There are very few places on earth where tradition and culture still prevail. And the country of Thailand is one of them. Even though the country is visited by tourists the year round for various reasons, one cannot neglect the fact that Thailand has some of the most spectacular Buddhist temples in the world. And the city of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand is home to one of the country’s national landmarks, the Wat Rong Khun Temple.
Located about 5 kilometers from the city, the shrine is also simply called the White Temple due to the use of ornate white plasters and mosaic mirrors for construction that give it a magical look. The brainchild of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the White Temple is built in a contemporary style and is said to be a tribute to the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Construction of the sanctuary started in 1998 and was estimated to be complete by 2008 but experts say that the fine attention to detail is hard to match and it could take several years for the temple to be completely finished.
The Structure:- The entire temple is sparkling white and there are large mosaic mirrors set into the white plaster at regular intervals to give out a shiny reflective look. The color of the temple was chosen as white in order to symbolize the “purity” of Lord Buddha and the mirrors reflect his wisdom that shines across the Universe.
Entering the shrine:- The entrance to the temple is through a bridge that makes the visitor feel as if he/she is walking over hell as they enter the shrine. Below the bridge, there are presumably two large pits. One pit is situated at the start of the bridge and is used to signify the human world.
Another larger pit, bordered with daggers, is situated mid way beneath the bridge and is covered with sculptures of hands of people, touted to be trying to escape from the clutches of hell. There are two giant man-like sculptures at the entrance with a foreboding glance that drives jitters up your skin.
Further up the bridge, the scene turns a bit pleasant with a huge pond housing white fishes and small fountains of water that spurt up now and then. It is said that the pond signifies the river that partitions heaven and the world below, the Si Tandon.
Just before you enter the temple, the sight of small sculptures of Buddha meditating among Lotus flowers and surrounded by the various spirits of the human world tends to enlighten your soul.
Inside the temple:- Just as it was outside, the front hall of the temple is also covered in white and the walls are covered with stories about the travels of Lord Buddha and incidents in his life. As one enters the main hall, the surrounding color changes from pure white to flaming gold and the altar at the center is filled with sculptures of Buddha in various poses of mediation.
The paintings themselves are not too ancient and have a touch of the contemporary style where the artist has added a few touches of the modern world to symbolize the life of Buddha. Rather than boring the visitor, these paintings tend to keep them fixated until they walk out of the temple and afterwards.
The paintings in the assembly hall (also called “ubosot”) have significant golden touches to them and show the journey of a human who has denounced all worldly pleasures to embrace the spiritual life wholly.
It is possible to spot four animals in the paintings on the roof that symbolize the various elements of the earth. Among them, the lion’s mane is used to depict fire, the elephant symbolizes earth, the swan represents the wind and the naga (snake) signifies water.
Golden Toilet:- Situated to the left of the temple is a Golden Toilet. Although it comes as a surprise to many visitors that the designer created a toilet of all the plausible things that can be created from gold, the structure gives out a secret message to humans that beauty is in the mind and can be conceived on all objects rather than restrict it to a particular few instances.
Continued Construction:- As mentioned earlier, the construction of the White Temple is still underway and the entire structure when finished is estimated to include a total of nine buildings, including the present assembly hall. The other rooms that have been planned out include a hermitage for practitioners, a monastery hall for meditation purposes, a pagoda, a crematorium, a preaching hall, a pavilion, a museum and a rest room for travelers to freshen up.
Chalermchai has predicted that the entire temple would be completed in about 90 years and if so, the structure would become the counterpart of the world famous La Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona. Well, we will just have to wait for that dream to materialize in the years to come. For now, enjoy a truly spiritual trip to the Wat Rong Khun.