Songkran at the museum

The ‘Evolving Civilisation: From Lopburi to Ayutthaya Periods’ exhibition at Bangkok National Museum features a sculpture of planetary divinities. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

At Bangkok National Museum, which is within easy walking distance from Khaosan Road and the Grand Palace, you can celebrate the Thai New Year in a traditional and subtle way.

The Fine Arts Department and Bangkok National Museum have rolled out a Songkran celebration that has nothing to do with water fights but everything to do with art and tradition.

During the Songkran Festival, visitors to Bangkok National Museum will be able to bathe the planetary deities and pay homage to Phra Phuttha Sihing – Thailand’s second-most important and revered image.

“Over Songkran, Thailand’s traditional New Year, the Bangkok National Museum opens its doors to visitors – who want to pray for better lives before Phra Phuttha Sihing Buddha image,” says Pratheep Phengtako, a director of the Fine Arts Department.

Lopburi-style Buddha images. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

Songkran is Thailand’s traditional New Year. It begins around mid-April when the sun enters Aries – the first astronomical symbol in the Thai traditional zodiac. The celebration embraces goodwill, love, compassion, and gratitude, with water serving as the medium of expression.

Thais, like the Greeks and Romans, have developed their own planetary deities, such as Phra Phut (Mercury) and Phra Phurahat (Venus, Jupiter). Nine planetary gods will be brought out of the altars in Bangkok National Museum for the New Year bathing ceremony.

The exhibition features a collection of Lopburi-style sculptures, including a 340-metre bronze Bodhisattava sculpture (centre back). (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

Finest Lopburi and Ayutthaya arts

Visitors can explore Lopburi and Ayutthaya arts at the ‘Evolving Civilisation: From Lopburi to Ayutthaya Periods’ exhibition, in addition to bathing and paying homage to deities and Buddha images. A large collection of Lopburi (Khmer-style) artifacts and sculptures discovered in Thailand’s central, east, and northeast regions between the seventh and thirteenth centuries (800-1,400 years ago) are also on display.

The exhibition’s centerpiece is an eighth-century bronze sculpture of Bodhisattava.

The sculpture was discovered in seven pieces (head, fingers, right upper arm, legs, and feet) at Ban Tanot in Nakhon Ratchasima province.  A team of archaeologists from the Fine Arts Department later reassembled it into one piece using replica parts. The bronze Bodhisattava sculpture now stands 340 centimeters tall, making it Thailand’s oldest and largest bronze sculpture.

But the ‘Evolving Civilisation: From Lopburi to Ayutthaya Periods’ exhibition showcases more than just the oldest bronze sculpture in Thailand.

The ancient stone slab depicting Vishanu reclining on the serpent’s back was discovered in Buriram at Prasat Ku Suangtang. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

The exhibition also shows many pieces of Lopburi artifacts that have been retrieved from museums in the US.

Many Lopburi-style artifacts, such as ancient stone slabs, were smuggled out of Thailand and resold to private art museums in America between the 1960s and 1980s. Thailand and the United States have been collaborating on a repatriation project to return the artifacts to Thailand, where they were discovered.

The visitors to the exhibition at Bangkok National art Museum will be able to see 18 long-lost artifacts reclaimed from America. One of the most important pieces is the lintel of Prasat Ku Suangtang found in Buriram. The ancient stone slab depicts Vishanu reclining on the serpent’s back.

A collection of Buddha images is on display at the Bangkok National Museum’s ‘Evolving Civilisation: From Lopburi to Ayutthaya Periods’ exhibition. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

The exhibition features some of the finest examples of Ayutthaya-style art. The Wat Song Kop Inscription, for example, tells the story of the Ayutthaya kingdom on a golden sheet.

Bangkok National Museum is next to Sanam Luang and just a short walk from the Grand Palace and the Temple of Emerald Buddha. It’s closed on Monday and Tuesday. The ‘Evolving Civilisation: From Lopburi to Ayutthaya Periods’ exhibition runs until June 30.

On a golden sheet, the Wat Song Kop Inscription tells the story of the Ayutthaya kingdom. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)


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