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Religious art in a scenic setting in Thailand

Religious art in a scenic setting in Thailand

The Khao Ngu Stone Park, located eight kilometres northwest of downtown Ratchaburi, is made up of dispersed caves and small limestone mountains. Not only will you be able to wander along the gorgeous reservoir and take in the breathtaking panoramic views from the mountainside, but a visit to this lesser-known destination also provides an excellent opportunity to discover the old Buddhist art spread throughout the caverns.

Shadow on the wall

The Tham Ruesi – or “Hermit Cave” – is a fantastic spot to begin. The cave is named after the “Phra Phuttha Chai” – an antique Buddha relief sculpture that has graced the stone wall since the Dvaravati Period.
The Hermit Cave, on the other hand, is located on a steep slope and requires a set of staircases to reach the cave’s mouth. The Buddha relief, carved into the stone wall, depicts the Buddha sitting with his legs dangling, his right hand held at chest level with the thumb and index fingers creating a circle – or a “Wheel of Dharma” gesture – and his left hand on his left knee. This Teaching Buddha, it appears, welcomes guests inside the cave with a waving hand, much as it did pilgrims, monks, and merchants who travelled through the cave during its heyday.

There is no record of when the Teaching Buddha, Phra Phuttha Chai, was carved from the cave wall. According to mythology, the Lord Buddha entered the cave while touring to deliver his words of wisdom after attaining enlightenment. When the Lord Buddha exited the cave, the Buddha relief appeared on the wall where his shadow had been cast.

The Pallava lettering on the wall, as well as the specific face characteristics and stance, indicate that Phra Phuttha Chai in the Hermit Cave was carved about the seventh century, when Buddhism began to spread from Sri Lanka and India to the Dvaravati Kingdom. Today, the cave attracts a diverse range of tourists, from weekenders to small-time explorers to pilgrims who consider it as a portal to the past.
There are Ayutthaya Period sandstone Buddha images inside the cave. A standing Buddha figure carved into the limestone wall is visible if you look closely. It was created around the same time as Phra Phuttha Chai.

The path to nirvana

The Fa Tho Cave is about 250 metres from the Hermit Cave (and around 200 steps uphill). The climb to the hidden grotto is well worth it to see the antique relief sculptures of the Sal tree and the Reclining Buddha. The Buddha relief’s date is uncertain, but it appears that what matters is the message in the cave.
In Buddhism, the Sal tree represents a circle of life, representing the Lord Buddha’s birth and death. Enlightenment is the only way to break free from the circle of life, the circle of suffering and evil. You will be able to see the Buddha in nirvana if he is reclining on the cave wall with a calm and content expression.

The Chin and Cham caves, located within walking distance of the Fa Tho Cave, will captivate and enthral visitors and explorers with the country’s oldest reclining Buddha and other Buddhist art inscribed on the cave walls.

After visiting the caves’ ancient Buddha pictures and religious art, the park’s modest but scenic reservoir is a fantastic location to stretch your legs along the boardwalk. There are more staircases to the top of the Khao Ngu Viewpoint if you are not in pain from the previous climbs. The views of the reservoir and beyond are breathtaking from there.

If you decide to go,

Ratchaburi province is located about 90 minutes west of Bangkok. The province is ideal for a weekend escape, with attractive heritage, museums, and art galleries.

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