Thursday, March 13, 2014

Unexpected Pleasure, Beauty Is Where You Find It

Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol, Roi-Et Province

Yesterday I wrote that our trip to Roi-Et ...  "As is the case for all wonderful trips, our expectations, as well as anticipations were exceeded.  We got to meet face to face for the first time my Facebook friend.  The first night we witnessed a wonderful presentation of the Vessantara Jataka by local university students.  We met a very nice local couple who invited us to spend Sunday night at their home."
Our new friends in Roi-Et wanted to take us Sunday morning to a special place about 80 km from their home.  It turned out that this special place was a very special place - an unexpected pleasure for Duang and me.  Our friends brought us to view and experience Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol, "The Great, Victorious and Auspicious Pagoda" - also known as Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkhon .

In Thailand, chedi is the same as a stupa.  Chedis and stupas are Buddhist structures containing Buddhist relics - often the ashes of Buddhist Monks.  Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol is built to house some very special Buddhist relics.  Besides the relics of the Monk most responsible for its construction, Luang Phu Sri Vi Ro, and other Monks, Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol contains relics from Buddha that arrived from Sri Lanka on May 3, 1997.

The decision to build Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol and to create a sacred place for the relics was made at a meeting of the clergy on 25th of November 1985.

That was almost thirty years ago.  I do not know if the chedi is still under construction or if it undergoing extensive renovation.  No matter the case, we found the facility to be incomplete.  I estimate that the facility is about 60 percent complete.  However the 60% completion state is pretty much universal.  No matter where you go in the facility you have a clear indication from the construction or restoration to date what that area will look like when it is completed.

Ground Level Portico

Portico Partially Completed

Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol is rife with symbolism.  The symbolism starts with the dimensions of the complex.  The facility is located in Roi-Et Province ("101 Province").  Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol is situated upon 101 rai of land - 40 acres.  The chedi is 101 meters wide by 101 meters long and 101 meters tall.

Main Pagoda Flanked By Two Of the Eight Smaller Pagodas

The chedi is surrounded by eight smaller pagodas.  Pagodas?  Pagodas are chedis that can be entered and may have a secular purpose.  The large chedi is also a pagoda since it can be entered.

Naga Exiting the Mouth of A Dragon
The main pagoda has five floors each having a different purpose and motif.

The first floor is for meetings and conferences.

First Floor - Shrine to Luang PhuSri Maha Vi Ro

The beams and columns of the first floor are covered with intricate designs with a pink and gold color palette.  It is very beautiful and, in my opinion, rivals the opulence of Versailles.  Several paintings adorn the perimeter wall of the first floor with many to be added to complete the decor.

First Floor Painting

Another First Floor Painting

First Floor Staircase Decoration

Statue Adorning First Floor Staircase
The second floor of the pagoda is meant for clergy meetings and has a blue along with gold color palette.

Second Floor Ceiling

Second Floor Shrine

Second Floor Shrine
As we walked about the pagoda in awe of the beauty as well as the complexity of the decor, we came upon a section where a man was working on adding decorations to a wall panel.  We learned that it took him three days to complete each wall panel.

Worker Adding Decorations To Wall Panel

The third floor of the pagoda is an ubosot - ordination hall, the holiest prayer room.  Ordination of Monks takes place in the ubosot which is often referred to by laypeople as "bot".  The ubosot of this pagoda is red and gold.
Ceiling Panel of the ubosot - Third Floor

Ceiling Detail Of Ubosot

Ornate Columns Descending From Ornate Ceiling
Ubosot Shrine

Part of Ubosot Shrine - "Reclining Buddha"

Ubosot Ceiling

The fourth floor has access to an outside viewing deck which provides grand panoramas of the surrounding countryside.  The wall of the fourth floor, to me, seemed to be a hall of fame for Monks.  There were many statues set pedestals along the perimeter wall.  Each statue had a name of a different deceased Monk.

Fourth Floor of the Pagoda

The fifth floor is supposed to be a museum related to Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol.  The museum must be also under renovation because other than the walls containing relics from many Monks, there were no articles on display.  However the fifth floor is the base of a marvelous spiral stairway containing 119 steps leading up to the sixth floor where the Buddha relics are stored.

Spiral Stairway Connecting 5th Floor to 6th Floor

Looking Down At the 4th Floor From the 5th Floor

Relics from Buddha - 6th Floor
The access to the sixth floor, where the relics of Buddha from Sri Lanka are kept, is by climbing a spiral staircase from the 5th floor.  There is elevator access between all the other floors - when the elevator is not being renovated.  However much like reaching enlightenment or Heaven, the way to the 6th floor requires some effort - climbing 119 steps - ever decreasing width threads as you get closer and closer to your goal - a challenge for me with size 11 feet.  Towards the top of the staircase I was climbing with my sock covered feet just about parallel to the stair threads after having jabbed my toes several times earlier.  Descending the steps is much easier with the stair threads getting wider and wider with each step down.

Ceiling of the 6th Floor
The exterior of the pagoda outside of the 6th floor is a tiered King's umbrella (Sa Vhet Tha Chut) fabricated from 60 kilograms of gold.

Upon arriving at the 6th floor, I was sweating profusely.  The pagoda is not air conditioned and the outside temperature was around 36C (97F).  Although the exterior of the pagoda is white, the natural chimney effect the hot air along with the increased humidity caused by respiration of its visitors rising up through the building to the 6th floor - not to mention the physical exertion of climbing up 101 meters (331 feet) through the building.  Fortunately, there were a couple of large fans circulating the air at the sixth floor.  After Duang had completed her worship, we commenced our journey down through the building.

Our visit to Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol was a quite unexpected pleasure.  I had never heard or read of the place.  Our new friends had definitely made a memorable experience for us by bring us to this special place.

Just as I have found many of the world's wonders overwelming upon first encountering them. I found that one visit to Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol to be inadequate to fully appreciate its magnitude and beauty.

It was only starting with my second visit to Grand Canyon National Park that I began to comprehend its magnitude and the extent of its beauty.  After six visits to Yellowstone National Park, I still discover more of its beauty and grandeur with each visit.

The same is true with Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol.  One visit is definitely not sufficient.  I was told that it will take five years to finish it.  With 5 years of construction or renovation to come, the place will be continually evolving  and changing - states to be celebrated, cherished, and ...photographed.

Our journey to Roi-Et started with a series of expectations and anticipations.  Just as with life, we encountered many opportunities to realize our expectations but it was the changes to our original plan that provided the greatest happiness and the realization of beauty that we did not know existed along our planned route.

I look forward to returning to Pra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol to better understand, and appreciate it.

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