I’m a sucker for the ‘Epic’, for large works of art so complex that they seem impossible to take in, works with hundreds of characters and many things happening at once. Rodin’s “Gates of Hell” and Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” fall in to this category. I’ve spent hours looking at the amazing characters in both and still don’t feel like I’ve seen everything. I love that kind of stuff.
As I walked the corridor surrounding the temple I passed dragons, gods battling with magic bows, giants, and monkey armies. My Epic radar was tingling. My gaze followed garden paths up through the ten foot tall mural, wound past temples, golden armies, and mountains to a sky that flying gods call home. Each step along the mile long mural led me through a new part of the story and I wandered for hours, in a joyful trance, following the continuous and ever changing landscape. This is one of my favorite works of art, the massive mural depicting the story of the Ramakien on the walls surrounding Wat Phra Kaew temple at Bangkok’s Royal Palace.
The Ramakien is Thailand’s variation of the Hindu epic tale the Ramayana and has had a profound influence on the arts and culture of Thailand. It is a tale of a virtuous king, exile, kidnapping, monkey armies, demons, and epic acts. The mural consists of 178 scenes and the scenery climbs in a stack of multiple (broken) perspectives that feel seamless, like a Chinese landscape painting. Many of the characters and temples are rendered in ornate gold leaf, reminding me of the gold in fairy tales that hints at the presence of magic. Maintenance work is done nearly constantly to keep the mural and gold leaf in shape. To me the mural feels like a jewel at the heart of Thai culture, as if the arts and temples throughout the country are all tied to here.
I’ve studied the mural in books and on the net, but to feel it’s size, to see the shine of the gold leaf, and to experience the passage of time while walking through the narrative, there is no substitute for being there. I had that luck last week, to follow a story for hours yet feel like it was just a brief moment.
If you like epic stories, it’s a great read.