DEVOTION - Image, Recitation, and Celebration of the Vessantara Epic in Northeast Thailand

The Vessantara Jātaka is the story of Prince Vessantara who gave away everything, even his wife Maddī and their two children, in order to become a Buddha, an Enlightened One, in his following life.

For well over two thousand years, the story of Prince Vessantara’s and Maddī’s dedication to the requirements of their lives has been a popular subject in Asian literatures and in the performing and visual arts. In Northeast Thailand and Laos the Bun Phra Wet terminates the agricultural year: a festival in the name of Phra Wetsandon (Vessantara) and his wife Matsi (Maddī).

“Vessantara cloths” – painted scrolls with depictions of the epic tale sometimes a hundred meters or longer – provide the Bun Phra Wet’s ritual procedures with a material cultural and visual frame. Together with the monks’ voices – their recitation of the story – these scrolls provide a sacred space in which lay women and men bring Vessantara’s life into their current realities year after year.

Our exhibition provides a comparable space. Created in cooperation with the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus (Denmark) and three village temples in Northeast Thailand, within this sacred space several Vessantara scrolls and related artifacts, images, and sounds are brought together in the world’s first ever exhibition on this subject.

Vessantara-Recitation, Ban-Huey-Fay-Phattana, Thailand

Phra Khrū Mongkhon Chaiyakon, Phra Achān Sīnuan Pīyalilō, and Phra Atikān Sayān recite the Vessantara Jātaka.

Audio recording: Thomas Kaiser

Bān Huey Fay Phattana, 7. April 2015