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Chalermchai & The greatest work of his life

Wat rong koon

Wat rong koon



ChalermChai ChalermChai   Kositpipat

Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist who has spent his own money to build the exquisite and spectacular Wat Rong Khun, never solicits contributions from money for the kathin and pha pa (ceremonies to present new yellow robes to Buddhist monks) and neither does he receive subsidy from the government. His declaration forbidding the faithful to give a donation of over 10,000 bath is a clear testimony of his standpoint, which is, retaining the freedom of his creative thinking.

He is a successful painter of Buddhist art who has become rich and famous and appreciated by people of all statuses in the country. The deep attachment and love he feels for his hometown have made him return to  build  Wat Rong Khun  with a determination to build it and offering to the Buddha and in the future turn the temple into a national art treature.

Chalermchai began his study of art at Poh Chang School and graduated from the Faculty of  Painting Sculpture and Graphic Art, Silpakorn University,  deemed as a first-rate art institution of Thailand. While a senior at Silpakorn, he won First Prize Gold Medal at a national art competition.

During the period of 15 years after graduation he received grants from several countries in Asia, Europe and the United States to go on study tours for the purpose of cultural exchanges. He also held more than ten exhibitions abroad. In 1984 when he was 29 years old  Chalermchai went to England and dedicated himself to doing the mural paintings at Wat Buddhapadipa, a Thai style temple built by the Thai government in London, for four years free of charge as he wished to make an offering to the Buddha and also to make Thai art known to Europe. In 1995, at the age of 40, he was one of the artists graciously selected by His Majesty the king to draw illustrations for the royal book Mahajanaka, on which task he spent two years.

At 42 he had everything be it fame, possessions, or money. His works were sought after by both Thai and foreign art collectors, making their prices soar up to be among the tops of the country’s list.

Chalermchai returned to his hometown where he had spent his childhood to realize his dreams of achieving the highest goal in his country, religion, and king [King Rama IX]. He also wanted to announce to the world  the magnitude of the contemporary Buddhist art consisting of architecture, painting, and sculpture of international level aesthetic value, the only work of art in the world with a unique style of his own.

The creation of the greatest and most meritorious work of his life is something he has planned very well beforehand in relation to the sacrifice of his with an interest in art were selected for training, five or six persons, and their number has increased each year until in 2009 he had more than 60 disciples. From the initial capital of 18 million baht, the amount has grown to 300 million baht. From the original temple land of three rai, additional land has been bought contribution of Mr. Wanchai Witchayakhon,  a philanthropic wealthy man. The derisive laughter jeering him as braggart and delirious ranter has turned into praise and appreciation when more and more Thais and foreigners, Buddhists and adherers of other faiths, keep coming to visit Wat Rong Khun each year.

In the 12th year of the construction of the temple [2009], Chalermchai is approaching 54 and Wat Rong Khun has been visited by over five million people, 200,000 of which are foreigners. The temple has become Chiang Rai’s top tourist destination. With the courage to think and act boldly, he has revolutionized the repetitive and mundane style of Thai art and turned it into a new and up-to-date one. The internal administration of the temple has also been reformed to compl with international standards, with emphasis on beauty, order, cleanliness and simplicity. Chalermchai does not want to use propaganda to solicit money from Buddhist tourists through the sale of merit, sacredness, amulets, or from the allotment of spaces in the temple to be rented as stalls to sell merchandises.

The interior of Wat Rong Khun is divided into three zones. The Buddhavasa, or the Abode of Buddha, is on the right with posts sparsely placed as boundary. It comprises the bot, the building where the Buddha’s relics are kept, and the Bridge of Bliss. The Sanghavasa, or the living quarters of the Buddhist monks, is on the left opposite the Bridge of Bliss. It comprises monk the cells and a big contemplation hall [to be constructed]. As for the Gharavasa, or the layman quarters, it comprises an art gallery, a golden toilet, and a big preaching hall which is divided into three storeys. The ground floor serves as an all- purpose hall for performing meritorious ceremonies, holding meetings, and a dhamma library where the Buddhist doctrine is taught in Pali. The third storey is for meditation. Next to the preaching hall is the creamation. Next to the preaching hall is the crematorium, built especially for the cremation of the faithful followers of Wat Rong Khun, the deceased with no relatives, the artist’s disciples, and Chalermchai himself.

Besides the division of different architectural styles, the meaning reflected in each work of art Chalermchai has created is also interesting. All the decorative sculptures or paintings are imbued with dhamma riddles, Buddhist philosophy, and the teachings of the Buddha that the artist has industriously studied and practiced for more than 25 years.

He uses the white color of the architecture to represent the Buddha’s purity,  the glittering mirrors to symbolize the Buddha’s dhamma that teaches man to observe his own mind and  reflect loving kindness towards humankind.

The Bridge of the cycle of Rebirth in front of the bot represents human sorrow and happiness, showing that the way to reach Buddha or happiness and total annihilation must pass through Hell, meaning craving. When cravings have been eliminated, one can proceed to the Gate of Heaven guarded by Rahu [Mara] on the left  and Death on the right. Rahu is the controller of man’s fate and Death is the  controller of man’s life. To grasp dhamma, one must understand both Rahu and Death and get rid of greed, anger, infatuation, fear, and confusion, concentrating on the practice of controlling one’s mind to eliminate cravings and then step up to Mount Sumeru, which represents happiness. There are six levels of the Realm of Brahmas, represented by 16 celestial lotus flowers around the middle ubosot.  The largest four lotuses on Both sides of the entrance of the ubosot represent the niches housing the four noble types of monks consisting of ones who have attained the first, second, third, and fourth stages of holiness. Three more steps. Signifying impermanence, suffering and non-self, lead up to the four levels of the Realm of the Formless Brahmas, represented by four illuminated celestial lotuses.  The triangular main glass pane represents emptiness [ the extinction of all defilements and sufferings].

The interior of the ubosot is the Abode of the Buddha. In front of the principal Buddha image, the mural painting on the wall at the entrance depicts Mara with the door panels in his mouth. Looking out of the door as though through the eyes of the principal Buddha image, one sees people crossing the Bridge of Rebirth into the ubosot, giving the impression that they have been released from Mara’s mouth, that is, they have won over and wiped out the cravings and evil in their mind.

The art works present at Wat Rong Khun are too many to describe on paper. Art is long and life is short. Even though Chalermchai has been dedicating himself to building the temple since he was only 42 years old and intends to keep doing it to his dying day, he is till unable to finish it in his lifetime.

After 11 years, he has trained  two batches of over 50 disciples to carry on his art work and the administration of the temple.

Chalermchai is a person who dares to think and act and does not like to be confined within the framework of traditional beliefs.  He wishes to create this piece of Tuddhist art for the land with and aim for it to achieve the status of world –class work of art.

“I have built the white bot on the right to represent Lokuttara [transcendental], meaning the body. Most foolish people are excited by the golden toilet, praising it as being more beautiful than the bot. some even tell me to build the bot like the toilet. Bloody idiots! What I have built is in the hope to teach people to let go and cling not to substance or money. Don’t perceive the physical body, an assumed identity, as real. You have to look for light peace, and purity in your soul. Look at the bot and make it out as more beautiful than the toilet. Then you will understand dhamma. Most people who hear this would say I am crazy.”

Chalermchai used to say, “I am awfully lucky to have been born and able to do the things I love. I happen to become successful and rich, with a chance to attain dhamma and find mental happiness since I was 40, and see the light that will lead me to the extinction of suffering [nirvana] when I was 50.

What is suffering? I have not experienced it for such a long time. My reason for building the temple and creating art work is just for the sake of letting go and not clinging. Therefore, problems are no problems for me since my mind recognizes no problems. The bigger the task, the more people, time, and money are involved. If frustrations, low-spirits, disappointments, poverty, stinginess, and selfishness, insincerity and desires for profit, status, and praise are what one gets in return, it is only natural that suffering will occur to a person who undertakes to perform a big task, since he is not well –versed with reality.”

What you have read touches just some small fractions of the life, work, and thought of the renowned and talented artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat. His skillful in all fields: architecture, painting, and sculpture. The most important factors that have rapidly led him to success in every area without ever failing even once are his being and excellent orator, thinker, practitioner, psychologist advertiser, marketer, and administrator. Most importantly, he is a practitioner of dhamma.

Chalermchai has said, “Money and possessions are insignificant. They are not mine but are only make-beliefs. Merits belong to me; therefore, money is of no value to me. Money is valuable only as a way to make merit for further journey of the soul.”


Wat Rong Khun

ต.ป่าอ้อดอนชัย อ.เมือง จ.เชียงราย 57000

Tel. :  053673579

Mobile phon : 0899515842

Fax :  0533673539



Chalermchai Kositpipat’s Biography

Wat Rong Khun

Thai contemporary art

Wat Buddhapadipa

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