I happened to explore a Buddhist monastery called “Dharma Sawang Khao Tao” or as it is also known “Wat Khao Tao”. The temple was built in 1966 and located in Khao Tao, a small village around 15 km south of Hua Hin at the foot of Khao Tao Hill.
I was amazed when I entered an antique museum on the same floor as a lofty statute of Bodhisattva, a Chinese lady in white dress standing loftily in front of a Dharmacakra, also known as a wheel of Dharma or wheel of life, a symbol represented Lord Buddha’s teaching or Dharma. Walking behind the Bodhisattva statute, I found the museum at the end of a pathway. The museum is rather small. I met with Pra Kroo Palad Narongsak or Pra Ajarn, a Buddhist monk. As an antique collector, Pra Ajarn brought all the antique items with him from Bangkok when he first moved here many years ago.
Today the place is an antique museum displaying some items dated back 4,000 years. There are over 10,000 pieces of household items, weapons of war and accessories kept from generation to generation by Pra Ajarn’s family. He told me that he has given all the items to the Dhamma Sawang Khao Tao Temple to use only for education purposes. Most of the pieces displayed in the museum were collected by four generations of his family. Many of the historical items were passed to him by his Great Great Grandmother who was a chef working in the Royal Palace kitchen during the reign of King Monkut or Rama IV.
“All items I have acquired are rare to find and see. I am afraid that the name of these antiques and their usages will soon be forgotten” he said.
I found a beautiful Buddha image called ‘Lhaung Por Tan Jai’ sitting high above other Buddha statues in the middle of the room. Lhaung Por Tan Jai was built in the U Thong Period, dating from the twelfth through to the fifteenth century in central Thailand more than 600 years ago. It was found under the water of the Chao Prahya River 40 years ago. Buddha images in U Thong Period were three styles including fusion of the Dvaravati and Khmer styles. They would typically adorn a lotus bud aureole with Khmer facial features. The second style is similar to Lopburi images. The most recent U Thong style has considerable influence from Sukhothai images.
I walked further inside near the Buddha statues in the middle of the room. I found a small room on the right hand side where many ancient items are kept. There are some Chinese weapons used in wars from the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). I also spotted an animal horn trumpet made of cow or buffalo horns used for signaling in periods of war. Besides, I saw a portrait of King Taksin, a variety of Chinese and Thai swords used in ancient wars and many more items lay in this room.
Outside the room, a glass cabinet displays ancient Funan coins, some of the oldest items on display. Funan was the Chinese name of an ancient Kingdom located around the Mekong Delta of Southern Vietnam and in Southern Indochina. The name is found in Chinese historical texts describing the Kingdom. The most extensive descriptions are largely based on the report of two Chinese diplomats representing the Wu Kingdom of Nanking who travelled to Funan in the mid-3rd Century A.D. The name Funan is not found in any texts of local origin. It is not known which name the people of Funan gave to their country.
I also saw swords from the Dvaravati Period of the 6th – 13th Centuries. As well there were mirrors made of bronze from the Lopburi Period of the 11th – 14th Centuries. Pra Ajarn showed me animal bones over 1,000 years old that are believed to have been used as medicine by powdering the bone and mixing it with Thai medicinal herbs or plants.
Pra Ajarn cannot speak English. For foreigners visiting the museum there is an English explanation card described item’s name, usage and history.