Bangkok Post reviews
Hub of Dvaravati art
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: May 30, 2013 at 8:08 am
A major museum in the Phra Pathom Chedi compound is often overlooked
When it comes to Nakhon Pathom, many people may think of one of Thailand's most sacred sites _ Phra Pathom Chedi. Yet few people know there is a national museum in the compound of the chedi.
Initiated in the reign of King Rama V by Prince Damrongrajanubhap, who planned to gather artefacts scattered across Nakhon Pathom, Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum has developed over time. Its current exhibition presents the history of the province and consists of three sections.
Zone 1 starts with an introduction to present-day Nakhon Pathom, including its geography, economy and demography. This is followed by its history. Visitors will see evidence of prehistoric dwellers found in the area, dating back 2,000-3,000 years.
On display here are prehistoric tools made of stone and iron. Highlights are a stone bracelet and a fishing tool, found in Nakhon Pathom's Don Tum district. Both prove that the area was inhabited by humans about 2,000 years ago. Also on display in Zone 1 are stuccoes depicting foreigners and Indian-influenced objects, and stuccoes portraying local people in a variety of costumes as well as various types of pottery and stone inscriptions. These artefacts are the material record of the Dvaravati people in Nakhon Pathom. Following the prehistoric era, there was an influx of Indian cultural influences that mixed with local beliefs and traditions. This led to the emergence of a culture known as Dvaravati which lasted from the 7th to the 11th centuries. The archaeological evidence of the Dvaravati culture was mostly related to Theravada Buddhism and influenced by India's post-Gupta art (the 4th-8th centuries) and Pala art (the 9th-10th centuries).
According to Artefacts In Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum, a book published by the Fine Arts Department, Nakhon Pathom's most important archaeological finds include ancient artefacts, and sites and traces of a Dvaravati ancient city which flourished during the 7th to 11th centuries. These were mostly found in Muang Nakhon Pathom at Phra Pathom Chedi, Wat Phra Prathon Chedi, Wat Phra Mane and Noen Phra (Noen Yai Hom).
The area where Nakhon Pathom Ancient City was located was a seashore back then. The rectangular shaped city was 2km wide and 3.6km long and surrounded by moats and ridges.
At the centre of the city was Phra Prathon Chedi. About 500m northeast of the pagoda was Chulla Prathon Chedi. Nakhon Pathom was the largest Dvaravati city in the Central region.
Zone 2 of the museum focuses on beliefs and religions through art mostly related to Buddhism _ the main faith of Dvaravati culture.
On view are architectural elements and sculptures, including Buddha images, stone carvings depicting stories of the Lord Buddha's life, stuccoes illustrating the jataka tales and the Wheel of Dhamma carved in stone. They are clear samples of Dvaravati art and make the museum a must-see for Dvaravati art enthusiasts.
The stucco and clay sculptures of people, giants and dwarves found in Nakhon Pathom depict the appearance, hairstyles, costumes and accessories of the Dvaravati people as well as their social classes, religions, beliefs and contacts with outsiders who influenced them.
These sculptures, mostly found as fragments, highlight the skills of the craftsmen who made the art pieces based on human anatomy brilliantly and realistically.
In addition, plenty of Wheel of Dhamma stones, both intact and broken, are on view at the museum.
The first batch of such stone carvings found in Thailand was unearthed from the area beneath and around Phra Pathom Chedi as part of a restoration during the reign of King Mongkut and were later kept in the veranda around that stupa.
Those on display at the museum are decorated with various motifs, such as lai kan khot (leaves and flowers), flames, clouds and lotus petals. Some of them depict meditating people or gods.
Also on view are the bases of some stone carvings portraying floral motifs, the story of the Lord Buddha's life and several mystical creatures. Visitors can also see sitting stone deer sculptures which were mostly found near where the Wheel of Dhamma stone carvings were unearthed.
Zone 3 showcases the history and development of Nakhon Pathom during the Rattanakosin period. Objects on view include a model of Pathom Nakhon Palace _ the residence of King Mongkut during his visit to Nakhon Pathom _ and Buddha images found at Phra Pathom Chedi as well as a model of present-day Nakhon Pathom town. The highlights are models of Phra Pathom Chedi, whose shape has been altered several times since the Dvaravati period.
Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum is located on Khwa Phra Road, Muang district, Nakhon Pathom. It is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 9am-4pm. For more information, call 034-242-500.