Luang Pu

Phra Khru Wiboon Yanakij is the senior monk of Khana Paed and over 91 years old, and therefore appropriately addressed as Luang Pu, "Holy Grandfather". The first time I managed to talk to him, was in the company of Stephane Montelheit, soon after the Animal Planet filming Two more visits followed, with Cristy Bird's friend Jenni Toivoniemi, and I've been back since.

He occupies the ground unit of House number 8, surrounded by the cutest Siamese kittens I've seen anywhere. As befits his advanced years, he's rather frail and prone to illness, but in conversation perfectly lucid.

It was he that brought up the connection with Somdet Phra Puttajan*, a former abbot of Wat Anongkharam, another, much larger left bank temple less than a kilometre upstream of Wat Thong. When he died, a committee commissioned a funeral book for him which was almost certainly the first time the text of the Tamra Maew was moved from samut khoi to the printed page, the book dated to 1953.

The committee made it clear he was known when alive for both raising kittens and studying the Tamra Maew, with an explicit link of choosing cats "that matched those in the treatise"*

At 91 years old, Luang Pu was 32 at the time of this funeral and as he told me, had every opportunity to interact with Somdet Phra Puttajan as a fully mature monk, including witnessing the raising of cats, an inspiration for having cats in his quarters himself.

Therefore, he has every claim to be a living continuous lineage of the Tamra Maew and breeding cats in the temple, one which could be passed to the monks in his quarters. As mentioned previously, Luang Pu's colony at Wat Thong gives a very good idea of what breeding was like, when the Tamra Maew was the only text for guidance. For the record, I didn't see Luang Pu had a copy, but he mentioned it, and I gave him one of my books, so he has now :)

The cats are not separated or caged in any way, and find ample space in the nooks and corners of the big building, or in the branches of the mature trees in front of it. The house, with its forbidding front wall, is somewhat their refuge from canine and other interlopers.

They are fed by men called "dek Wat" who are laymen to whom devolve all tasks of maintenance unsuitable for the monks to do themselves. Dek Wat feed the cats at specified meal times and also organize medicine and vets when the cats are ill, and Fan is one of them.

He mischievously recounted to me the tale of a Siamese cat which a layperson had wanted to take for himself for the princely sum of 2,000 baht. Once the cat figured she was to be taken away, however, she was far too quick for her captors and darted to the upper branches of the trees and the roof of the building, eluding all attempts at capture. In celebration of this, she has been known ever since as Song Pan (2,000).

He also explained to me that Luang Pu had started with one Siamese queen who was still producing litters when we were there. Of course her sires are not documented, but at least one must have had the requisite genes to produce what looks like many pure looking seal point Siamese. Some cats have what looks like the full complement of Copper genes, and there is an intriguing Siamese-Copper pair who are almost certainly siblings. I've come across this before, in a pair I used to own, and the genetics of this are maybe worthy of further study. But don't they look lovely?

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All text and photos © Martin Clutterbuck 2012-3, unless otherwise indicated.

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