Saraburi province is becoming an emerging tourist destination hotspot with a new must-go place, situated on the edge of the Phaphutthabat Noi mountain range. This is where Manasikarn Hall, Thailand’s first and only spiritual tourist destination is located.
Upon arrival, our first impression was of the splendid contemporary architecture towering in front of firm, tall limestone mountains harmonizing well together. Inside, we can feel the indescribable inner peace. The more information we learned from the staff, the more we were amazed at the story of the place.
One of the practices that makes Manasikarn Hall a must-go place is its approach which is based on the views of Buddhists and people interested in Buddhism, who, despite their interest, are reluctant to study the religion further as there are still unanswered questions: Why did the Buddha leave his family to be ordained? What is the essence of Buddhism? Why practice Dhamma?
The Manasikarn Hall took five years to complete. The 40-million-baht project is one of many projects under the Knowing Buddha Foundation for the Protection of Buddhism, founded by Master Acharavadee Wongsakon with the mission to protect Buddhism by ending the commercialization of Buddha statues and images, as well as raising the public awareness on why Buddha images and religious symbols should be treated with high respect and appropriately.
In order to ensure the Manasikarn Hall reflected the Buddha’s sacrifices and contributions to mankind, Master Acharavadee laid the groundwork on the project’s concept and architectural design inside and outside the hall herself, as well as drawing the first design sketch. The design was further developed by Mr. Naknimit Suwannakudt, heir of Thailand’s leading artist Prof. Paiboon Suwannakudt, who was a close apprentice of legendary artist and master Corrado Feroci (known as Prof. Silpa Bhirasri).
The 1st section of the hall are the mixed media presentations, the “Simulation of the Buddha’s Path – Journey to the Life of the Buddha”, surrounded with the ancient atmosphere, yet with contemporary vibe, that was collated together each important period of the Buddha: the Beginning, the Journey, the Search, the Obstacle, and the Great Awakening. Along the passageway of the exhibition, we were provided with the narrated listening device.
The creative and production parts are unbelievably realistic. The pictures in the gallery are of professional quality. We later learned that among the team members are Mr. Chirawut Sirichan, a former photographer of IMAGE magazine and Ms. Attama Bowie Cheevanichphan, a famous Thai actress.
This is an important scene worth taking note: In Buddha’s time: Scene 5 – “The Night that Turned to Be the New Dawn for Mankind” is the picture of Prince Siddhartha riding his horse Kanthaka from the palace to set off on the path of liberation. It was the fateful night that he decided to leave his royal lifestyle and title and live as an ascetic for years to find the Ultimate Truth.
PAY RESPECT IN THE TRUE BUDDHIST WAY
The next zone is the Prostration Hall, or Stupa Hall, which is glistening in gold in contrast with red silk linen on the wall. The regal and classic atmosphere made us feel as if we were ushered into another dimension.
The hall is enshrined with Phra Borommalokanat, a 31-inch lap-sized golden Buddha statue. The name of the image means “The Holy Great Sanctuary”. Since ancient times, making a Buddha sculpture has been considered one of the most sacred deeds toward the prophet and the protection of Buddhism.
One of the materials added during the casting process is the earth taken from Kusinara, the site of the Buddha’s passing. We noticed that his facial features are very modern, unlike other Buddha sculptures. Despite the modern look, the image still looks refined, radiating serenity and compassion.
Twenty-three Buddha’s relics which arrived at three different times, and the embroidered Buddha image are also placed here. The artwork took eight months to complete. Throughout the period, the embroiderer, who is a serious meditator, observed the Eight Precepts and recited ‘Nirvana’ every time she made a stitch which totaled 651,000 stitches.
Inside this Stupa Hall has amazing details. The red silk used for the interior is pure silk woven by Antico Setificio Fiorentino, a Florence-based company with more than 230 years of history. Its previous commissions include the Kremlin Palace in Moscow and the Uffizi Gallery, which houses the famous painting ‘The Birth of Venus’, and many other Renaissance masterpieces from around the world.
The glittering gold wall base and the platform where the Buddha statue is enshrined are gilding with gold leaves. And the hall’s entry door is covered with scientific gold leaf, gilded by more than hundreds of volunteers.
The last zone is a modern photo gallery, showing different photos with messages about life and its purpose through hidden messages. While the subjects are deep and philosophical, the messages are easy to grasp.
The whole experience was quite refreshing, entertaining, informative, and most of all, relatable to everyone even non- Buddhists. Getting to know the Buddha in the new light made us realize his contributions were enormous and worth serious respect.
REAPING MEMORIES, ABSORBING NATU
Nearby the Manasikarn Hall is the reception and a café where you can enjoy a mountain view while having your favorite drink.
The next building is the Spiritual Life exhibition, another KBO campaign to raise public awareness and understanding to combat the widespread problem of the commercialization of Buddhism, Buddha’s heads and images.
For those interested in meditation, the basic meditation class is available. You are also welcome to ask questions and discuss problems if you’re already a practitioner. An Anapanasati (Focus) Meditation training is highly recommended if you’re seriously interested.
A small walk further down the road is a must-go place for café lovers: The Harmony Tearoom & Pim-piman Restaurant, a cafe and a restaurant which is nestled in the mountains. The café is the only one of its kind in Saraburi province. The area has many other interesting destinations both for nature or history such as Wat Tham Bo Pla Temple, Wat Phra Phutthabat Noi Temple, where the famous sacred footprint of the Buddha is located.
Today, this small district in a small province is about to become very big for its unique offering of physical, mental, and spiritual bliss, making it perfect for a full-day trip. You can say the trip itself is really the “One and Only” too.
For more information: www.manasikarn.com
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