Sanctuary of Truth, Pattaya

Pattaya’s Sanctuary of Truth is a somewhat bizarre and remarkable creation built on the shore of Rachvate Cape, Naklua, Pattaya, Thailand. The brainchild of an eccentric Thai billionaire named Lek Viriyaphant, it is built entirely of teak wood and designed to “showcase Thai culture and ingenuity”. To visit it Ty and I hopped aboard a songthaew in Jomtien and, about half an hour and 40 baht later, hopped off in Naklua, north of Pattaya, for a shortish walk down Soi 12 to the Sanctuary. On the way we stopped briefly for a drink and a chat with a misanthropic German expat at a roadside shop: when we chatted with him he had two empty beer bottles in front of him and a terrible scowl on his face; when we passed by again two hours later, he had eight and a terrible scowl on his face – must be all that living in paradise.

Arriving at the sanctuary we were greeted with a huge wall adorned with carvings and a large parklike compound within, featuring horse-drawn buggies, crowds of Thai boy scouts, elephants, goats, chickens, and weathered wood carvings.

Once down a set of stairs we were given white hardhats to wear, since the sanctuary, begun in 1981, is an ongoing work-in-progress.

One of the founder’s intentions is that visitors should be able to appreciate the amount and kind of work that goes into a creation of this magnitude. From walking around the outside, it seemed as if one entire wing of the building has just been erected fairly recently; artisans are still busy with the interior and exterior carvings in this area.

The ocean front sanctuary has the design of a traditional Thai temple and is 100 meters high by 100 meters wide. No nails were used in its construction; instead, the artisans have followed traditional wood building techniques, such as tongue in groove, to erect the structure.

It’s pretty easy to see from the colour of the wood which are the newer areas; in the older sections the teak wood is grey, weathered, and cracked, while in the newer it’s still quite a bright orange-red. Each of the four wings of the building has a particular theme related to ancient knowledge and eastern philosophy; however, from my reading of the explanatory panels, I can’t say that I actually understand exactly what these themes are, or how the carvings illustrate them – something has been lost in translation. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a blurb from the Santuary’s website:

The purposes of decoration with wooden carve sculptures
are to use art and culture as the reflection of Ancient Vision of Earth,
Ancient  Knowledge,  and  Eastern Philosophy. With in this complex,
visitors  will  understand  Ancient  Life,  Human  Responsibility, Basic
Thought, Cycle of living, Life Relationship with Universe and
Common Goal of Life toward Utopia.

In any case the carvings themselves are fabulous, as is the architecture and design of the sanctuary. Almost every square inch inside is covered in carved images of gods and goddesses, as well as effigies of the planets, floral motifs, and the like. The iconography of the religious imagery, drawing from and illustrating the four major influences on Thai culture – Buddhist, Chinese, Khmer, and Hindu – is very similar to that of Roman Catholicism, from Edenic paradises,

to mothers holding babes, to what look like swirling angels surrounding Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Similarly, the ceiling roundels reminded me very much of the kinds of art on cathedral domes.

Indeed, the whole place has the visual impact of a cathedral, in size, scale, and complexity of design. I thought the Sanctuary was fabulous, even though I could not fully understand its educational program, given language issues (perhaps I should have opted for the guided tour …).

The compound also houses a carving centre where we were able to watch many people working on the various elements.

See more pics here.

See the Sanctuary’s website here.

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