Bangkok, Sri Mariamman Temple

March 14, 2013

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A4 Laloran 120g sketchbook; graphite pencil and Winsor & Newton watercolours. 60mins, seated outside a closed shophouse shopfront.

Unlike Buddhist wat, the public areas of the Hindu temple were small and maze-like dark, small, almost fully-enclosed brick courtyards. Prominent ‘No Photography’ signs were a deterrent to sketching inside the temple grounds.

I ha done some practice sketching Buddhist wats before the trip, but neglected similarly-complex Hindu temple facades. I was aware of how strong the links are between Hindu temples and the earliest Buddhist temples in Thailand and Burma, but hadn’t pursued it sketching-wise. My watercolour palette appreciated the brilliance of the abundant turquoise and blue-greens.

The temple was built in the late 19th century and obviously served a local Hindu population, that is, in the area between Si Lom proper and the Chao Phraya river. I’d already walked around both Si Lom and Riverside, similar but nevertheless distinct areas. One gets the same impression in Paris: you move from one area to the next and while there’s a lot of continuity, there are subtle differences. In Sydney,we’re trying to reinforce this by describing ourselves as a city of villages.

The temple remains partially as a relic from the past, because it’s immediate vicinity has been taken over by corporate high-rise from the direction of Silom. However, the closer one moves to the river, one finds examples of older architecture, some houses hidden behind huge trees and high gates which are obviously made of teak, long before the days of concrete. These houses are falling into disrepair and are the focus of property developers these days. One finds spots of vacant land overgrown with tropical jungle, providing a huge contrast with both residential buildings (in the case of Baan Krua) or corporate highrise around it (in the case of Surasak).

The closer you get to Riverside, the more  you pick up on not just old buildings but remnants of formerly strong communities. There are pockets of Moslem strongholds in Riverside and one has to imagine Sri Mariamman being the centre of an Indian trader community of old.

Immediately across the road were flower sellers since Hindu temples mean garlands of flowers, and in a style slightly different from Buddhist flower garlands. I had to repair to a shopfront not open for business to secure somewhere safe to sketch as well as suitable for taking in the high tower of the temple.

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