Wat Thong Noppakhun

To approach a temple, one must start with the Abbot (Jao Awat), which involves kneeling to him in his seat. I needed to ask for the TV camera to be allowed to shoot the mural in his main chapel, a building which assumed its present form in the early 19th century.

While waiting, when talking about cats to local laypeople at the temple, one pointed me to an old manuscript cabinet. He said there was a cat book inside, maybe, but at that moment, none dared open the cabinet. It required the attentions of manuscript experts from the Fine Arts Department, but none was available right now.

Finally the Abbot arrived, and was the most genial of hosts. We talked about the mural, and our ETA to film it, we talked about cats and I gave him my book, and then he kept talking about monks' house number eight.

Quarters for celibate monks, or "kuti", are organized in various ways in different temples, and Wat Thong, as common for a largish city monastery, has a structured arrangement of several large C shaped buildings on 2 floors with a court yard, each assigned to a group of monks or "Khana", with accommodation for maybe 15 monks. So what was going on at "Khana Paed" (house number 8)? And where was it?

I wasn't prepared for the sight that greeted me there, and for curses did not have a camera. I spoke a bit with the temple boys who fed the cats, but there was no one much else to talk to about bringing cameras there, as far as I knew then.. the central house was closed, forbidding.

However, this was great news for me. A temple with cats was on the shooting agenda. I'd already visited one candidate temple, Wat Ladsanan in Pathum Thani, which had been interesting enough to provide photos for the book*, 8 years ago. However in 2011 it was now terribly disappointing! Cat colonies can decline for many reasons, whether their principal human benefactors move on or pass away, or some local nuisance comes to the neighbourhood like wild dogs or snakes.

Now seeing the feline riches of Wat Thong, I was greatly heartened that we would be able to shoot cats and murals at the same location - amazing serendipity.

Arriving again with the TV crew, we made a beeline to the chapel. It was decided to open the side windows, keeping back and front closed, for optimal light.

After the mural was captured, I led the team to house number eight. Jaw dropping time for them, as the first thing we saw was a Siamese queen feeding a litter of little Siameses, and feline eyes pointing from all directions in their primaeval cat Eden.

Marc lost no time getting to work and the cats were intrigued by the huge lens of his of his big TV camera, staring right into it. Some novices (boys under the age of 20, but in yellow robes) we had talked to at their lessons, helped provide the human touch. The central room though had opened slightly. Inside a very frail old man, said to be very ill, the senior monk of the Khana. But the cats in there! Beautiful little Siamese kittens by the dozen! But we were only allowed the merest glimpses.

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

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