Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Erawan Museum Epiphany
Sa wa dee ka from Thailand! My name is Taylor Woodruff and I will be a junior in the Music Therapy program at the University of Kansas this fall. Coming on this trip has been a dream of mine since before I even came to KU, so the fact that I am here now is truly a dream come true. The Thai people are incredibly hospitable and friendly, which makes getting around this unfamiliar place much easier. Even if they do not speak English they will talk your ear off and help you to the best of their ability. If all else fails, they smile and laugh.
This sort of carefree attitude, which the Thais call mai pen rai, or no worries, has made adjusting to this new environment monumentally simpler. Although the language has been difficult to master, I have successfully mastered eating the food (it’s delicious and cheap)! It seems that many aspects of life in Thailand are different, but I have been continually surprised by how much is similar. My everyday routine is still the same; I go to school during the week, I shop and sleep in during the weekend, and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, although sometimes all three of these meals include rice.
One aspect of Thai life that is very prevalent is religion. I have drawn some parallels in my own life that are similar to the way the Thai’s and their surroundings are influenced by religion. Buddhism is the most prominent religion in the country, with Hindu influences. All around the country there are images and statues of Buddha and spirit houses can be found at almost every site. The spirit houses serve the purpose of housing the spirits after a structure or building is constructed where the spirits resided. There are spirit houses at schools, apartment complexes, and shopping centers. The prevalence of spirit houses and religious images around the Mahidol College campus remind me of my grade school and high school experience at Catholic schools. There is always an underlying presence of spirituality and religious iconography.
This is the spirit house at the Mahidol school of music.
What I found most interesting about religion here is the perceptions of hell, earth, and heaven. Although in Buddhism hell is not the same as the Christian perception of hell, there are parallels. The focus in life is in good karma and deeds instead of avoiding sin. I gained a deeper appreciation and understanding for the Buddhist interpretation of life and afterlife after visiting the Erawan Museum. The Erawan Museum is a showcase of Asiatic religions, cultures, and artifacts. On top of the museum stands a gargantuan three-headed elephant. This elephant is Erawan, an avatar that goes throughout the three spheres (hell, earth, and heaven).
Each floor of the Erawan Museum correlates to one of the three spheres. Although the lowest level is not strictly a depiction of hell, it was the most plain and uninspiring. This section of the museum was a display of different demons and villains in Asian folklore and religion. There were also displays of different types of pottery from several eras, as well as a small-scale model of Thailand, which illustrated significant landmarks, monuments, and areas.
The next floor was by far my favorite, and possibly my favorite sight so far in Thailand. Earth was the next sphere and floor of the museum. To say I was awestruck when I walked in would be a great understatement. Upon entering the room, there is a staircase that leads up to a shrine to Buddha. When walking around the staircase you are engrossed in the elaborate decoration of the walls and pillars. Every surface in the room was covered in china and pottery that had been broken into pieces and mosaicked into ornamented flowers, fish, instrumentalist, and abstract designs. When the light came through the open doors and windows the walls sparkled. The ceiling was a stained glass image of the world. Everywhere I looked there was something new to take a picture of. I then thought, “If this is earth, I wonder what heaven looks like…” imagining even more elaborate beauty.
The entrance of the earth level.
Detail on the staircase of the museum.
After climbing a spiraling narrow staircase, we reached the third floor, which was representative of heaven. I was initially surprise by how it looked. The walls and ceiling were varying shades of blue, with a large altar that had many steps up to a statue of Buddha. There was very minimal lighting, and there were no overhead shinning lights. The ceiling illustrated the universe and constellations. At first I was confused by this depiction of heaven. From my Catholic upbringing and background, I always imagined heaven as the most beautiful and splendid place, not even possible for the mind to imagine. However, when I thought more about the way these two spheres looked I understood why they were imagined and shown in this way. The beauty in earth was made up of simple things, such as pieces of china bowls and spoons. This simplicity when viewed as a whole created a beautiful and intricate picture. Heaven on the other hand was a peaceful and serene place that was calm and quiet. This helped me further appreciate the imagery and depiction of the different spheres, and as cliché as it may sound, realize that beauty on earth may come from ordinary and unexpected things.
The heaven portion of the museum.