Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Wat Bo: Conclusion

Wat Bo: My Concluding Personal View on the Murals

In my book of 2015 (In the Shadow of Rama) I took into consideration the Thai Ramakien as the most explanatory text of the murals of Wat Bo. Now I start to give more wait to the story of a Cambodian text, the Trai Beht, especially in the narrative of Mi Chak (in French by Bizot 1989).
 The Trai Beht and the version of MiChak explains most of the events painted on the western wall of Wat Bo, but in a different sequential order of painted murals,
This first chapters is cosmogonic insofar it includes the creation of the first beings, of deities, the origin of the Sun, moon and planets, origin of the zodiac.
In the 1960s, the bard Mi Chak narrated what he had memorized from a palm leaf manuscript of the monastery of Angkor Wat South in 1920 (Bizot 1973) when he was a bonze for nine years. Because his excellent memory, diction, and clear voice he soon became a celebrated storyteller. He was engaged by François Bizot to record his story on tape in 1969 to be  published it in1989 (Roveda &Yem, 2009:  238) This is the text to which I prefer to use, being neatly narrated and illustrated with the murals of the Silver Pagoda of Phnom Penh.
Over the years I have formulated the theory that in Cambodia the Khmer elite used, since the 8th century, the Sanskrit language that had its best development in the 12th century with appreciation of Sanskrit Valmiki’s Ramayana. It seems that Sanskrit gradually disappeared by the 15thcentury with social, economic and religious dramatic changes. Sankrit had been the language of the aristocracy and purohitas (master gurus), the Cambodian language used by lay people becoming populist already from the time of Jayavarman VII. Pali language was exclusive of the samga.
All Southeastern Asia countries were touched by the Indian Ramayana, each localizing it to their own needs and costumes, sometimes Buddhisized (seeds in the Reamker) or left in its original vernacular form (the TraiBeth of common people).In some countries, the story of Rama became almost unrecognizable (Paula Rich man 1991).
In Southeast Asia it developed by itself amongst the lay population by storytellers, shadow theatre and ballet, in Cambodian Middle Age the only form of education and entertainment
There is also the possibility that the Traibehet may have been taken as a booty by the Siamese during repeated invasions of Cambodia. Or it may have been developed by Khmer artists that worked in Siam, as prisoners or as free students of Siamese culture. It may be that the Siamese had independently developed their own rendition of Rama’s epic rendered in writing by the scribes composing the Ramakien by order of King Rama I (1782-1809).
It may be, finally, that the sponsor of Wat Bo was a Thai monk or erudite person.
In conclusion, at Wat Bo, the west wall’s murals could have been connected to three traditions:

1 – with the Traibeht starting with the creation of the Cosmos with Anukaro and Anukara and continue till the adventures of Ravana
2 – with the Ramaker of MiChak starting with the creation of the world.
2 – With the Ramakien starting with Vishnu, in his white boar incarnation, killing the demon Hiran who wanted to steal and destroy Earth.
3 –Not from the Cambodian ReamkerI that does not have any kind of introduction, The narrative starts well later, with the story of Ram killing the crow Kakanasur and of the episode of Janaka adopting Sita during the royal plowing ceremony (Jacob 1986: 1,2).

Now the main question arises

Why the Cambodian ideators and painters did not choose the Treibeht?

I believe that the monks and painters knew about the Cambodian Trai Beht hidden in the palm laves monasteries or Institutions but preferred to use a popular printed version of the Siamese Ramakien easily available from Bangkok. The Trai beht is known amongst the clergy, being painted on the external wall of Wat Bo Kraom (Siem Reap) and of Wat Sampov (Battamnbong).
My assertion that Wat Bo’s murals depict events of the Thai Ramakien rather than the Cambodian Reamker may contradict the expectation of nationalist readers. Furthermore the Ramakien may disturb those interpreting the story of Rama as the story of a Bodhisatta by giving priority to Buddhist meaning to the Reamker, believing that the populistic Ramakien has marginalized ‘cleaner’ versions of the story of Rama. I share the opinion of Paula Richman (1991:4), in believing that the appropriation of the story by a multiplicity of groups means a multiplicity of ideological concerns of each Ramayana text (and its derivatives) reflects the social location and ideology of those who appropriate it.
The date of the Trai Beht manuscripts is attributed to the “Middle Period” (1500-1900) of the history of Cambodia and the Ramakien to early 1800. To know if the Trai Beth was earlier than the Reamker or vice versa will be a serious cause of controversy until further evidence will be discovered.

             In my interpretation of Wat Bo narrative (Ramakien) I willingly stood away from any religious, social and ideological context normally elaborated by the preferences of the reader.
I believe in here we are dealing with a masterpiece, not only for the remarkable ability of the painters, but for the intellect of the person/s who ideate and assemble the images respecting, with verve, the thread of the original text.

Giteau, Madeleine, Les représentations du Rȃmakerti dans les reliefs modelés de la région de Battambang (Cambodge); in: Living in life in accord with Dhamma: papers in honor of professor Jean Boisselier on his eightieth birthday, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 1997: 229-244
Giteau, Madeleine, Note sur l’iconographie des peintures murales du monastère de Vat Bho (Siem Reap),  Udaya, 5, Phnom Penh, 2004 : 19-32
Goldman, Robert P and All., The Ramayana of Valmiki, Volume I-VI, Motilal Banarsiodass, Delhi,  2006-2009
Hoc Dy, Lpoek Angkor Vat (Poeme d’Angkor Vat), Association Culturelle “Pierres d’Angkor”. Choisy-le-Roi (france), 1985, 120 pages
Jacob, Judith, Reamker (Ramakerti), the Cambodian version of the Ramayana, The Royal Asiatic Society. London 1986
Khing, H. D., Un Épisode du Ramayana Khmer,  L’Harmattan, Paris 1995
Khing, Hoc Dy, Lpoek Angkor Vat (Poeme d’Angkor Vat). Association Culturelle ‘Pierres d’Angkor’, Choisy-le-roy, France, 1985
Khing Hoc Dy, Contribution a l’histoire de la Littérature Khmère, Vol I, Époque Classique, XV-XIX siècle, L’Harmattan, Paris 1990.
King Rama I, Ramakien by King Rama I, Volume 1 [บทละครเรื่องรามเกียรติ์ พระราชนิพนธ์ใน Ramakien byKing Raama I. Volumes 1-4 [บทละครเรื่องรามเกียรติ์ พระราชนิพนธ์ใน พระบาทสมเด็จพระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลกมหาราช, เล่ม -] (Bangkok: Fine Arts Dept, 2540 BE (1997 CE).
Leclère Audemart, Le Buddhism au Cambodge, Paris 1899
Leisen, Hans and von Plehwe, Esther, The murals of Wat Bo pagoda in Siem Reap. State of preservation-First results, Udaya, Phnom Penh, Number 4, 2003
Martini, F., La Gloire de Rama, Reamkerti, Les belle Lettres, Paris,1978
Népote, Jacques, & Gamonet Marie-H, Intoroduction  aux peintures du Ramayana de Vat Bo, Peninsule, No.45, 2002 :5-88, Centre National du Livre, Olizane, Paris
Olsson, M.D., The Ramakien, A prose version of the Thai Ramayana, Praepittaya Company Limited Partnership, Bangkok, 1968
Pech Tum, Travel, Sbek Thom, Khmer Shadow Theatre, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University and UNESCO, 1995, 190 pages,153 figures
Pou, Saveros, Etudes sur le Reamakerti(XVI- XVII siècles), Publications de l’EFEO, Vol. CXI, Paris, 1977[2]
Pou, Saveros, Les traits Bouddhiques du Rāmakerti,  BEFO, LXII, EFEO, Paris, 1975
Pou, Saveros, Reamakerti (XVI-XVII siècles), Publications de l’ EFEO, Vol.CX, Paris, 1977[1]
Pou, Saveros, Reamakerti II ,), Publications de l’ EFEO, Vol.CXXXII, Paris, 1982
Richman, Paula, Many Rāmāyanas, University of California Press, Berkley, 1991
Roveda, Vittorio, Das Ramayana in der Templekunst, in Angkor, Göttlisdhes Erbe Kambodschas, Kunst- und Ausstellunghalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 2007,123-131.
Roveda, Vittorio, Dundubhi in Ramayana narratives of Cambodia and Thailand, in Ramayana in Focus, Gauri Parimoo Krishnan editor, Asian Civilization Museum, Singapore 2010, 123-131.
Roveda, Vittorio, Images of the Gods, River Books, Bangkok, 2005
Roveda, Vittorio, Sacred Angkor, Narrative reliefs of Angkor Wat, Weatherhill & River Books, June 2002.
Roveda,Vittorio, Valmiki and the Ramayana in a relief on Banteay Chmar, ‘Udaya’, 4, Phnom Penh, September 2003:53-57
Roveda,Vittorio and Yem, Sothon, Buddhist Painting in Cambodia, River Books, Bangkok 2009
San, Phalla, A Comparison of the Reamker Mural Painting in the Royal Palace of Cambodia and the Ramakien Mural Painting in the Grand Palace of Thailand, Master degree Thesis, Chulaonghorn Univerisity,Bangkok,2007
Shastri, H.P., The Ramayana of Valmiki, 3 vols, Shanti Sadan, London, 5th reprint, 1992.
Shastri, Satya Vrat, The Rāmakien and the Vālmiki Rāmāyana: a study in  comparison., 2nd International Ramayana Conference 1968, Thailand, Thai-Bharat Cultural Lodge, Bangkok 1987:6-15
Siyonn, Sophearich, The life of the Ramayana in Ancient Cambodia, Udaya, 6, Phnom Penh,2005, 45: 72, Proceedings of the second Ramayana Conference of 1986, Thailand, Thai--Bharat Cultural Lodge Publication, pages 33-35; 11 illustrations.
Vickery, Michael, History of CambodiaSummary of lectures at the Faculty of Archeology Royal University of Fine Arts, The Pre-Angkorean Studies Society, Phnom Penh, 2002
Reap 2000.

 The End

Bangkok January 2017

Wat Bo: South Wall, Lower Register

South wall, lower register                                                                              
This register must be read from left to right.

The panel depicts Rama releasing the Phrommat arrow sharply cutting the head of Kumbhakarna sending his soul to heaven. Curiously, the painter has shown his dead body in the air in the pose of mediation, while his head is in the blue sky, transfixed by Rama’s arrow. Below is depicted a powerful Hanuman with four arms entangled with yak warriors.

Indrajit was requesting to his father, Ravana permission to go out and fight He is shown riding his chariot pulled by a blue reacheasei.

Lakshmana and his monkey’s troop goes out trying to defeat Indrajit. In the meantime, Indrajit, seeing that he was unable to defeat Lakshmana, retired to perform a meditative ritual to gain more power. 

Together with his soldiers, Indrajit went to fight Lakshmana, riding in his chariot pulled by a white horse, Laksmana goes to confront Indrajit. 

To meditate Indrajit went inside a hollow tree to practice asceticism in order to
empower his arrow, the nagaba.  On the mural he is designed in a layout of complete
symmetry suggesting a yogic state.

Ravana planned another trick to demoralize Rama. He ordered one of his slave-man to transform into a beautiful girl, Benjakay. Pretending to be the dead Sita she was thrown into the river floating, passing  by Rama’s camp. Rama was fooled into believing she was the real  Sita, recovered her and held the dead body in his arm (right). Hanuman noticing that the body had floated magically upstream, suspected a treks. He put Benyakay in irons and then asked to cremate the body. When the fire touched her body (center) Benyaka came alive suddenly and tried to escape. Hanuman grabbed her as she tried to fly away (top right).

Detail of Benyakai sitting on the ground, a prisoner, with her neck and feet in irons, tormented by small monkeys. Hanuman took her back to Lanka by flying over the clouds (top part of panel), later making love to her.
It was essential for Rama to put an end to the meditation of Indrajit in order to stop him from gaining even more power. To accomplish this task, Champhuwarat, one of Rama’s monkey warriors, transformed into a bear and went to interrupt the ceremony (orange background).  Indrajit had already obtained enough magic to transform the arrow into nagabats  (arrows that magically transformed, once thron, into powerful snakes)  the use of which is illustrated in the following panel. Meanwhile, Hanuman was busy strangling more yaks (shown below Indrajit on the mural).

Indrajit, hidden in the clouds (not on this panel), shot the nagabat arrow that with hundreds of snakes  made prisoners Lakshmana, together with Hanuman, Sugriva, and Angada, as clearly shown on the mural (Fig.9b.S.)(Lower section). Rama, who was not at the battlefield at the time, was called by Vibhishana and, on the advice of the latter, shot an arrow(Fig.9b.S.) to call his good friend Garuda, great enemy of the nagas (top left). Garuda having received the arrow-message(Fig.9d.S.), left his palace and flew down to free all the prisoners by tearing apart the nagas with his sharp beak (Fig 9c.S.upper right).

The next mural represents Kampan, a yak of rank, standing on an elephant with his mahout, who was sent to fight Lakshmana, while Indrajit went to empower another arrow. Hanuman and his monkeys attacked Kampan and the yak soldiers. 
Indrajit presenting himself in the battlefield after having taken the semblance of Indra riding on the three-headed elephant, Airavata ; his soldiers were transformed into angels and dancing girls to deceive Lakshmana and his army. He soon successfully attacked Laksmana. 
Indrajit again hidden in clouds, wounded Lakshmana gravely with his magic arrow. Lakshmana is shown on a chariot with Hanuman noticing that the javelin had penetrated deep in the prince’s chest, to the horror of the monkeys below (Fig.12b,S.). 
Indrajit was attacked by Hanuman, who leapt upon the heads of Airavata while Indrajit hit him with his bow. 
The next panel depicts when Ravana decided to distraught Sita by sending her to the battlefield on bard o the magic chariot (Bosobock). She saw Rama and Laksmana lifeless on the ground, penetrate by an arrow that transformed into a tree. Sita sits in the chariot Looking upset, she brought her hand to the head (on blue background), in a gesture of desperation. The left she could see Lakshmana penetrated by the magic arrow transformed into a growing tree. The same she could see to the right as well; as Hanuman squashed under the Airavata elephant (Fig.15d.S.). However, her companion reminded her that the vehicle she was riding would not fly with a widow aboard, so Sita knows that Rama is not dead.
The seriously wounding of Lakshmana is painted on the following episode
The top left part of this picture shows Hanuman in a mountain cave where the herbs were located but protected by an eternally spinning discus (chakra) and two guardian-angels.  When Hanuman reached the cave, he was struck by a chakra, but the angels took him back to life, and, although not depicted, allowing him to carry the entire mountain back to the battlefield. Hanuman also had to collect the semen of the king of the oxen (incomplete, lower left part of panel) needed by Vibhisana for his medicinal concoction

Lakshmana shooting the thousand-in-one Poan arrow at Indrajit which weakened him to the point that, defeated and deprived of magic weapons, he (Indrajit) had to return to his mother in the royal palace to be comforted by some milk from her breast (right side
of picture). On the mural, Indrajit is depicted in the arms of his mother, with many arrows sticking out of his back, suckling some milk from her breast.
The battle continued, with Rama fighting again amongst a pell-mell of monkeys (Fig. 149 S), and some very aggressive , on the last panel of the Wat Bo narrative, to the extreme right of the wall, Rama, with Lakshmana at his side, is shown releasing the powerful arrow that killed Indrajit, severing his head.

Detail of Angada flying quickly to collect with a precious goblet the severed head of Indrajit (top right of picture) because if the head felt on the ground, the Earth would be destroyed. 
Note, on the captions it is written that it is Rama who kills Indrajit, following the narrative of Sbek Thom. In the Ramakien and Reamker, it is Lakshmana who kills Indrajit (Rama I, Volume 3, 1; Jacobs 10.8-9).

The End

Bangkok, February-March 2017

Wat Bo: South wall, middle register

South wall, middle register                                             

This register must be read from right to left.

Fig.1.S - On a blue background, Valin and Sugriva entangled into a furious fight (top left). Rama can be seen at the bottom right releasing his deadly arrow to kill Valin, whose death allows Sugriva to become the king of the monkeys.
Decision on organizing the search of Sita is taken, Hanuman departs immediately riding the giant bird Maccanu.

In Lanka, Hanuman, moved around cautiously until he reached a royal pavilion in the park where he found Sita in a dramatic moment when she was so distraught by the situation that she had decided to kill herself by hanging

When Hanuman reached her, she was starting her suicide, but he saved her by supporting her body by the feet. When Sita recovered, she accepted the scarf and ring of Rama presented by Hanuman. 
The paintings shows Hanuman snapping many areca palm trees of the royal garden where he allowed himself to be caught by Indrajit, who shot a nagapasa arrow imprisoning the great monkey, taking him.
Still bound by Indrajit’se snakes, the prisoner Hanuman was condemned by Ravana to be pounded into a mortar. Hanuman devised a plan to burn down the city by expressing the wish to die by burning, after having been bandaged with cloth soaked in oil, since he knew that his adamantine body could not be burned.
Hanuman transferring the fire of his bandages to the roof of Ravana’s palace, causing Ravana to escape by flying away holding Mandodari and another consort in his arms (top right), Below there are men, women and their children, including some Chinese merchants, escaping from the burning palaces. 

- To douse the fire on his tail, Hanuman plunged it into the ocean (right), but to no avail; therefore he went to visit the sage in his hermitage, who told him to put his tail in his own mouth (not depicted on the murals). Having succeeded in putting out the fire, Hanuman flew back to Rama (op lerft of picture).

Rama is decided to send Hanuman and Angada to seek the help of Mahachompu, a powerful monkey-prince, who possessed a large army lead by the general Nilaphat. Angada and Hanuman are shown flying over the pavilion holding sword.. They were captured and imprisoned in a cage.

This panoramic shows the complete sequence of events with Hanuman and Angada kneeling in front of Mahachompu sitting on the edge-door of his royal palace. However, their request not only was rejected but they were imprisoned. Hanuman soon managed to break free and escape carrying Mahachompu sleeping in his bed. Mahachompu could not believe such a rude behavior could be done by messengers of Rama. Therefore Rama was invited to appear in the form of Vishnu to reassure Mahachompu. On the murals Rama/Vishnu is depicted with four arms and four faces (?) on white background Reassured and convinced, Mahachompu knelt in front of him, promising alliance
Mahachomphu could not believed that they were sent by Rama and that Rama to do such an outrtageous act. As a consequence Rama revealed himself as Vishnu which is depicted on the mural with Rama having, exceptionally, four faces and eight arms, holding the divine attributes. Mahachompu acknowledged his divine presence by kneeling in anjali in front of Rama; he affirmed that he was too old to help Rama, but that he would offer his best men.
The time arrived to build the causeway to Lanka. The panel depicts monkeys at work carrying large stones to construct the causeway. During the work, a quarrel developed between Nilaphat and Hanuman, the latter throwing large blocks of stone to Nilaphat, giving rise to an un-necessary fight between the two. 
Detail of above.  Rama, furious with this indiscipline, ordered Sugriva to set apart the two fighters (panel with blue background); as he rebuked them, Nilaphat and Hanuman, together with other generals obeyed the order of Rama and continued orderly to the building of the causeway  to Lanka. 

Hanuman, ordered to rectify the problem, plunged into the sea to destroy the enemies and their chief, the mermaid Suparnakha. To the left of the picture, Suphanamatcha, the mermaid daughter of Ravana, was ordered, together with her fish entourage, to disperse the stones that Rama’s workers were throwing into the sea to build the causeway. 

Hanuman grabbed the mermaid and seduced her, such that she bore from Hanuman a son, Matchanu, with a monkey body of his father, but a fish-tail of his mother.
Without further impediments, Rama and allies could complete the causeway, and finally cross over the sea to reach Lanka. 

However, before reaching Lanka, Hanuman had to kill the monster Phanurat, who was lying in ambush on the Lanka side of the causeway. 

However, before reaching Lanka, Hanuman had to kill the monster Phanurat, who was lying in ambush on the Lanka side of the causeway. 
The end of the middle register of the south wall.

Wat Bo: South wall, upper register

South wall, upper register                                                                  

This register must be read from left to right.

Fig.1.On the left part of the picture, Ravana is depicted in his palace of Lanka giving the order to Ka Kanasun to transform into a crow and, together with others, to attack the ascetics in meditation. On the right half of this panel is another building, on blue background, in which Rama and Lakshmana are sitting close to Dasaratha (and a consort) listening to a request of an ascetic to kill Ka Kanasun. 
Fig.2.S. - Rama and Lakshmana are seen later in the forest (painted with a red background) killing a storm of crows flying around a hermitage with their arrows; one crow has the head of a yaksha, probably being Ka Kanasun (lower right).
Fig.3.S. – In their royal palace King Dasaratha (Tosarot) and his wife give permission to Rama and Lakshmana to leave (Rama has dark skin and stays in the right pavilion); the two are then shown walking away into the forest.
Fig.4.S. - Lakshmana (left) and Rama, after walking in the forest, reach a small pavilion where they can rest, where the two princes extends their arms over a small brazier to warm their hands.
Fig.5.S. - On a blue-black background, Rama is depicted taking part in the contest to obtain Sita’s hand in marriage (left). The ritual (svayamvara) was initiated by Janaka, king of Mithila.

Fig.5b.S.; on this panel Rama  is illustrated very low key,  after lifting from the ground the heavy ancestral bow of Shiva (lower left),rising it and shooting an arrow into the sky (center left). Janaka is depicted as an ascetic at the door of his hermitage (middle-center).

Fig.5b.S - Detail. Outside the hermitage Rama’s holds gently the hand of Sita, in the presence of a hunchback servant.
NOTE -The visual narrative of Wat Bo does not depict the marriage of Rama and Sita and the dethronement of Rama, but jumps directly to Rama’s banishment from Ayuthaya to wander in the forest for fourteen years.
Add captionFig.6.S. The event painted with light-blue background refers of Bharata and Sutragughna with their army begging Rama to return and take the throne.

Fig.7.S. - In the forest, Rama, Sita and Laksmana came to a river that they have to cross; the painting shows Laksmana pulling a thin raft across the waters with Rama and Sita on board.

Fig.8.S. - The degraded mural that follows illustrates the continuation of the wandering in the forest of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana and their encounter with Surpanakha, transformed into a radiant girl of divine beauty, although her mouth still has the fangs of a demon. Because of her amorous insolence, Laksmana cut off her hands and feet, as well as her ears and nose; crying and bleeding she returned to her brother Ravana, reporting the accident and describe the beauty of Sita. Ravana became infatuated with Sita based on the description of Surpanakha and started to think of a way to steal her for him. 

Ravana is shown as the usual ogre but with two arms only, grabbing Sita with them, abduct her and flying away into the sky, but not on a chariot as in the texts. (Right, detail).
NOTE. In this scene Ravana is shown, not disguised as the brahmin narrated in texts.
Ravana flaying away after kidnapping Sita, is attacked by the giant bird Jatayu.

All this could happen because Rama had been distracted a dragged in deep forest by the demon Maricha, who, to please Ravan,a transformed into a golden gazelle.
Rama and Lakshmana were unaware the Sita had been kidnapped and are distressed emotionally and physically.

depictst Drama and Lakshmana fooled and lost in the jungle but the giant bird Jatayu gives them some information.
- After this episode, the visual narrative moves to the scene of the first encounter of the two princes with Hanuman. The following panel depicts Hanuman on a tree dropping leaves on the sleeping Rama to get his attention; Lakshmana was upset and aimed an arrow at Hanuman, but Rama stopped him. In the poorly preserved panel that follows, Lakshmana and Rama listen to Hanuman, all seated under a tree. Having introduced Sugrib it was inevitable to illustrate the fight of his brother Sugriva with the buffalo Valin in the picture that follows.
The visual narrative then switches to the legend of Valin fighting the buffalo Thoraphi.[1] The mural is deteriorated and the monkey king Valin (oddly painted red instead of green) is hardly discernable fighting the buffalo inside a narrow building, probably representing a cave in the intention of the painters.
The right half of the picture deals with episode after Valin killed Thoraphi, he thought that Sugriva had tried to usurp the throne by blocking him in the cave where he fought the bull; thus, Sugriva was banished from the kingdom, met Rama and formed an alliance.
 The mural depicts these three scenes, Hanuman entertaining Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana kneeling in front of Sugriva asking an alliance. On top is Lakshmana comforting Sugriva.

[1] Dubhi in theReamker. See Roveda, Dundubhi (Torapi) in Ramayana narrative in Cambodia and Thailand, 2010. In the inscription it is written: “Peali fighting Thurphi”.

The end of the upper register of the south wall.
The continuation is on the middle register of the same wall.