Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Casting the Wat's New Buddha Statue - Day #1

One of the many signs directing visitors to Wat Ban Maet
The casting of the Buddha statue for the new sala at Wat Ban Maet was a two day event, Saturday 31 January and Sunday 1 February.

We arrived at the Wat around 9:30 A.M., our typical time for the daily merit making ritual of offering food to Luang Por Pohm Likit and the samanen who also stays at the Wat.

I had not been out to the Wat for about three weeks and was surprised at all the work that had been accomplished during that time.  Two large plots of land off to the side of the new sala had been cleared and leveled for use as parking lots.  Even at the relatively early hour of 9:30 A.M., the lots were fairly well filled with vehicles.

In front of the sala, there was a large area cordoned off with panels constructed from freshly cut bamboo, strings, and pakamas.  Archways that provided access to this impound area were located on the narrow dirt road that runs past the Wat and another archway was opposite the first leading directly to the sala.  The archways were created from tall bamboo poles and very intricate weaving of colored string to create three dimensional shapes.  Offerings of banana stalks, coconuts, turban squashes were placed on the sides of the arches.  Thai flags and the Dharmakra flag (the Thai Buddhist flag) flew from the vertical supports of each panel.  Scallop shell wind chimes were attached to the corner supports.  I am certain that these items were related to ancient Animist beliefs as well as rituals.

I was intrigued by the handcrafted panels that surrounded the casting area.  They reminded me of a combination of large scale macramé and large scale "dream catchers" favored by hippies and new age people back in the USA.  I asked Duang about them.  She said that the crew who were going to cast the Buddha statue had made them and set them up.  She added that some of the people at the Wat had helped to make them.

Security Fence?

Panel with an Origami rosette made from a Pakama
A Design Utilizing Different Diameter Yarns

Tonight, in preparing to write this blog entry, I asked Duang for more detail about these fabric sculptures, dream catchers, macramé or whatever they are.  Duang told me that they were "Sirimohnkhun". 

Many times there are issues in learning and understanding some of the things that I observe here.  The first issue is Thai as well as Lao our tonal languages - for many words there are five different ways to say them and hear them. Each of the five ways of saying the word has completely different and highly unrelated meanings.  For 65 years my world has been basically a monotonic world with only an inflection at the end of a sentence if asking a question. On a good day, a VERY GOOD day I may be able to hear three of the five ways to say a Thai word.

There are often more than one way to spell Thai words, even if you correctly hear them first.  Many tourists as well as resident expats have been confused reading road maps and street signs in Thailand due to different or unique English  translations.

Another issue is Duang not being a native English speaker and she is not able to write English just as can not read or write Thai.  This does not present any major difficulties in our daily life but is an issue when trying to learn and understand cultural differences.

I tried through Google to learn more about "Sirimohnkhun", "Sirimonkun", "Silimongkhun" or was it "Silimonkun"? to no avail.

According to Duang "Sirimohnkhun" are good for lor paht - same same lor paht, lor paht #1 Buddha in Thailand, good luck for people, good for everything"  Now you know as much as I do.

There were many women at the Wat on Saturday.  They were participating in a two night religious retreat.  Duang participated in three of them during the past Vassa, Buddhist Rain Retreat.  During the religious retreat the women listen to religious sermons and readings by the Monks.  The women also do a great deal of chanting day and night.  The woman are supposed to stay awake the entire period but many end up falling asleep in their little tents that are meant for resting and meditating.

The women, known as "chi pohm" during the retreat, followed the Monks for the Tak Bart ritual.  Lay people, family and friends offered them food for their one meal of the day.

A Chi Pohm Accepts A Food Offering
After eating their meal, the chi pohm returned to the old sala to chant and participate in rituals lead by the Monks.  Other women, dressed in white for the serious nature of the day, busied themselves preparing for the next day's activities.

Women Making Centerpieces for the Next Day's Rituals

Hand Made Baii Sii Kuwan - banana leaves and jasmine buds
Off to the side in the cordoned off area, there was a pavilion where tables and chairs had been set up.  Men sat at the table selling gold for casting the statue.  There were ingots of various weights on sale for 200, 300, 500, and 1,000 baht ($30.00 USD).  People paid for the metal and their name and the amount of their donation was recorded in a ledger - just as is done for weddings, funerals, monk ordinations, tambon roy wan (death anniversary) and special fund raising events at the Wats.

I went up to the tables to check out the gold.  I lifted up the ingots and was fairly certain that they were not gold.  The ingots were not as heavy as lead ingots of roughly the same size that I was familiar with.  I am also familiar with gold ingots fresh out of the smelter from my construction engineering career.  I then banged a couple of the ingots together and created a high pitched ping sound rather than the expected low bass thud of gold.  I was now convinced that the metal was not gold but more likely some type of copper alloy.  It then occurred to me that the casting metal was actually bronze - 90% copper and 10% tin with will create a "gold color" statue for a great deal less money.

Next to the metal desk, there was a tree which had many thin rectangles of gold and silver dangling in the breeze.  The thin metal disks, copper and tin, were embossed with writing and symbols.  People paid a small amount for each piece.  They removed the piece of their choice and used one of three available 16d nails to write their name, and birth date, number- month- year, on the metal.  Some people were not able to write, so a local man who is a policeman took the information from their national ID card and wrote it for them

Once a piece was completed, it was returned to the tree.  The next day, the completed pieces would be melted with the ingots to bring good luck and fortune to the donor.

Completed Metal Offerings
In the center of the casting area, a temporary furnace was blazing.  The mold for the Buddha statue had been placed upside down with the furnace built around it.  A large wood fueled fire was maintained in the furnace to cure the mold and drive out all moisture prior to casting the next day.

Temporary Furnace Blazing Away

Statue Mold Inside of Furnace

Off to the side of the furnace there were two smaller furnaces set up with crucibles inside of them for melting the ... bronze ingots.  These furnaces would be fuelled by lump charcoal with forced draft created by electrical fans.

Crucibles with some Metal Offerings
Crucibles Loaded For Melting the Next Day
We returned to our home at 5:30 P.M. to rest, sleep and prepare to return the next morning for the big pour and ceremony.


  1. The casting of new buddha statue is always quite wonderful.
    It needs so precision, and working of the crafter is always amazing to see.

  2. I consider myself to be very fortunate to witness it and to be able to share it with others,