completing it until year 2070. The artist is willing to commit his time, money, and energy to this enormous project that is an offering to Buddha and, he believes, will grant him immortal life.
To see pictures of the inside of the temple you can check out these links: