By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation Weekend
Bangkok's Wat Suthi Wararam will on Saturday – Visakha Bucha Day – unveil a bold effort to try and entice young people back to the faith from which so many have drifted.
The digital-art exhibition “Bodhi Theatre: Buddhist Prayer Retold” combines vivid animation and Buddhist chants set to electronic dance rhythms.
Modern tech magic meets traditional piety in transforming the vihara, the temple’s main chapel, into a lively mini-theatre.
The show will be presented every weekend through June 9 at Wat Suthi on Charoen Krung Road.
“The aim is to encourage more young people to study Buddhism at the temple,” says the abbot, Phra Suthee Rattanapandit.
“We teamed up with young artists and designers who used modern technology to create this contemporary digital art in the temple. The artwork is intended to help people more easily understand Buddhist teachings.”
Supported by the National Innovation Agency, “Bodhi Theatre” was conceived and executed by a network including the Why_Not Social Enterprise, Awakening Creative, Another day Another render, Art of Hongtae, Korky and What_If.
Thawatchai Saengthamchai, managing director at Why_Not and manager of this project, acknowledges that it’s not easy changing the “young generation’s habits”.
“But we decided to find a way to modernise the temple experience to attract a changing society,” he tells The Nation Weekend. “We selected hi-tech tools to get people back to the temple.”
Abbot Suthee says the 35-minute show illustrates “Jayamangala Gatha”, the venerable chant about the triumph of the Buddha over the “eight adversaries” – ignorance, madness, rage, indulgence, accusation, deception, menace and pride.
Most Thais will hear ‘Jayamangala Gatha’ at least once in their lives, but not a lot of people know the meaning,” Thawatchai says.
The idea is to remind people about the teachings of Buddhism, revitalising their interest through visual art and technological flair. “We use projection mapping, a visual-projection technology that creates spatial augmented reality, to transform the temple’s sacred vihara into an immersive art experience,” says Thawatchai.
Projecting moving images onto the walls of the temple will not harm murals or anything else, he promises.
“We proposed the project to Wat Suthi because it has often pioneered modern ways to understanding Buddhist teachings,” he says. “In the meditation hall you can associate your praying with your brainwaves. The bell-ringer boys are allowed to run its coffee shop. We’re glad the abbot has allowed us to introduce this latest idea.”
Every temple is like a learning centre about the Buddha and his teachings and about art as seen in the murals and statues and architecture, Thawatchai said.
“Before we got started,” explains Abbot Sutee, “we discussed the pros and cons and decided that presenting digital art in the temple would be a new way to educate young people about Buddhism and it doesn’t violate any Buddhist law.”
Thawatchai’s team did workshops with the monks, recording them chanting in Pali and mixing in techno music.
There’s a trailer online for the show that resembles the latest Hollywood sci-fi movies, portraying the spiritual yet modern interpretation of traditional Buddhist narratives. Vivid neon lights and other effects depict demons and form abstract images that dance across the chapel walls.
Thawatchai says the chant used is also known as “The Stanzas of Victory” and is believed to bring the faithful happiness as well as success in future ventures.
The team has not only re-visualised and simplified a complex message, but it also created fun activities for visitors to the temple. They can paint cloth bags and send themselves best wishes on a postcard stamped with the chant’s emblem.
All proceeds from the sale of coffee go to the temple. Admission to the event itself is free, but seats can be booked in advance at www.BodhiTheater.com.
The show runs every 35 minutes from 2 to 6pm.