The spirit of Wanthong

WatTakrai.JPGWanthong was cremated at Wat Takrai in Ayutthaya. Late in 2013, we visited the wat and noticed a shrine that we had missed on earlier visits.

Wat Takrai lay north of Ayutthaya, across the river from the palace, behind Wat na Phramen, in an area probably popular for residence because of proximity to the palace. Close by was a large market that stretched along Sa Bua Canal.  Khun Phaen’s family probably came from this area, and they move back there at the end of the tale. Wanthong is cremated in the wat.

wattakraiamulet

Wat Takrai was probably destroyed in 1767 as it was directly in the line of fire between the main Burmese camp and the palace. Monks subsequently reoccupied the wat, but it was never repaired and finally abandoned in the early twentieth century. The last abbot, Bun, was famous for his knowledge of lore. Army recruits drank or bathed in water from the wat pool, believed to be sacred. Amulets from the wat “with a Garuda face” (actually a Buddha subduing a beak-faced Mara) are still popular for protection against wild animals.

WatTakraiPool.JPG

The sacred pool

Few people visit the ruins now. They are a little off the beaten track and there’s nothing special to see unless you have an interest in KCKP. On this recent visit, we arrived at dusk. Right beside the sacred pool, there is a gnarly old takhian (ironwood) tree, and below the tree is a jumble of spirit shrines.

wanthongshrineSomehow we had missed these on earlier visits. The figures placed on these shrines are mostly young women, including some shop-window dummies leaning against the trunk of the tree.

Takhian trees can be very big, old, and gnarled. They are often believed trees to shelter a female wood spirit, who can be malevolent. Many takhian trees are wrapped in cloth or made into a shrine to appease such spirits. This shrine at Wat Takrai could simply be one example. But it seems this general belief has been fused with the memory of Wanthong. Local people confirmed that. They say Wanthong’s spirit resides there. But they also said that it’s always called San Jao Mae, a generic term for a shrine to a female spirit, without mentioning her name.

We have written earlier that, though there are shrines to many other KCKP characters, there are none to Wanthong, because of her reputation as a “bad woman.” This shrine slightly changes that judgment, but only slightly: her name is still not used.

WanthongShrineTakrai.jpg

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