Monday, January 29, 2007

The Legend of Phra Sai & Ong Tue

I just returned from a trip to Udon Thani around a week ago. While I was there I went to the various famous & not so famous temples in Udon, as well as Nong Khai. In Nong Khai there are 2 important temples, Wat Pho Chai & Wat Si Chompu Ong Tue. They house the 2 principal Buddha images of the province, LP Phra Sai (灵感佛) & LP Phra Chao Ong Tue respectively.
Wat Pho Chai is located just outside the Nong Khai town. The gold image of LP Phra Sai is in the posture of subduing Mara. The lap width is 28 inches while the height is 41 inches. This sacred Buddha image has been enshrined since the establishment of the province. The history of this image relates to many parts of Thai history but it is unclear when it was cast or who cast it. Prince Damrong Rachanuphap speculated on its origin in a book called "Histories of Important Buddha Statues", which was published and distributed in a royal kathina ceremony in the year 1925. Prince Damrong thought that LP Phra Sai was cast in the Lan Chang Kingdom in Laos. According to legend, 3 princesses were the people who caused the images to be casted. Another legend gives us more details. It goes like this:
King Chaiyachetthathirat's had 3 daughters named Serm, Suk, and Sai. They had the unanimous wish of casting their own personal Buddha images. They then asked their father for support, thus leading to the king's command to cost three Buddha images having different sizes according to their ages, the oldest having the largest image. They were named accordingly, Phra Serm for the oldest and largest, Phra Suk for the middle sister and second largest size, and Phra Sai for the youngest and smallest image. They were to be cast in an alloy of gold & bronze, a virtually impervious metal and a difficult one to mix. It required very high temperature to get the metal smelted enough to pour and although the Monks and Novices worked full time at the bellows for seven days and nights they still couldn't raise enough heat. On the eighth day the Monks were exhausted at noon when a white robed figure appeared and offered to take over the work. The Monks and Novices thankfully retired to take a break and eat. More white robed figures appeared to assist the first and when the Monks and Novices returned from their meal break and rest, prepared to take up the task of smelting again, the white robed figures were nowhere to be seen. They had disappeared as mysteriously as they had arrived - the metal was melted and ready to pour into the moulds!
The 3 Buddha images were in Vientiane until 1778, when the man who was to become King Rama I of Thailand went to Laos. He removed the images to Vientiane en route to Thailand taking the son of the Laos King with him as a future son-in-law (hostage) for safety and returned to Bangkok. The son-in-law, Chao Anu Wong, survived Rama I, Rama II and in the reign of King Rama III the King of Laos died. King Rama III then sent Chao Anu Wong back to Laos to take over the throne but the Laos people and his relatives persuaded him to declare independence for Laos. Subsequently King Rama III sent an army, led by his Commander in Chief to wage war against the rebellious Laos. He won and Chao Anu Wong was killed. The 3 Buddha images were then taken by raft on the Mekong river to Thailand.
The Phra Sai Katha is shown above. It goes:
Namo Tassa (3x)
Arahang Buddho Bodhijayo Seyyakuno
Bodhisatto Mahalabho Piyang Mak Mak
Bhavantuno Hotu Sappatha.

During the journey a storm capsized one of the rafts but the Buddha images were retrieved, until a second storm hit them and the image of Phra Suk sank through the bottom of the raft to the Mekong riverbed at Wern Pra Sook, Nong Kong Village. There it lies to this day, off the shore of Phon Phisai District in Nong Khai. The two remaining Buddha images were taken one to Wat Ho Klong and the other to Wat Po Chai until King Rama V ordered them brought to Bangkok. They were to be taken by buffalo cart but Phra Sai refused to leave and no matter what they tried. The buffalo cart could not sustain the weight and continuously broke down. So Phra Sai remained at Wat Po Chai while the remaining one, Phra Serm, was transported to Bangkok where it now resides at Wat Pa Tum Wanaram at Siam Square, behind the World Trade Centre. On every full moon day of the 7th lunar month the people of Nong Khai celebrate Pho Soi by having "Bun Bong Fai", the rocket flying ceremony at Wat Po Chai in honour of LP Phra Sai.

Wat Si Chompu Ong Tue is in Tambon Nam Mong, Amphue Tha Bo, 43km from Nong Khai town. LP Phra Chao Ong Tue is the largest Buddha image in the province. It was also believed to be casted by Lan Chang artisans using an alloy of gold, bronze & silver. This image is in the posture of subduing Mara, having a lap width of 3.3m, & a height of 4m. The word "Tue" is an ancient measuring unit of Isan, equivalent to 1 ton.
LP Ong Tue is considered very sacred just like Phra Sai. There are no reliable records as to when it was cast, though it is believed to have been casted in 1562. King Chaiyachettha, the ruler of Vientiane (who was a son of Phraya Sinsuwan, born in Muang Wiang Khuk), commanded the casting for his wife, Queen Si Chompu (a villager of Ban Nam Mong or Muang Chompu).
The casting process was not successful until Indra, king of the gods & 108 Devadas came to help. The total time spent for the casting was 7 yrs and 7 months, at the expense of 400,000 baht. There is an annual paying homage festival to LP Ong Tue on the full moon day of the 4th lunar month every year.

At both temples I did not hesitate to invite buchas of the 2 Buddha images back to Singapore. I've placed them in my office altar in replacement of the 2 small LP Tuad images, which I brought home.
This is the 3-inch brass bucha of LP Phra Sai. See how refined it is! The casting is beautiful indeed. The image of Phra Sai gives off a strong aura, & is not called 灵感佛 or the "Buddha of Inspiration" for nothing. The Phra Sai katha to be chanted is shown in one of the photos above. And this is the 3-inch Nawa bucha of LP Ong Tue. Somewhat different from the original Ong Tue image, but a good piece of Buddhist art nevertheless. The bronze is also of high quality. So those are the modifications to my office altar after I came back from Udon. Feel free to give me your comments.


Anonymous said...

I'm visiting wat patnum soon,and your pictures are very interesting !
are these buddhas similar to others buddhas of bangkok (I mean is it the same religion)or are there respected by only some bouddhists?
odile who speaks french !

Wayne said...

Thai Buddhism is the same throughout Thailand and all Buddhas in Thailand are images of the same Buddha - Shakyamuni. But because the images themselves are casted by different people with different art styles, they are given different titles to distinguish one image from another. In Phra Sai's case, it is a Lan Chang style Buddha casted in Laos, named after one of the 3 princess. It is famous due to the miraculous power it manifested, as I have mentioned on my blog.