We include a number of photos of mural details from three Buddhist temples in Isan, Thailand that are approximately one hundred years old. We include illustrations both in our retelling and for use in our chapters on Laos and Isan. The three temples are Wat Chaisi, Wat Sanuan Wari and Wat Photaram. Wat Chaisi and Wat Sanuan Wari are located close to Khon Kaen, and Wat Photaram is located in the village of Ban Dong Ban, in the Na Dun District, in the south of Maha Sarakham Province. All the murals are approximately one hundred years old, and Wat Chaisi is the only temple that also has murals showing scenes from Sinxay inside the Sim. The murals, although somewhat protected by roofs (some have recently been replaced), nevertheless have suffered a fair amount of damage. With birds nesting in the rafters of the wat, trails of their droppings now run down many of the murals. In addition, many mural details have not fared well in the open air, being unprotected from the ravages of time, with areas of paint here and there chipped and faded.
Initially we thought we would include the photos of mural details just as they are. We thought that even though some of the mural details were degraded, the text in the story would allow readers to appreciate the each temple’s artist’s interpretation of particular scenes from Sinxay. But as we worked on the manuscript we realized some of the mural details had become too nebulous and we began retouching some of the mural photos to clarify the images. We felt this made a big difference, but luckily we recently asked Nick Bowen, an illustrator we’ve been working with, if he would like to try to retouch one of the images. We sent him an image we wanted to use that had been painted on the inner wall of the sim at Wat Chaisi. When Nick was finished and we saw the redrawn mural detail, we realized the murals were even more incredible than we thought.
In a small paperback book by Sowit Bamrungphan, titled Painting Children’s Minds, he highlights the importance of the murals at Wat Chaisi and their key role in the renaissance of Sinxay in Isan. In the preface, the Sowit tells how when he first saw the paintings at Wat Chaisi he felt that his heart was being transformed, as if the murals themselves were painting his heart. This is how we felt too when we saw the redrawn mural detail by Nick.
For their use as illustrations in the book, we are excited to be including selected mural details that have been redrawn. We want our readers to 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 degraded state create a sense of awe when seen first hand. 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.
The image that we include in this post is from several scenes. At the top you can see when Sinxay’s six evil brothers push him over the waterfall, hoping to kill him and take credit for rescuing Soumountha. At the bottom you can see that Indra was aware of what had happened to Sinxay, and unknown to the six brothers came down from the heavens to rescue Sinxay. He brought with him a vial of sacred water and pouring it over the very thankful Sinxay, revived and revitalized him. You can see for yourself what you think in comparing Nick’s redrawing with the original. We love it!
 Bamrungphan Sowit. 2009. Painting Children’s Minds. Khon Kaen Municipality.