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Thai Mural Painting In Thailand


Mural at Wat Phrao Kaeo Bangkok


  • Not only do the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs influence the architecture and decorative art of a temple complex but so to the elaborate paintings on the internal walls of the complex. In Thailand the manuscripts and scriptures of Theravada Buddhists were in Pali [ an Indian language ] which could only be understood by the educated elite. 
  • The purpose of the Thai mural is to expand the scope of the audiences, ensure easy recognition of events and facilitate the understanding of history and moral lessons. Therefore the more frequent subject matter in Thai murals are depictions from the life of Buddha and stories from the Jakata Tales. Also depicted are Buddhist concepts of cosmology dealing with the universe, the nature of time and the concept of rebirths into progressively higher spiritual planes of that Universe.
  • In earlier times in Thailand, manuscripts were also illustrated in the emerging Thai style. In murals the artists followed certain traditions and form to assist the generally uneducated audience to appreciate and recognize certain events or beings.
  • The western concept of originality did not exist and whilst there was no self expression in design and concept some variations in style are evident. However for the most part we see through out Thailand familiar  celestial beings, stylized imaginary creatures, some part human and part animal or bird, all inhabitants of the idyllic Himaphan Forest, the mythical region of the Universe associated with the Himalayas.
  • The best place in Thailand to see the most extensive and best quality murals is at Wat Phrao Kaeo beside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The pictures here are from that selection.



Mural at Wat Phrao Kaeo Bangkok


Thai Mural Style and Characteristics

  • Thai murals have the following characteristics. They contain many small, almost tiny individual scenes, landscapes and figures in contrast to the large wall space on which they are painted. The objects are stylized throughout Thailand and are two dimensional in form, that is there is no perspective of dimension as in European painting. There are also continuous and flowing sets of panoramas of places, palaces, towns, events and country landscapes with real and mythical people or creatures. However all panoramas whether painted above the head of the viewer, at the same level or nearer the floor, all are painted from a perspective that the viewer is high above , as if in the sky looking down or from a distance.
  • The episodes of religious and every day life are reflections from different times but are depicted simultaneously separated by landscape or architecture like a zig zag design. The characters are stylized such that the celestial and or noble beings are always portrayed serene whilst those from the common folk are portrayed in ungainly or realistic or comic postures or movements. After the mid 19 C Western influences introduced the concepts of the use of perspective and shading to give the illusion of depth.

The Subjects Of Thai Murals

  • Many of the subjects of Thai murals deal with the depiction of celestial beings and demons. These themes come from the Thai literature, The Traiphum Phra Ruang. Other themes for subjects come from the Jakata Tales, stories of the exploits of noble beings as rulers or renouncing of the pleasures and burdens of rule. All of which takes place in a mythical Indian forests, kingdoms, heavens and hells, as the various abodes of the Buddhist metaphysical universe.
  • These Jakata Tales are important in the teaching of the virtues of truthfulness, patience, courage, wisdom, devotion and charity, etc. It is all about virtue triumphs over evil and the horrible ends of evil doers.
  • The third source of subject material is the Ramakian, the Thai version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

Where To See Better Example Mural Paintings In East Thailand

  • Wat Ta Khu, Nakhon Ratchasima
  • Wat Thrung Sri Muang, Ubon Ratchathani
  • Wat Sra Bua Kaeo, Khon Kaen
  • Wat Pa Lae Lai, Mahasarakham