Like a Buddhist mecca of sorts, Wat Ban Rai, attracts everyone from the faithful to the purely curious to visit the humble village of Dan Khun Thot in Korat.by Atthasith Khupratakul
In Tambon Kut Phiman, approximately 60km from Nakhon Ratchasima city, is a temple that attracts hundreds of worshippers on a daily basis: The main reason: Wat Ban Rai, the temple is the residence of one of the country’s most notable and respected monks, Luang Pho Khun Porisutto.
Luang Pho Khun Porisutto is often regarded as the male version of Mother Teresa. Popular all over Isan (the northeast of Thailand), he is also known for helping many people beyond the region. His philanthropic deeds are many, varied, and well known. His persona alone has made Wat Ban Rai one of the most important temples in Isan, but the wat, located close to Dan Khun Thot – a relatively remote village in one of the country’s biggest provinces – also attracts non-worshippers.
One attraction for non-worshippers is the unique architecture. The main structure, which gave the temple the name ‘’Elephant Temple,” was in fact an extravagant and beautiful shrine called Thep Wittayakorn, designed to educate visitors about Buddhist teachings through the universal language of arts such as architecture, paintings, and sculptures.
The shrine is guarded by two naga (mythical snake) sculptures, which form the rails of the bridge of faith (Naga Bridge), a symbolic pathway for visitors to cross from the human world into the realm of dharma. Each naga has 19 heads, representing the 38 steps toward “Enlightenment.” The nagas recoil around the shrine and their tails meet and coil three times to cover the wishing crystal, which symbolizes the “three practices”: sila (virtue), samadhi (concentration), and panya (discernment).
Visitors pass through the wishing crystal to reach an arch, called Maha Baramee, where four lintels stand as keepers of the world. They are known as the Indra arch, which represents the powerful god; the Phra Yom arch, which is named for the god of justice who decides who can go to heaven; the Phra Piroon arch, which honors the god of water, abundance, and tranquility; and the Phra Kuvane arch (Tao Vessuwan), which represents the god of fortune who protects Buddhism, and the earth.
Around the building, the Erawan roofs are supported by pillars, each illustrated with a depiction of one of the 523 previous lives of Lord Buddha. Ten Jataka tales – created by local artists Paramat Luang-On, Sampan Sararak, and Jintana Piemsiri – are represented by the mural drawings on the exterior of the building.
The first floor of the shrine details the Lord Buddha’s life, from birth to death (Parinirvana), through six mural drawings meticulously painted by the six artists, with the lotus symbolizing Lord Buddha. At the center of the hall is a Wishing Bodhi tree, which represents the meaning of Buddha – “The Enlightened, Awakened, and Brightened One.” People are encouraged to make their wishes here.
On the second floor, visitors see the Vinaya Pitaka (discipline) and the evolution of Buddhism after the Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana, such as the 227 precepts and the history of different sects. The third floor features Dharma Pitaka where the dharma of Lord Buddha is divided into 84,000 categories based on the listeners’ behavior. The display changes per second to exhibit the categories.
On the rooftop, a 7m-tall Buddha image in the walking posture and a 5m-tall metal statue of Luang Poh Khun Porisutto are enshrined. These symbolize Lord Buddha teaching the dharma to Luang Pho Khun, so he can teach other Buddhists. From here, visitors can get a kaleidoscopic view of the area and many take advantage of the photo opportunities, either taking a selfie or banding together for a group photo.
Throughout the tour, visitors are guided to each section of the building in an orderly fashion, with the last stop being the basement – which is home to the souvenir and amulet zone – before proceeding to the exits.
Actually, before going into the main shrine, visitors can tour a separate building devoted entirely to the life and times of Luang Pho Khun Porisutto. This modern building, called Baan Rai Dharma Park, is located in the same monastic complex. The dharma park, opened during the monk’s 90th birthday celebrations in 2012, and is considered to be the largest handmade ceramic mosaic shrine in Asia. It was built with more than 20 million pieces of mosaic, put together by the villagers themselves, thus providing the locals with a means to earn a living whilst building a place that is accessible to all who wish to learn about dharma.
As in all Thai temples, there are a variety of other buildings and facilities to support the needs of both the resident monks and the visitors, and there’s a market area for those who want to eat or shop for souvenirs after their tour.
The temple opens 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily.
How to get there:
By car: From Nakhon Ratchasima, drive to Mitraparp Highway for 237km; then turn right to Kham Thale So, Nong Suang, and Dan Khun Tot. Alternatively, one can start from Dan KhunThot Hospital driving on Highway No. 2217 for 11 km to reach the temple.