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Home > Thai Buddhist Monk's Chairs

Thai Buddhist Monk's Chairs

Thai Buddhist Monk's Chairs

These deep, low monks' chairs, many of which have found their way into domestic interiors, have a specific function. Known as tham mat, the chairs are intended for use by monks when preaching or reading the sacred scripture to a congregation. They are, in fact, just one of several designs of the ecclesiastical seat, some of which are elaborate tall structures with tiered spire roofs, others plainer and lower. All fulfil the same role as the pulpit in a church.

The Thai preaching seat has its origin at the beginning of the Sukhothai period, during the reign of King Ramkamhaeng. A 1301 inscription records that a stone throne called Phra Thaen Manangkasila-asna, which the king had built, was used by senior monks to preach from. Since then, three kinds of pulpit have evolved. The oldest, known as a thaen or tiang, and deriving from the original Sukhothai model, is a simple rectangular seat without a back rest, standing about 50 cm (20 in) high. From time to time made of stone, it is more commonly made of wood, with short legs that are often re-curved into representations of a mythical lion's paws, known as kha singh. This plain style is likely to be found in agrarian monasteries. A second style of dais is the one shown right, below. The design has become popular as an item of secular furniture, not just in the West

A distinguishing characteristic is its depth; if used as a contemporary style of seating in the West then it needs a cushion behind to hold up the back. Because the chair was actually a raised dais and the monk thus sat with his legs crossed on it with his feet raised of from the ground, and so it required to have the extra depth. With its lion's legs', it may be used directly on the floor or raised on a larger companying platform.

 The most detailed style of pulpit, and historically the most recent, is the thammat yot, also known as the busabok thammat. A busabok is a tiered container, with a narrowing top, for enshrining a Buddha effigy. This third kind of dais takes its name from its similar appearance. The elegant, tall structure, shown on right, is a tiered, wooden tower consisting of a base, body and apex. It looks far more like a Western pulpit than do the less sophisticated seats, apart from the fact that it has a highly ornamental appearance, the carved surfaces typically being gilded. The seat is within the body, and accessed by steps at the back or side, either built in or as a separate ladder. Dramatic constructions, they are too large and prevailing to be seen outside monasteries. 

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