White Temple in Chiang Rai
Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand, more commonly known by foreigners as the White Temple, is an unconventional, contemporary Buddhist temple designed by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Construction began in 1997 but is ongoing and the sprawling complex is not expected to be completely finished until 2070. Kositpipat, a deeply devout Buddhist, known mainly for his religiously themed paintings, wanted to build a temple that of the outside resembled heaven on earth with the white color of the temple representing the Buddha’s purity.
There are aspects to Wat Rong Khun that you don’t expect to see at a Buddhist temple. As you cross the central bridge to the main temple you cross an ocean of grizzled hands, greedily reaching up from the bowels of earth, symbolizing greed and desire. More unusual still are the murals inside the temple (unfortunately photography not allowed) of Harry Potter, Superman, Angry Birds, Hello Kitty, Neo from “The Matrix” and Batman among others. There is a mural of the Twin Towers with a gas hose snaking around and airplanes crashing into them. There is even a mural depicting George W. Bush gleefully riding around on a nuclear rocket with Osama Bin Laden. Kositpipat believes these depictions of the modern world further the Buddha’s message. I am reminded that all art is contemporary when it is created and sometimes we need to view it through the prism of time before its true significance can be distilled.
The White Temple is truly one of the most striking places of worship I have ever seen. It seems that around every corner is yet another surprising image. It is one of those places that haunt you long after you have visited. It is too much to take-in in one visit and I hope to see it again soon.