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The Life and Achievement of Than Lek, Wat Ariyakiri


His Holiness Than Khru Lek was a highly revered monk from Wat Aril, Kelantan whom had dedicated himself to the Buddhist religion for 50 years. This is the real life story of one of the many holy monks whom had greatly contributed to the society in the past upholding the Thai Theravadian Buddhist teachings in Malaysia.

This article is credited to John, a wonderful friend of mine. Without his help in providing crucial historical information and concise photos exhibits, this article research will not be successfully accomplish its objective in bringing the truth to readers.

John, this article is dedicated to you and your family members. May this article sharing bring tremendous knowledge, happiness and good understanding of the Triple Gems to all sentient beings without any distinction. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.

With Metta,

A Brief History of Kampong Aril

In the olden days Kampong Aril was a thick forested jungle infested by wild animals. Around 1870 a group of Thai migrants from Chekong district, Changwad in Narathiwat Thailand set sail to the east direction in search of fertile soil because their homeland was always flooded causing difficulties in growing crops. When this group of migrant arrived at Gong, Kulim (in Kelantan state), they immediately set up a village. Soon more and more Thais came to settle down at this new found village. The later migrants brought along with them ‘Menora’ that became an instant favorite among the local Malays. However, not long after settling down in this new frontier the settlers found that the soil is also not fertile and had decided to leave. It happened that a group of Tok Aril followers heard about the plight of the migrants and gladly invited the Thais to follow them back to live at their place in Kelantan which is a promising land. The reason behind for this invitation was due to their keen interest in the Menora arts form.

The Thais led by Menora Rong migrated to the promising land. Upon reaching this settlement, they found that the land was actually fertile and food for their daily sustenance is sufficient from the jungle surroundings. Happily they set up a village and soon after that several Thai communities from other scattered areas also joined in. After sometime living here, the Thai community started building a temple and since then Kampong Aril existed till today.

The History of Than Lek

Than Khru Lek was born in Kampong Aril on the 28th of Dec 1895. In the early days this kampong was under the district of Bechah Mulong, Kota Bahru that is known today as the district of Peringat, Kota Bahru. His parents migrated here from Kampong Chekong, Changwad in Narathiwat Thailand. Phra Khru Lek had never attended any schooling when he was young because schools did not exist in those days.

When Than Lek was 15 years of age, he joined the "Menora" performance troupe and travelled to many places in Kelantan. He took the role of “Nang” a Princess in the Menora epic stories and his love for Menora is deeply rooted in his life. When he reached the age of 22, he got married and started a family. After he was bestowed with a son from his marriage he renounced the worldly affairs and became a Bhikku (Buddhist monk in Pali language) in 1917 (B.E.2460).

The Upacara (ordination) ceremony was held at Wat Khau Din, Kampong Bukit Tanah in Tumpat District. After the ordination ceremony with the name of Thammesara, he subsequently went back to Wat Aril to study Buddhist texts guided by Ajahn Rak, the abbot then. When his teacher Ajahn Rak returned to Throk Ban, Pattani in Southern Thailand, he continued his studies with the guidance of Than Deng. After a duration of 5 years in Buddhist studies, he wanted to further his studies and decided to travel to Wat Chan at Ligor, Thailand (now known as Nakhorn Si Thammarat). He underwent further religious studies from Phra Khru Kha Serm. While in Ligor, he also frequently travelled to other Wats or temples to learn whatever he could that is related to Buddhism. After more than 1 year at Ligor he returned to Wat Aril.

Not long after his return to Wat Aril, he decided to learn Buddhist meditation technique “Samadhi” from a master named Archan Kev. He also underwent the “Tudong” austerity practice to gain knowledge in deep meditation alone in the dense jungles without fearing any wild animals, poisonous creatures and ghost spirits. After 6-month stint in forest meditation, he returned to Wat Aril and took up the responsibility as the temple abbot because Than Deng had returned to Throk Ban. Than Lek took up the responsibility as the chief abbot of Wat Aril from that day onward until the very last day of his life here.

During his tenure as the abbot of Wat Aril, he relentlessly put in hard works and strong efforts in turning what used to be a small hut in the middle of a thick forested jungle into what is today a beautiful temple with big buildings. Take for example the Sima Hall was officiated by the Thai Consulate on 9th May 1963. The main temple hall was officiated by His Highness Tengku Mahkota Kelantan, Tengku Ismail Petra Ibni Al Sultan Yahya Petra on 27th July 1973 with grand ceremonial and celebration that had never been witnessed before during the entire history of Wat Aril and nearby villages.

For 50 long years since Than Lek became the abbot there have never been any complaint or disagreement about him from the multicultural societies be it the Thais, Chinese or Malays, living near or afar. Each day many people from different ethnic backgrounds came to congregate around him to receive blessings, medication herbs, holy waters, and to get advice and Buddhist teachings. Even though Than Lek did not ask anything in return, but the donation box in the temple was always filled with money that he would use to help those in need and for other good purposes. The funds are not only being disbursed for good use at Wat Aril but also for charities at other places needing such funds. This is the good human quality of Than Lek and as such the ‘Jivorn’ monk robes he wore and sacred incantation roles “Takrut” are very famous not just only in Malaysia but also other countries for its efficacies in strong protective powers.

It is presumed that all earlier generation Takruts using black tins are individually handwritten by Than Lek.  Later generations Takrut are hand pump imprinting bearing the magical Yant scripts formulated by Than Lek.  This hard to find original piece using the hand pump technique was consecrated by Than Lek. 

During his lifetime, Than Lek had displayed a humble quality and has high compassion towards those in suffering. He never ceased his efforts in adopting many children and Wat Aril had become known as a Children’s Welfare home for mischievous boys. With the generosity and deep compassion from Than Lek himself, many of those boys without family eventually took up a religious life when they turned 21 years old. Than Lek never rejects any assistance that is needed by the poor let alone stray dogs had never been turned away from his temple. With a heart full of compassion ready to help others, he would not hesitate to go out from the temple even at the middle of the night to help those in need. In the early kampong days health clinics does not exist and people would seek traditional healing methods. He served as a healer or traditional medicine doctor for the village folks. He is even willing to walk to faraway places in giving help to those who are suffering.

There are many herbal plants inside Wat Aril’s compound that Than Lek will use as remedies to administer illnesses in the olden days. He will not easily give up his responsibility until all his patients are cured from their diseases. He also took care of the cremation of bodies from poor families by ensuring proper burial rites are given using the temple funds. During the terrifying period in World War 2, many village folks sought refuge and protection at the temple.  They brought along many of their precious belongings as they are afraid that it may be stolen by thief or brute Japanese soldiers. The invasion of Singapore began with the landing of the Japanese Imperial army at Kota Bharu by sea.  A lot of people suffered huge losses as a result of the war.  Kind heartedly Than Lek showed no rejection and had provided shelters, food and guarded the safety of these distraught people with full of compassion and without impartiality.

In peace time after World War 2 was over, Than Lek showed his love and dedication to local arts.  The yearly Chelong Festival held at Wat Aril is full of colours with traditional Kelantan dances, games, ‘Silat’ martial art demonstration, Mak Yong Menora, Thai folk songs, and ‘Wayang Kulit’ an aged old lantern puppet show are enjoyed by each and every one without having to pay any money. That is the kind hearted spirit of Than Lek contributing to the happiness for the society. During this festival, many local Malays from other nearby villages also came to add extra flairs to the celebration by bringing along their Rebana drums and various traditional musical instruments.

Circa B.E.2498
Than Lek was indeed a catalyst in brining unity among the diverse multi-cultural races found in Kelantan. As far as one could recall, there have never been any racial misunderstanding among the people since Than Lek became the abbot of Wat Aril. The society highly respected him as a very holy, good hearted and fair person. Certain group of the society also regarded him as a highly sacred monk.

According to a villager story there was a famous incident about a greedy taxi driver probably during the 50's or 60's.  The story began when Than Lek returned to the temple by a chartered taxi.  The Malay taxi driver purposely over charged the fare by an extra RM5 and without saying a word Than Lek just paid him.  After Than Lek had alighted from the taxi, the driver couldn't start the engine no matter how.  He couldn't find any mechanical fault at all with the vehicle.  The stalled taxi had attracted many of Wat Aril's village folks.  The taxi driver finally gave up hope and decided to take a break.  This is when Than Lek came out and ask what's wrong with his taxi.  In actual fact Than Lek already knew that this greedy taxi driver will not be able to leave Wat Aril's compound.  In a sudden twist of fate, Than Lek just knocked 3 times on the taxi engine hood and then he told the driver to re-start the engine.  Miraculously the taxi engine started to rattle back into life.  This greedy taxi driver felt embarrassed for cheating Than Lek and went to seek forgiveness from Than Lek and returned the RM5.  In today's value RM5 may not seem to be a lot.  But in those early days back in the 50's or 60's it is a big amount.  That's why during Than Lek's days, trouble makers are afraid to cause disturbance at Wat Aril.  

There is no surprise when Venerable Than Lek breathe his last breath on 6th March 1975, Thursday morning at 8.15am, thousands of well-wishers and supporters thronged the temple to pay their last respect.  It's a great loss to the Buddhist community in Kelantan and especially Kampong Aril's majority Siamese folks.  Lord Buddha’s teaching always reminded Buddhist followers on Impermanence or ‘Anicca’ in all compounded matters. Nothing is permanent forever as this is the universal law. The passing away of Than Lek was deeply felt by all Buddhist in the country. As the saying goes; “Monetary debts can be returned in full to the lender, but Kindness shall always be remembered till death”. Although Than Lek had left us forever, may his teachings and compassion be a good example for us to follow.

Than Lek's Protective Amulet Talismans

Sadly, with the increased popularity of Than Lek's amulet talismans, replicas or counterfeits are on the rise. This unavoidable circumstance is expected to happen to many great talismans by great masters.  It is advisable to exercise caution in seeking an authentic piece of Venerable Than Lek's collectible sacred items.  Counterfeit replicas of Than Lek's talismans sold by unscrupulous traders had reached new heights that even experienced local Kelantanese  collectors are victims themselves.  Therefore, we would highlight certain details that we know about in the form of sharing with all good hearted believers of Than Lek's teachings and his humanitarian efforts that had help so many people from all walks of life. 

Old Kelantan Buddhist masters in an undated group photograph presumably taken in the 60's or early 70's. 
For further reading about amulet acquisition technique, please refer to our RED Methodology that was specifically written to provide crucial guidelines in the art of acquring collectible amulets and to minimize risks associated with counterfeit replicas.

Made by Porthan Tian following Than Lek's method
In reality, Than Lek seldom make talismans during his lifetime. It is considered a very rare occasion if you can find a piece of Takrut or amulet made by him.  From my perspective, masters from the pre war era are generally good in creating Kongkrapan Chatri (invulnerability) and other life saving amulets.  Such masters from pre war period taking examples in Kelantan known today are Tok Raja and Than Lek.  Of course there are other great masters too during the 2nd World War.  According to Wat Ariyakiri's legend, in the war many local villagers irrespective of religions came to sought shelter at the temple.  Than Lek was said to have created a magic hallucination by "hiding" the temple away from the view of Japanese soldiers and saved countless innocent life inside the temple compound.  Just imagine those fiercesome Japanese soldiers passing by outside the temple perimeter without even noticing the temple's existence.  

A grim reminder on the remnant of war in Wat Ariyakiri's history. The pegola inside the temple compound depicts 4 standing soldiers representing a British Officer, a British Navy, a British India soldier and a Japanese soldier.   

Also in those dark days of war, people are in distress and in constant fear of getting hurt or being killed.  It is up to those masters to create protective talismans out of compassion for the people.  In the early 60's and 70's the art of making this type of Kongkrapan or danger avoidance efficacy talismans are notably available.  But as time goes by this  arcane knowledge is fading away due to modernization.  I also learned that Than Lek's made sacred items can bring about harmproof and not easily being distracted by negative influences.  Hence, it is up to invididual beliefs and consider it a blessing if you are able to own just one item of Than Lek's highly efficacious talisman treasures.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that Wat Aril's legacy is being well guarded by Thank Lek's 2 most distinctive desciples till today - Porthan Tian, Porthan Soon and Porthan Noon.  The other known desciple is Porthan Long whom passed away already.

With strong faith and belief in the efficacy of talisman amulets bearing the origin of Wat Aril, it  does not matter if that's an old piece made by Than Lek or a newer piece made by the temple.  Again may I remind all of us not to let our 'Tanha' or desire attachment to cause pain in our mind that leads to reckless action in getting this desired amulet.  With high regard, this article is merely sharing of knowledge with no intention to promote the arising of mental defilements among collectors.

This Taolit 2nd Batch circa B.E.2520 is often referred as the Remade model. Issued after Than Lek's passing away. It is good to learn the differences by comparison with 1st Batch phim. Note the differences particularly on the reverse yant imprint of the 2nd Batch.   

Issued by Wat Aril after the demise of Than Lek.

Rian medallion circa B.E.2519 (1976). Rumour says that this phim was given away by Than Lek himself before passing away in 1975.

Concerated in B.E.2544 at Wat Aril by Than Thien.  This model comes in copper and silver color.  No remade batch yet for this phim bearing the image of Than Lek.

Locket pendant issued by Wat Aril after Than Lek passed away.

Than Lek herbs based amulet made by Porthan Noon

Taorit Than Lek mass chanted by temple - (1st mould in plastic casing; 2nd mould without casing). Size is almost identical between the 2 moulds. The only distinct marking is the Yant outlines of both moulds.     

Another stunning masterpiece in gold casing.

Pay attention the fine brush hairline markings on the mouth area and the body surface texture.

Sliced-off Yant wordings at the bottom and brush lines at the top.

2nd Batch important authentication markings. Fine hairlines at the top right corner edge. Wordings of Yant texts are not parallel between top lines and second lines.  
2nd Batch

The Last Respect
For many of us we are still very young or not even born yet when Than Lek passed away in 1975.  We may not know this great man whom had dedicated his entire life to bring betterment to all the people he come across and touched the life of so many.

Perhaps the chronology of Than Lek's cremation ceremony provided here can be useful for all of us to re-witness the last respect for this glorious monk at Wat Aril that took place 3 decades ago in 1978 after his final passing away 3 years earlier in March 1975.  His body was placed in a coffin inside Wat Aril for 3 years for people whom came from far away to pay respect before the cremation.

This cremation ceremony was attended by many senior monks from other places in Thailand and Malaysia and attended by those whose life was uplifted by Than Lek personally, people from both near and far away. 

Funeral Event 

17-5-1978 (Wednesday) 8.30am - 9.30am
Buddhist Rituals and recitation of Dhamma were performed by monks in attendance.

18-5-1978 (Thursday)
Arrival of Buddhist devotees and guests to pay final respect to Than Lek

19-5-1978 (Friday)
9.00am   - Recitation of 'Bang Sekun' and Buddhist chantings by the Sangha Order
9.30am   - Speech by The Royal Consulate General of Thailand
10.00am - Performing the 'Thod Phar Bang Sekun' ritual by The Thai Royal Consulate General
10.05am - Lighting up the funeral pyre by The Thai Royal Consulate General followed by Buddhist recitation chanting by the Sangha Order joined by all Buddhist devotees

20-5-1978 (Saturday)
9.00am - Collecting of Than Lek's ashes and bones at the cremation site
10.30am - Ritual cremony of 'Tak Bat' followed by the offering of alms to monks at the temple.

Burial and Cremation

Man is mortal and death is to be expected.  However, death to a human being is a sad and solemn occasion.  The funeral that follows should also be a solemn one appropriate to the occasions.

Many Buddhist have posed the problem as to whether a deceased person should be buried or cremated.  Buddhism is flexible on this issue. There is no hard and fast rule, although in some Buddhist countries, cremation is the accepted practice.  The choice of one method or another should be left principally to the "last wish" of the deceased or at the direction of the next-of-kin.

In the modern concept however, cremation as a form of hygenic disposal of the body should be encouraged.  With the improvement in health standards and the so-called explosion, usable land is becoming scarce hence it is advisable to resort to cremation and permit the use of valuable land for the living instead of crowding it with innumerable tombstones.

Whether it is by burial or cremation, it has been observed that certain people have been putting into coffin or inserting into the crematorium valuable personal belongings of the deceased with the hope and belief that the departed one would in some way benefit from it.  Apart from sentiments of the act, it is a fallacy to expect the burial or burning of such belongings would have any merit at all.  It would be preferable, instead of putting such things inside the coffin or crematorium, to donate the useful personal belongings, such as clothing, shoes, etc. to the poor and needy or to some charitable institutions. Any help given to the poor and needy is an act of merit.

Disposal of Ashes

The question has often been asked as to what should be done to the ashes of a deceased person who has been cremated.  There is no hard and fast rule as to its disposal.  It could be kept in an urn and enshrined at a pagoda specifically erected in a temple for such a purpose or it could be kept elsewhere at the sole discretion of the next-of-kin.  In some cases, after a short religious service, the ashes are strewn into the sea or river.

Honouring The Dead

The honour and respect due to a deceased person, should normally in the first place, be given by immediate family of the deceased.  This honour and respect could easily be accorded by the children or the next-of-kin in helping to prepare the body to the casket.  Unfortunately, in many instances due to misguided superstitions, needless fear or prejudice, this last duty or respect was seldom carried out by the concerned.  Instead undertakers were employed to cleanse and dress the dead body.  This should not be the case.  Prejudice and superstition should be removed.  Honour and respect must be accorded to the deceased.

Conducting of memorial religious services in temples or at homes is another form of honouring a deceased person.  This could be followed by another act of merit by the offering of alms to the Monks and to needy people.  The holding of memorial services is normally made on the 7th day after the death of the person and again on the 3rd month or the 100th day of the occurance.  For those who could afford it, a more praiseworthy form of merit would be to make donations to religious or charitable institutions in honour of a deceased person, or to publish religious books for free distribution to enlighten the public on the sublime teachings of the Buddha. 

However, Buddhist practices in various parts of the world often differ from one another through being influenced or integrated with local traditions or another customary practices.

May this article caption here bring upon the reflection on death that is certain and unavoidable to all living beings.  With this reflective thought, may we perform goodness and always uphold the Great Teachings of Lord Buddha in our heart.

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu

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