THE MYTH (The Legend of Khao Mo)

The photograph of Khao-Krai-Las in the grand palace<br />  that used in the royal hair trimming ceremony. From

The photograph of Khao-Krai-Las in the grand palace
that used in the royal hair trimming ceremony. From

Khao mo – meaning “small hill”, a kind of replica mountain (“mo” is derived from “t’mor”, the root of which is the Cambodian word for “stone”), is a form of Thai art that originated in the time of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It is often used as a decorative feature of temples and royal gardens. The journal of a traveler who arrived with a French diplomatic delegation during the reign of King Narai Maharat described the beauty of khao mo on the grounds of the royal residences thus:

“The court of the royal personage is vast and glitters like gold all over… At the four corners of the walled area are clear pools of water. One of the corner pools is the leisurely bathing place of the monarch, beneath a pavilion that shields it from view. To the north are a model mountain, fountains, and rich evergreen bushes. The flowers in these bushes produce sweet fragrances that permeate the entire enclosure […]”

The construction of khao mo gained popularity during the reigns of King Rama V and King Rama VI. It saw a decline in the reign of King Rama VII, during the First World War, which coincided with the time of the Great Depression worldwide, and the 1932 Siamese Revolution. The art form disappeared, preserved by various families who still appreciated it and practiced it.

In the past, the convention was that khao mo existed only in royal palaces, the mansions of lofty personages, and important temples. In the reign of Rama III, among the royal temples that King Nangklao Chao Yu Hua had restored, none was greater than Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan (Wat Pho). This is because, when the King commissioned the demolition of the Chinese and European style structures in the royal park known as Suan Khwa (“Right Garden” – located in the western side of the palace), which belonged to his father, he also ordered the demolition of the model mountain within the garden. His Majesty ordered between 200 and 1,000 people to transport the large rocks used to build the model mountain and use them to adorn the interiors of various royal temples. But as Wat Phra Chettuphon was situated closer to the royal palace than other temples, it received many of the rocks, which were used to build khao mo around the area surrounding the walls of the temple. The evidence appears in one part of Khlong Dan Rueang Patisangkhorn Wat Phra Chettuphon (a poem about the restoration of the temple) thus:

“[His Majesty] Ordered the deconstruction of the mountain

Which his royal father had constructed

In the pleasure garden of the crown of Ayutthaya

Some said a hundred could drag [the rocks]

Perhaps two, three, four hundred could drag [them]

A thousand would move them somewhat

Built many different places

Around the area built touching the palace”

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