In our retelling of Sinxay there comes a time with the king, Phanya Kousarat, becomes a monk to help regain his equanimity and provide anonymity when he planned to leave Muang Pengchan on a quest to find out what happened to his sister, Soumountha, who had been abducted by Nyak Koumphan.
When Mahathet arrived at Muang Champa, he stopped to rest at a temple outside the city walls. The abbot of this temple welcomed him and asked many questions, and they had a lively conversation. Talking with Mahathet, the head monk could tell that his manners were those of royalty. Mahathet told the abbot he had been traveling for a long time, visiting many towns and places where people told him about Muang Champa. Everyone said how beautiful it was, just like heaven, with countless muangs serving as powerful allies, so many that they could not be counted, and all never failing to bring valuable gifts as tribute. While they talked, people living next to the temple couldn’t help overhearing the conversation and joined in. Someone remarked that there were people in surrounding muangs who even traveled to Muang Nyak. These people could travel anywhere they chose and often looked like ordinary people, but they still maintained the ability to fly if they wanted.
As we discuss in our book in Chapter 3, on Isan, the Wat Chaisi temple’s outer and inner walls are covered with murals all having to do with Sinxay. While some scenes are easily understood, other ones are much harder to figure out. One mural shows three spaces with images of monks seen in the original mural detail seen above. While they obviously have something to do when Phanya Kousarat became a monk, just exactly what the painter was trying to portray is almost impossible to figure out. The figure of the solitary monk on the left could be Kousarat, commonly known as Mahathet shortly after becoming a monk, sitting alone, where he could calm his mind, inflamed with rage since the day Soumountha had been abducted. Or, most likely we think, could be the abbot of the temple outside the city gates of Muang Champa where Mahathet stopped to rest. The second image most likely shows Mahathet in the middle as he is greeted by the abbot and a fellow monk. The third image showing three monks sitting in an honorific position showing their respect to Mahathet who they sense is someone special.
We wanted to include as many mural details from Wat Chaisi, Wat Sanuan Wari and Wat Photaram, as we could to illustrate scenes in our retelling. Since this original image is vague in what it’s trying to communicate, but still was one of the few mural details that showed Phanya Kousarat as a monk, we decided to ask Nick, the illustrator working with us here in the states, to creatively redraw the image. We thought it would be great to show Mahathet being greeted by the abbot on the left, and then in the second space, showing them talking with other monks listening in on their conversation. While Nick had to change the composition a bit, it still strongly has the feel of the original mural detail. Any mural detail that has been retouched or redrawn and used as an illustration we have made sure it is clearly stated in the description for that image. This one, we describe as being “creatively redrawn,” showing that subject matter has actually been changed in some way.
Since our book is not an academic text we felt we had the freedom to be somewhat creative in our retelling and use of illustrations, though always with the intent of honoring the original text of Sang Sinxay. In the Reader’s Guide at the end of the book we address the issue of using retouched and redrawn images.
“For their use as illustrations in the book, we made the decision that most of the mural details needed to be redrawn so our readers can see the mural details as they might have looked when the artists first drew them. They are all incredible works of folk art, and even in their current state create a sense of awe when seen firsthand. But viewing the mural details in a book is not the same as viewing them on the walls of the temple, and in the context of this book we believe the redrawing dramatically improves the individual storytelling power of each image. We have been careful to ensure that while the images have been redrawn they haven’t been outright manipulated. We are not trying to deceive anyone, just create the best viewing experience for our readers.
Larry Hackett, editor in chief of People tells his photo editors that to remember the purpose of retouching is not to alter reality, just to make the subject matter “sweeter.” We couldn’t agree more.”