I was walking in the central part of the Sukhothai Historical Park when I chanced upon this masterpiece in the deserted shrine of Wat Sorasak.
Commissioned to be built in the early 1400s by a monk named Nai Inthara Sorasak, its purpose was to honor the governor of that province.
This piece could have been a scene from ancient Sri Lanka; the influence of that country’s architectural motifs was unmistakable, from the stroke of the chisel to the slather of the trowel. In awe, I gazed at the parade of 24 stucco elephants that protectively emerged from the bricks holding up the chedi.
“These elephants,” Maew, my guide, told me, “are eternally upholding our great tenets of Buddhism.” The bricks that make up the base have been worn away by 600 years of exposure to the elements, but the stucco was firmly holding up the line of resolute pachyderms.
I would have liked to do a quick sketch, but the mosquito orchestra was getting a bit sonorous and aggressive. A photograph seemed like the most painless option at hand. Later, I made this drawing in a couple of hours in the air-conditioned comfort of my room.
Three decades of incessant travel, painting and writing have transformed me in ways both large and small. My wanderings have changed how I interact with family and friends, guests from across a border, and acquaintances from distant lands. Closer to home, it has changed even the way I think of myself.
I’ve gained a deeper understanding of human beliefs and learned to look past differences in color and credos, coming to the simple yet profound realization that at the end of the day, despite all our superficial differences created by religion, politics or prejudices, everyone around the globe is really the same.
Thanks to my rambles, the world has become to me a wonderfully small and familiar place.
In the process, I’ve learned quite a bit about people and their practices, and am truly amazed by the many ways we think and speak. While touching someone on the head is a blessing in my native India, such a gesture is sacrilege in nearby Thailand.
In many parts of the Middle East, you never touch food or even the table with your left hand, and you never acknowledge a scrumptious lunch with a thumbs-up sign! Several wallets lighter, I’ve come to understand that haggling techniques vary greatly by the country I’m in and also depends on whether I am on solid ground or helplessly perched upon a camel in the middle of the desert.
Exposed to the strangest of tongues during my travels, I’m often possessed by a burning desire to speak them. I pack old-school, dog-eared phrasebooks along with my palette, toothbrush and shaving cream. My stuttered attempts at someone else’s language often elicit a controlled giggle or even outright laughter. Printed words won’t tell you that Thai is a tonal language sprinkled with grammatical minefields or that Mandarin and Cantonese have a lilt to them, flowing like India ink applied with a delicate brush.
All my life I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in spiritually powerful celebrations that have had a deep impact on me. Growing up in India, I relished the excitement of Diwali day, the Hindu festival of lights. At dawn we would set off fireworks that exploded high above in a dazzling blaze of colors. Thus is darkness banished by light, just as goodness triumphs over evil.
Later, living in Thailand with my family, we never missed the November evening, illuminated by a full moon, walking along the crowded banks of the Chao Phraya River as the faithful launched krathongs — boats fashioned out of banana leaves, laden with candles, flowers, and joss-sticks, set into the waters with prayers, hopes and wishes.
During my time spent in Israel, our friends and their families celebrated Hanukkah in December with candelabras representing the eight continuous nights that a flame, against all odds, burned in an ancient temple—a holy miracle.
Sometimes, at unexpected moments, I experience soul-stirring events that feel as sacred to me as the man-made celebrations of religions and faiths. In the Alaskan tundra high above the Arctic Circle, I witnessed nature rejoicing in its cherished moments in quiet ceremony. As the sun sinks into torpid slumber, cold winter shrouds the land in what will be months of secret darkness. Suddenly the sky is illuminated by breathtaking bands of green, lilac, blue and purple—as if some exuberant artist is splashing colors on a celestial canvas, lighting up a desolate world.
These—and more—are the moments of divinity I strive to capture through pen and paint.
Author: Krish V. Krishnan
Assistant Editor: JoJo Rowden / Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s own