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Northern Thai Cremation Structures: Palaces, Mythical Birds, and Visions of Heaven

Colloquium with Rebecca Hall, Independent Scholar

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 - Wednesday, October 19, 2016
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

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Northern Thai funeral arts are elaborate, beautiful objects created for display during a funeral followed by complete destruction in the cremation fire. These arts are made for purposes that extend beyond mere decoration; they serve an active and essential role in the ceremonies that take place after death, helping both the living and the dead to negotiate transition. They give form to the central funerary theme of impermanence and highlight the rewards of a life filled with merit. A great deal of time and money is often taken to create these arts, attesting to their importance for Northern Thai Buddhists.

The most prominent and eye-catching funeral art in Northern Thailand is the prasat sop, a wood and paper cremation structure that houses the coffin. Goals of heavenly rebirth are reflected in the prasat sop cremation structures and their visual references to heaven and Mount Meru. In the case of high-ranking monks in Northern Thailand, cremation edifices borrow from royal funerary imagery and depict the mythical nok hatsadiling, or elephant-headed bird, with a prasat on its back. As the structure is burned with the corpse in the cremation fire, the animal is believed to safely guide the spirit of the deceased to heaven. This presentation is an examination of the prasat sop of Northern Thailand, with specific attention paid to the nok hatsadiling-prasat structure as part of a larger visual language of impermanence, heaven, and religious power.

Rebecca Hall is an independent scholar based in Los Angeles. She received her PhD in Southeast Asian Art History from UCLA in 2008. Recent positions she has held include a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore Maryland (2011-2013) and Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (2013-2016). Recent articles have been published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and Ars Orientalis. Her research interests include an examination of the relationship between art and Buddhist practice and the visual expressions of belief related to the Buddhist cosmology. Her current book project focuses on monk’s funerals in the Chiang Mai region of Thailand.

Cost : Free and open to the public.

Barbara  Gaerlan


Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies