Special to The Nation

Rajamangala University students adorn the walls of a Chiang Rai temple

You can’t have a temple without stirring murals that tell the Buddha’s story, so work has proceeded in earnest at 10-year-old Wat Nong Sai Thong in Chiang Rai’s Pan district.

Phra Charan Charudhammo, now 64 and the abbot, founded the temple 50 kilometres from the city of Chiang Rai in 2001, but it went nearly a decade without an artist adorning the white walls.

Associate Professor Numyoot Songthanapitak, the president of Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi, visited several times in 2003, conferring with village elders about the predicament.

The village of Nong Sai Thong itself was only established in 2001. The temple, occupying just over 15 rai, is the centre of faith for 87 households.

Numyoot donated money for a central Buddha statue for the chapel and bought adjacent land, so that what was then still a modest monastery could be registered as a proper temple.

And last year he recruited student artists and artisans from his school in Pathum Thani to prepare 10 Buddhist paintings in their studio and bring them here to affix to the walls.

They began installing 10 panels last September, each three square metres, and last month returned to the temple for the formal blessing and dedication.

Rajamangala University provided Bt225,000 for the temple’s decoration and the abbot raised another Bt100,000.

When Numyoot first visited in 2003, there was only a sparse monastery with a single monk. Phra Charan now has the company of three novices.

There are benches on which to meditate in a cool and shady backyard. Tall trees grow in the fertile soil of what used to be a Royal Forest Department nursery.

Fifteen art students – freshmen to third year – lived and worked here with their instructors beginning in September, learning and sharing skills and earning course credits for their efforts.

The images they created in the chapel show a range of styles and techniques. They depict episodes in the Buddha’s tale based on the familiar Tossa Chata Jataka. Each panel offers a lesson as well as decoration.

“The students benefited both in their artistic discipline and their Buddhist faith,” says Numyoot. “And the murals and meditation area can be further developed as a model for a knowledge-management centre.”

Abbot Charan says the community responded enthusiastically when the murals were completed last month. The students were deservedly proud.

“I was delighted to help add to the cultural heritage of this village and my country,” says thirdyear student Nate Tobthaisong, who painted the 10th episode of the Thossa Jataka.

“I was in charge of a large mural, so I was fully aware how much patience and effort each student spent creating all this elegant Thai art.”