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The Lost History of Wat Balai

Wat Pathumviharn is popularly known as Wat Balai seemingly because this temple is located at Kampong Balai - a serene Siamese village setting in Bachok, Kelantan. Like many other old Thai temples in the surrounding state of Kelantan, Wat Balai once served as an important sanctuary for many generations of the Thai Buddhist community living here. With a long history of Wat Balai dating back 400 years ago into ancient Siam Kingdom, it is only natural that many of its important history and glory would have been gradually forgotten from one generation after another.

Internet search does not reveal much information about Wat Balai. This may be a reason why most people when visiting Kelantan pay very little attention to this temple. Therefore, it is vital to preserve its lost history and legacy for the benefit of the many faithful Buddhist devotees. The lost history of Wat Balai’s been presented here is based on Wat Balai’s official publication record for sharing purpose in the hope that more people will come to know and appreciate its history.

Not many know that Wat Balai inherited 2 invaluable Buddhist Relics namely Phra Kiaw Kaew (Buddha’s tooth) and Phra Boromsaririkathart (Sarira in the form of bone fragment after cremation of a Buddhist master). In Thai context, we refer these two relics as Borommathart. Sadly there was no written record of the Borommathart’s origin. The only record is from some recollection stories revealed by Kampong Balai’s village folks whom had lived here throughout their entire life supporting the temple’s development. To begin with, let’s rewind the history clock back to the time during Porthan Samudi’s life as far as history recalls.

The Life Story of Porthan Samudi

The background story was related by Porthan Samudi’s younger sibling brother named Pusang. When Porthan Samudi was at his tender age around 16-17 years old, he succumbed to a rare skin disease at his foot. Boys at his age like to tease and play pranks at him. One day a group of delinquent youth purposely put a centipede to sting his foot. Porthan Samudi can’t help the feeling of sadness from the humiliation and physical torment. Almost at that same time a group of monks planned a pilgrimage trip to visit Nakhon Si Thammarat. Porthan Samudi earnestly followed the pilgrimage trip and thereafter he resided at a temple in Pattalung together with the monks. The monks that went with him decided to return to Kelantan whereas Porthan Samudi wanted to stay back at the temple to study Buddhism and learn some other knowledge that may be available to him. Unfortunately there’s no mention of the temple name in Pattalung.

Porthan Samudi had learned different knowledge from his Phra Ajahn at Pattalung temple where he resided. Practicing what he had learned from Phra Ajahn his foot disease miraculously recovered. Delighted with his full recovery, his devotion to Phra Ajahn grew even more. At the right age he entered the Sangha Order and continued learning under Phra Ajahn and successfully gained knowledge in invulnerability to weapons or ‘Kongkrapan Chatri’. Apart from that, he also learned traditional herbal medicines under the tutelage of Phra Ajahn.

While still at Pattalung, another pilgrimage chance came upon for Porthan Samudi. This time is to go to Sri Lanka to pay homage to Lord Buddha’s relics. He successfully went on this voyage and brought back Phra Kiaw Kaew with him. Porthan Samudi was given another 5 different shapes of Phra Sila Yok from a temple in Myanmar along the way back. The Phra Kiaw Kaew and Phra Sila Yok are all kept in this temple in Pattalung.

When Porthan Samudi was in his 40s, he wrote a letter home to Pusang in Kelantan. In that letter he mentioned that he had the intention to disrobe and join the armed forces. After hearing this news in the letter, Pusang went to Pattalung to persuade his elder brother to change his mind and return to Kelantan. After a long persuasion, only then Porthan Samudi decided to follow Pusang to return home to Kelantan. When asked which temple was his preference of stay, Porthan Samudi chose Wat Malaivanaram because there’s already a Chaoawat or Abbot in Wat Pathumviharn (Wat Balai) at that time.

Pusang and Porthan Samudi returns to Kampong Balai bringing along Phra Kiaw Kaew and the 5 Phra Sila Yok through Songkhla Sea and reaching Kemasin port. The year was B.E.2416 (A.D.1873). The Buddhist treasures were since kept safely at Wat Malaivanaram for veneration. Porthan Samudi successfully developed the temple to its highest glory and had many able students that are well respected by the local community.

The above life stories was recollection from a villager named Wie Foot Song (or Nai Dam). There are some other stories pertaining to Porthan Samudi’s life during his tenure in Kelantan.

The Outraged Elephant

A male elephant was found foraging for food nearby the village. A local villager took the elephant to work on the farm land. One day, a group of village hooligans made a practical joke by giving the elephant fruits that are mixed with chilly. After consuming the tainted fruits, the elephant became outraged and rampage the village destroying properties. Upon seeing the berserk elephant rampaging throughout the entire village, the owner tried to stop it from any further damage but was killed instead by the elephant tusk. The terrified villagers then ran to report this tragic incident to Porthan Samudi. After hearing the news, Porthan Samudi then used his special telepathy ability to call upon the elephant to come over to the temple. The elephant finally came to the temple but Porthan Samudi was not in at that time. When the villagers saw Porthan Samudi returning to the temple, the villagers advised him not to enter the temple fearing for his life. To everyone’s surprise, Porthan Samudi said he was the one who called the outraged elephant to meet him at the temple. He then entered the temple compound to meet the waiting elephant and held its tusk before freeing the tight chain on its neck. Phothan Samudi then sprinkled some holy water onto the elephant body before telling the elephant to leave the village and find food faraway from human so that it will be hurt again in the future. After that the elephant slowly walked away and was never been seen or heard again.

The Notorious Tok Janggut

When Porthan Samudi was residing at Wt Malaivanaram, there was a gang of notorious robbers very much feared by all villagers. The leader of this group was known as Tok Janggut who possessed black magic. One day the gang leader decided to rob Wat Malaivanaram. When the gang was entering the temple’s area, Porthan Samudi through his psychic power knew about the robbery attempt. Without hesitation Porthan Samudi went to meet the uninvited robbers at the path leading to the temple. When the robbers got nearer suddenly all the members of the robbery gang felt excruciating pains on their body and dropped to the ground screaming for help. Tok Janggut used his black magic to try to sustain the painful sensation but to no avail. All the robbers could hear was voices of Porthan Samudi but this mysterious monk is invincible to the robbers’ eyes. Out of ideas and given up hope in the struggle, Tok Janggut sought for forgiveness from the miraculous monk and he also promised not to rob the temple again. The gang leader requested to meet with Porthan Samudi in person and to seek pardoning. Not long after that, Porthan Samudi appeared at sight and the robbers raised their hands asking for forgiveness and also promised not to cause any more trouble in the village. Such was the story concerning the high attainment of Porthan Samudi’s bravery and his miraculous ability to subdue black magic.

A Lesson in Life

While Porthan Samudi was developing the temple many volunteers came forward to offer help voluntarily. Among all the volunteers who came to help, there was one particular worker that caught Porthan’s attention for taking a lot of time to sharpen the cutting tools required for the wooden constructions at the temple. One day Porthan Samudi decided to approach the worker to see the work progress and realized that all the cutting tools are not sharp enough. Porthan Samudi requested this lazy worker to carry on sharpening the cutting tools. After some time Porthan went over to that worker again to see the progress and to his dismay all the cutting tools are still not sharpen up to expectation. In order to admonish that lazy worker, Porthan Samudi purposely challenged the worker to test the tool’s sharpness by piercing into Porthan’s body. After much deliberation and without hesitation the worker took one of the hack tools and pierced as hard as he could into Porthan’s body. Surprisingly there was not a single scratch. Later that worker realized that Porthan Samudi possessed invulnerability power and immediately he went to seek forgiveness. The morale of this story from Porthan Samudi’s perspective is to teach people that laziness by living on other’s hard work is not a good way of life.

The Great Escape

Once upon a time while residing at Wat Pathumviharn (Wat Balai), Porthan Samudi wished to construct some Kutis - small wooden residence for monks. But the wooden materials are not enough for the construction works. He sought help from villagers to find a Cengal tree at the forest for this construction effort. At last the villagers found a Cengal tree and tried chopping it down for 7 days without any result despite their best effort. Bluffed by this occurrence, the villagers reported to Porthan Samudi. When Porthan went near to this Cengal tree standing at a certain direction, the tree would amazingly turn around to face Porthan’s standing direction. Later when Porthan Samudi placed his hands on the tree to try to push it down to the opposite direction but instead it fell crushing down on top of him. Terrified by what happened all the villagers tried their best to save Porthan Samudi by removing the large tree trunk. It took nearly one day for the villagers to remove the gigantic tree away and to everyone’s surprise they found Porthan Samudi survived from the deadly incident with only light injury. He was accompanied back to the temple for treatment.

The Search for Phra Kiaw Kaew

A senior citizen from Kampong Balai by the name of Mr. But Srisuwan once told Than Plen (the present Chaowat) that 66 years ago when he was just only 22 years old then, Mr. But recalled hearing from another old man named Jo Bo that Pothan Samudi brought Phra Kiaw Kaew to Wat Malaivanaram.

For info, Wat Malaivanaram old site location is not far away from current Wat Balai.  According to villagers the abandoned old temple ground is said to radiate extreme negative energies.  Until today nobody is able to live near to the vicinity of the old temple ground.

Mr. But Srisuwan
Mr. But was a "Bomoh" or Shaman, skilled in traditional art of healing and counter black magic.  He had since passed away.  

Later on a Mr. Thik Wanwiklai and several others Kampong Balai old folks came forward to relate their stories to Than Plen that they have witnessed Phra Kiaw Kaew being venerated each year during Songkran festival. This further strengthened the existence of this sanctified object last seen at Wat Malaivanaram from the legacy of Porthan Samudi.

After the passing away of Luang Phor Suk, the last Chaowat of Wat Malaivanaram, the temple has no caretaker and was left unattended. During this period of time, Phra Khru Viriyaksangvorn (Porthan Phut) the past abbot of Wat Balai had jurisdiction over Wat Malaivanaram. It was said that that Porthan Phut and Mr. Deng Panthumart had transferred the Phra Kiaw Kaew over to Wat Balai for safekeeping.

In 1995 a group of old kampong folks told Than Plen to search in Wat Balai premises for the supposedly available Phra Kiaw Kaew. Than Plen relentlessly searched the entire temple but did not find it. Again on Mac 2003 another gentleman from Narathiwat, Thailand by the name of Mr. Phon Nilabut brought up the matter again regarding Phra Kiaw Kaew during a visit to Wat Balai. Than Plen searched for the second time again for the lost Phra Kiaw Kaew and during this attempt he discovered a lotus shape tinkled box hidden inside a secret compartment on top of the “mondop”.

When Than Plen opened the box he found a strange object covered with gold that resembled a human tooth. He then scrapped the gold surface and saw what was believed to be the missing Phra Kiaw Kaew. After receiving opinions from other senior monks in Kelantan and Thailand about the authenticity of this sacred object, a ceremony was conducted on 13 June 2003 to reveal the findings of Phra Kiaw Kaew for veneration by all Buddhist devotees.  This was indeed a great finding to revive its apparently lost history. 

According to temple history the “mondop” was erected in 1973 by Porthan Phut for keeping important Buddhist veneration objects including the Phra Kiaw Kaew and Phra Boromsaririkathart. With regards to the 4 pieces of Phra Boromsaririkathart that was found together with Phra Kiaw Kaew, there’s not much background history as to its origin but it was said to have been kept at Wat Balai for many generations.

On 13/6/2003 a blessing ceremony was organized in veneration to Phra Kiaw Kaew and Phra Boromsaririkathart at Wat Balai.  The event was witnessed by many devotees who came from all over the country including neighboring fellow Buddhists from Thailand.

The ceremony was lead by Than Prak Khru Rajkuknaphon (Chau Khun Chan) Chief Monk Wat Sungai Padi, Narathiwat.  This important ceremony was attended by many other senior monks from all over.

The Royal Thai General Consulate in Kelantan was invited as guest of honour to light up the candle to officiate the ceremony at Wat Balai. 

Apart from the Borommathart treasures revealed thus far, Wat Balai also housed Sarira of Lord Buddha Sakyamuni given as a gift from Myanmar. Sarira is generally used to refer to the pearl or crystal-like bead-shaped objects that are purportedly found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters. These objects are considered relics of significant importance in many sects of Buddhism since they are believed to embody the spiritual knowledge, teachings, realizations or living essence of the spiritual masters. They are taken as evidence of the masters' enlightenment and spiritual purity. Some believe that the sariras are deliberately left by the consciousness of a master for veneration, and that the beauty of the sariras depends on how well the masters had cultivated their mind and souls. Sariras come in a variety of colors, and some are even translucent.

With a strong sense to understand how Wesak Day is been celebrated by Thai Buddhist communities in Kelantan, we grabbed this once-a-year opportunity to witness the festive mood for ourselves. One must have thought that the festive ambience must be very joyous due to the many Thais community. But in reality most temples here celebrate Wesak moderately without much noticeable activity. Perhaps this was due to financial constraints of most temples. However, you can still receive blessings when paying a visit to the temples as most abbots will be around on this day.

The main shirne Ubosot hall is half completed still requiring generous donation from the public.  It's been several years since construction begun and due to the lack of funding the construction progress had been slowed down.  According to Than Plen the construction will go on in stages as and when there's funds.  When there's no funds, Than Plen with the help of others will carry out the construction works themselves.

A colorful atmosphere had certainly brought life back to this once important temple that served the Thai Buddhist communities here. In order to make every event successful such as Wesak or Songkhran,  helpers would come from all over Kelantan and other states to lend a helping hands.  Solidarity in the hearts of the people is what makes Wat Balai astounding.

Rian Sivali featuring abbots of Wat Balai; Porthan Samudi, Porthan Kior, Porthan Krai, Porthan Phut and lastly Than Plen

Unlike any other temples in Kelantan which usually organize a more down-to-earth activities with cultural shows and folk songs, Wat Balai on the other hand is an exceptional case whereas Than Plen’s approach in uniting the many facets of the Siamese community in Kelantan especially Bachok communities with a very lively atmosphere.

The weather was rather hot and humid but this doesn't stop people from coming to Wat Balai during the day to partake in Puja and listeneing to the Dhamma teachings.  Tiredness from the long travel journey to come all the way here to witness the colorful celebration at Wat Balai is well paid off with a sense of resounding joy.

A very old amusement game called 'tikam' meaning try your luck was a definate crowd puller for most visitors.  This funfare game is pretty simple. By just paying RM1.00 you get a long stick with a hook at the end to pull down the hanging color cards with a number written inside.  If your number matches those numbers on the prizes, you can take the prize home.  We got lucky to win a piece of Batik Sarong from our attempt after 10 rounds (RM10.00) of trying.  After all the collection of money from this fun game goes to the temple.   

Kampong Balai's village folks are naturally nice people to talk to and in general Kelantanese are always willing to lend a hand.  Buddhists from all walks of life, irrespective rich or poor, young and old are welcomed openly at Wat Balai. You can almost feel at an instance that you are a part of this big community after blending in with the rest of the folks.

Wat Balai had organized 2 nights of staged performance by inviting 2 female pop artistes from Bangkok in order to light up this year's Wesak festive ambience.  News travelled all over Kelantan and huge crowds especially youngsters came to enjoy listening to their favorite songs in the evening.

For the purpose of entertainment in this article below is a music clip not from the actual event simply for pure listening enjoyment to all readers.  Tata Young LIVE at Impact Arena, Bangkok.

A great opportunity came upon during this Wesak occasion to seek Than Plen personally to re-bless the last batch waist Takrut made by him.  The picture below is Than Plen seen chanting by holding the Takrut piece in his hand.  Than Plen made only 2 batches of Takrut in the past and this final batch Takrut was made in early 2011 which also happens to be the 2nd batch. Since this last batch (2nd batch) there has been a lot of requests pouring in to ask Than Plen to make the 3rd batch. But all requests were turned down as Than Plen was very determined not to make anymore of these miraculously superb waist Takruts following Wat Balai's magical sciences.   


In conjunction with this year's Wesak celebration 5th May 2012 (B.E.2555), Than Plen will issue the last and final batch of Mai Tao Tongkat/Pen.  An earlier batch Tongkat Pen was released in 2010 and without any doubt there's a very strong demand for Than Plen's tongkat.   

With increasing popularity for the Mai Tao Tongkats, this year 2012 batch would be his last.  Visitors who have strong faith and affinity surely don't want to miss this opportunity to keep a piece of Than Plen's sacred object in return for donating the much required funds for Wat Balai's building construction efforts.

"Saya tidak membuat sebarang barang sebab Wat ini terdiri daripada sami-sami yang terkenal"

"I don't anyhow make something because this Temple has good reputations"

Words from Than Plen

We sincerely hope that we have achieved our objective to re-instate the lost history of Wat Balai and the way of life on how Wesak was being cherished and celebrated by Kelantan's Buddhist community.  With life expected to cease at any moment, may we also gain the Dhamma essence to liberate ourselves on this very day of triumphant victory as shown to us by Lord Sakyamuni Buddha.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

Other Related Articles on Kelantan Temples

Wat Balai Last Batch Mai Tao

Takrut - Sacred Incantation Scroll

Wat Ariyakiri, Kelantan

Visiting Kelantan's Thai Temples

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