To see Wat Chaisi for the first time is an amazing experience. Even if one is not familiar with the story of Sinxay the murals are incredible, a rich artistic treasure, Knowing the story just makes it that much better. There’s so much research potential in these murals!!!
For every Buddhist temple, besides the abbot and monks in residence, there is a salawat, the wat’s designated lay ritual leader. At Wat Chaisi, the salawat is Mr. Sum Suwannawong, perhaps the true unsung hero regarding Sinxay, especially as it relates to Wat Chaisi.
Suwannawong was born in 1940 in a house across the road from the temple and still lives in the same house. Every morning he chants verses from the original Sang Sinxay, and he helps organize the many Sinxay events that happen at the temple. Suwannawong was an invaluable and helpful resource during our research in Isan, especially in helping us decipher the complexity of the murals at Wat Chaisi. The featured photograph for this blog above features a portrait of Suwannawong inside the sim at Wat Chaisi. Note how murals cover all the interior walls!
This is the first of three posts where we will showcase the three wats in Isan that feature murals of scenes from Sinxay in the next three posts They all offer something unique. In this post we focus first on Wat Chaisi, which is closest to the municipality of Khon Kaen and the wat most people visit. In a pamphlet distributed at a Sinxay Day event held in Khon Kaen (see photo at bottom of post), one of those chosen to express their views on Sinxay was the abbot of Wat Chaisi, Phra Kou Yathanyakon. He emphasized the important role that Wat Chaisi serves as the central learning center for Sinxay, and how its murals truly represent the soul and essence of Sinxay. The photo below shows Phra Kou Yathanyakon sitting in his office on the temple grounds.
Wat Chaisi is currently the locus for the majority of activities centered around Sinxay in Isan. Para Kou Yathanyakon has been using the murals for many years to teach the story and the Buddhist dhamma embedded in it to young teens in the village of Ban Sawatii. The photo below shows a boy who, when riding by on his bike as we were photographing the murals, stopped and on his own began to explain the meaning behind some of the mural details. Quite extraordinary.
In addition, through collaboration with professors at Khon Kaen University, there have been seminars on the murals, and both morlam and nang pramo thai performances. Many of these activities have been incorporated into the yearly festival of Bun Khao Chi, traditionally held in Isan and Laos on the full-moon night of the Lao lunar month, corresponding to early February. In February 2011, just one year after the first Sinxay Day in Vientiane, a three-day event promoting the importance of Sinxay was held in the new Central Plaza Mall, in downtown Khon Kaen, where multimedia performances related to Sinxay were staged, and students displayed their their artwork. The city organized this event in conjunction with Khon Kaen University and Maha Sarakham University faculties.