Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vessantara Jataka Cloth

Scene From The Vessantara Jataka In Roi-Et
Prince Vessantara and his Wife, Maddi

This weekend, Duang and I attended and experienced Bun Pha Wet (Bun Phra Wet or Bun Phawet) in Roi-Et which is a three hour drive from our home here in northeast Thailand, a region called "Isaan" (Esarn, or Isan)

Bun Phra Wet is a merit making event held during the fourth lunar month of the year.  The exact date for Bun Phra Wet varies from area to area in order for people to enjoy their festival and to enjoy the festivals conducted where their friends as well as family members live.

The main ritual of Bun Phra Wet is the recital of the "Great Birth Sermon" also known as Vessantara Jataka.  The Jataka is a series of stories recounting the various reincarnations of Lord Buddha as a human, as well as an animal.  The Vessantara Jakata has 13 episodes that commemorates the Lord Buddha's life as a man, Prince Vessantara, - the last reincarnation before he was reincarnated as Siddhartha Gautama after which he achieved enlightenment.

The theme of the Vessantara Jataka is the virtue of charity.  Prince Vessentara was the embodiment of perfect charity.  I suspect that many people have considered giving away their children or perhaps their wife or husband.  Despite having those thoughts, most likely motivated by personal selfish reasons than pure charity, people do not act on their thoughts.  Prince Vessentara, in an act of pure charity, actually gave his children away to be servants to an old hermit who needed help.

The story does eventually has a happy ending.  It is a very interesting story and is extremely popular with the Lao Loum people of Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) and Thailand's Isaan region. It is also celebrated in Myanmar and Cambodia.  In a later blog I will recount the story in greater detail and from its beginning to end.

The Vessantara Jataka is thousands of years old.  It has been perpetuated by many methods, one being through the use of story clothes upon which scenes of the Jataka were painted.  In many wats or vats, scenes from the Vessantara Jataka were made into murals on the walls.

The focal point of Bun Pha Wet in Roi-Et is the "lake" in the middle of town - "Beung Phlan Chai'.  Beung Phlan Chai is more like a small pond than a lake in my opinion. There is a small islands in the lake that is accessible.  One night a performance of the Vessantara Jataka was performed by university students.  It was repeated a second night as part of a dinner theater type event.

In Roi-Et for the festival a very large and long story cloth is hung along the banks of the Beung Phlan Chai -about 3/4 of the way around the lake.  I took many photographs but I do not know if the long story cloth constituted 13 episodes of the Jataka or if the story cloth was a series of the 13 episodes repeating several times.  No matter the case it was beautiful, interesting, and impressive.

Story Cloth Along Beung Phalan Chari In Roi-Et

The various panels were hand painted on  what appeared to be heavy cotton cloth.

The Hermit Brahmin, Jujaka, With Vessantara's Children, Jali and Kanha

Phawet Sandahn and Nang Matti - Lao Names for Vessantara and Maddi

People Celebrating the Return of Prince Vessantara

Jujaka, Being Greedy, Ate So Much That He Dies

Indra Helps Out Jali and Kanha When Jujaka Falls Asleep

Duang knows this story from having been taught by the village Monks.

The Bun Pha Wet festival is just the type of cultural event that I enjoy and find so interesting.  The mythology binds the people of today with their ancient past.  Events such as this help to define their identity and values. It also provides a way to pass on the traditions to the young people of today and sustains the traditional crafts as well as arts.

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