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Doraemon’s Buddhist journey

Posted by arnon_k On January - 19 - 2011

SUPHAN BURI : The mural on the walls of an ancient temple has been aesthetically infused with the contemporary _ the Doraemon cartoon character appearing in scenes of the Lord Buddha’s past lives and the wisdom tied to the afterlife.

Rakkiat Lertjitsakul, 34, tends to the finest details of his painting on the walls of the almost 700-year-old Wat Sampa Siw in Muang district.

The mural has attracted crowds, some amazed and others bewildered by incongruous sights such as Doraemon swimming in an oversized pan of boiling water in hell.

To some, the paintings have tackled rather serious subjects with hidden religious messages of virtue prevailing over evil.

The depiction of Doraemon in some of the murals provides an entertaining break from tradition, according to some temple visitors.

But others, such as Suphan Buri resident Sarawut Pathumsut, did not find the mural amusing. He said Doraemon was totally foreign to traditional Buddhist belief.

However, Mr Rakkiat said his sole intent was to entertain.

“It’s to express my sense of humour. When I was in a fun mood, I painted Doraemon on the mural,” he said.

He added that the Japanese cartoon character did not play a conspicuous part in the mural. “Unless you look hard, you can barely see it,” he said.

Doraemon pops up in scenes where he meets angels in heaven, swims in the ocean, hides behind a principal Buddha image in a chapel, and struggles in a pan of boiling water in hell.

An avid fan of Doraemon since childhood, Mr Rakkiat said the round physical shape of the character appealed to him.

He said Doraemon’s presence in the mural could represent human spirit and greed as well as good and evil. It was up to one’s imagination, he said.

“The Doraemon [images] should draw children to the temple. At first, they might come to see the cartoon but once they are here, they will be immersed in something virtuous,” he said.

Mr Rakkiat has been commissioned since 2005 to paint the Lord Buddha’s 10 past lives on the temple walls at Wat Sampa Siw.

He is confident the refinement of his work is what matters most, overriding the novelty of Doraemon’s cameos.

The artist said the cartoon would make no further appearances in the murals. “It might get out of hand,” he said.

Mr Rakkiat said after graduating from the Chetupon Commercial College in Rat Burana district of Bangkok, he found office work boring.

He later enrolled in the artisan college at the Royal Craftsmen College initiated by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at the Grand Palace.

Mr Rakkiat said he passed the test to study at the college despite his poor basic skills in drawing.

Of the 40 students admitted to the course, only eight, including Mr Rakkiat, graduated. Some could not cope with the studies, which involve intensive training and meticulous practice to achieve artisanship.

Most of the graduates also struggled to find work afterwards. They ultimately had to turn from painting and seek employment in advertising.

Government support is needed to help traditional artisans to survive, Mr Rakkiat said.

He said most temples do not hire trained artisans to restore their fading murals because they charge expensive fees.

Instead, they often employ unqualified painters, resulting in restored murals that look more like a “primary school colouring project”

Mr Rakkiat said he must finish his mural work at Wat Sampa Siw this year. He was contracted six years ago to paint the murals for 600,000 baht.

The father of one said he might take mural painting jobs at other temples in the future.

And, if opportunity permitted, he said he would be happy to again include Doraemon in them.

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