Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Bangkok National Museum of Thai Antiquities

In the former grounds of the 18th-century Wang Na Palace, The Bangkok National Museum is the first public museum of Thailand and now houses the largest collection of Thai art and artifacts in the country. Opened in 1874 by King Rama V to exhibit the antiques and gifts bestowed to him by his father, today the galleries contain exhibits covering Thai History back to Neolithic times, in addition to Thai artifacts from Dvaravati, Srivijaya, to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods, as well as an extensive collections of regional Asian Buddhist icons such as Indian Gandhara, Chinese Tang, Vietnamese Cham, Indonesian Java, and Cambodian Khmer arts. 

With a reputation for being an ill-organized gathering of dusty relics, some buildings are still poorly lit and sparsely identified, with the exception of four outstanding exhibition spaces: Sivamokhaphiman Hall, the gallery of Thai history which spans from the Sukothai through to the Rattanakosin periods; the the Phra Thinning Phutthaisawan, Wang Na Palace's original reception hall, which was converted to a Buddhist prayer hall with the much-loved Phra Singh Buddha image; the open-sided teak and red Tamnak Daeng; and the Royal Funeral Chariot Hall which houses carriages used for royal cremations. With many of the other wings of the museum either closed or under renovation during our visit, the galleries that were open offered a glimpse of some of Thailand's most important artifacts and was well worth the visit.

Dandima temple guardians stand in front of the Palace's original reception hall, called Phra Thinung Phutthaisawan which was converted to a Buddhist prayer hall or wiharn, and houses a much-loved Phra Singh Buddha image

Photograph from 1890 of the Front Palace or Wang Na, now the Bangkok National Museum

The second holiest image in Thailand, after the Emerald Buddha, is housed in the Buddhaisawan Chapel, a huge hall with an ornate coffered ceiling, lacquered window shutters, and painted walls with rows of divinities and converted demons, all turned to face the Phra Sihing Buddha, which according to legend was magically created in Sri Lanka and sent to Sukhothai in the 13th-century. Like the Emerald Buddha, the image was believed to bring good luck to its owner and was frequently snatched from one northern town to another, until Rama I brought it down from Chiang Mai in 1795 and installed it in the king’s private chapel. It’s still much loved by the Thai people and at New Year it's carried out onto the street, where worshippers sprinkle it with water as a merit-making gesture.

The Buddhaisawan Chapel interior

The chapel is covered with vibrant 200 year old wall murals detailed with gold leaf, 
depicting the life of the Buddha

Sivamokhaphiman Hall, the gallery of Thai history which spans from the Sukothai through to the Rattanakosin periods

The interior of the gallery with large sculptures of Vishnu and Shiva

Enormous 13th-century bronze Buddhist head from from Ayutthaya

Ancient 12th-century Khmer lintel depicting Vishnu sleeping on the cosmic ocean 
supported by the coils of the world-serpent 

A sleeping Vishnu dreaming of a new universe on the milky sea of eternity

The Wheel of the Law — Dharmachakra — is the most important symbol of Buddhism, denoting the Buddha’s First Sermon in the forest at Sarnath, is from the 7th-century Dvaravati period

Bronze Garuda holding nagas

Vintage Thai puppet 

The teak and red Tamnak Daeng was originally built within the Grand Palace in the late 18th century but was later moved to Thonburi Palace and then to Wang Na Palace 

Brick walkway to the Funeral Chariot Hall

The Funeral Chariot Hall with carriages used for royal cremations

Barge detail with painted carved 'Damida' mythological guardian creature