Bangkok, Steel Temple

February 28, 2013

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I would have liked to have sketched this because it seemed so unusual – a modernist take on a traditional form? I thought the perspective a bit too steep for me, since I was hard up against the shed of the wat’s carpark attendant (his offsider was selling lottery tickets). This is part of the grand sala or public courtyard in your average Buddhist wat in Thailand. It’s a public space, something of a refuge from ordinary civilian life. In very busy temples, it’s turned over to sellers of food and souvenirs and religious items and it’s often a car park since street parking around wats is practically non-existent. The topiary of shrubs in Thai Buddhist wat reminds me of Japan.

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My first sketch of the day was the monastery area of Wat Prayurawongsawas with its interesting geometric shapes. Almost all my sketches in Bangkok ending up having a vivid “soundtrack” (Veronica Lawler, NY urban sketcher, mentions our being aware of the sounds around us) and today’s was the booming chanting of the monks in the early morning. This (A4 Laloran 120g sketchbook) was started about 8.10am and went for an hour. Halfway through, the community gathering at the wat commenced. This was no routine, sedate Buddhist temple service: rather, walking three times around the small temple to the left, a monk, accompanied by a huge throng of dancing, frolicking locals all to the accompaniment of a loud drums, trumpets and horns: Thai meets Mexican ‘mariachi’ band. The monk was held on the shoulders of others the third walk around. The monk in my sketch came out to see the efforts of the three sketchers in front of the fence; everyone was aware the place was being besieged by more than a hundred sketchers for the morning.

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Arriving in Bangkok a week before the international sketching event, I’d latched on to my “local” Buddhist wat, Sam Yan, visiting it, sketching it and watching it as it changed in the light during the day from my fifth floor hotel window. The first location of the Sketchwalk was the “Steel” Temple or Wat Prayurawongsawas. I was intrigued by two temple cats near the huge white chedi, as well as the temple gardener clipping the trees. it was only very much later that day that I discovered the background to this being known as “Iron Fence” Temple or “Steel” Temple. If I’d known the story of Robert Hunter (Mr Hun Trae), an English trader in Siam who ordered and erected, in the early 19th-century, the fences (identical to those in Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace) for this temple, I would have paid more attention to them. The King objected to the extremely expensive fences being given to the wat so a commercial deal involving sugar was made to somewhat lessen the impact of this charity from foreigners. A4 Laloran 120g sketchbook, graphite pencil and watercolour, 11am-12noon.

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Here’s the view of my first sketch of the monastic quarters of the wat. The mariachi band came sailing down this lane, circling the small temple at left. The yellow flags were installed on Macha Bucha, 25 Feb, when the local constabulary attended the wat’s morning service.

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This outdoor altar was dressed for the occasion of the Macha Bucha, the very important Buddhist festival on 25 February this year, a public holiday and Bangkok becomes alcohol-free for a day: the Queen visits Wat Arun and so on.

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Here’s my view while sketching. Across Bangkok are the 19th/20th century light poles (plus some forlorn street posting boxes in similar style).

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The big white chedi or “stupa” in the middle indicates the wat.

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