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The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand [Hardcover]

Benedict Anderson

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Book Description

June 15 2012
In 1975, when political scientist Benedict Anderson reached Wat Phai Rong Wua, a massive temple complex in rural Thailand conceived by Buddhist monk Luang Phor Khom, he felt he had wandered into a demented Disneyland. One of the world’s most bizarre tourist attractions, Wat Phai Rong Wua was designed as a cautionary museum of sorts; its gruesome statues depict violent and torturous scenes that showcase what hell may be like. Over the next few decades, Anderson, who is best known for his work, Imagined Communities, found himself transfixed by this unusual amalgamation of objects, returning several times to see attractions like the largest metal-cast Buddha figure in the world and the Palace of a Hundred Spires. The concrete statuaries and perverse art in Luang Phor’s personal museum of hell included, “side by side, an upright human skeleton in a glass cabinet and a life-size replica of Michelangelo’s gigantic nude David, wearing fashionable red underpants from the top of which poked part of a swollen, un-Florentine penis,” alongside dozens of statues of evildoers being ferociously punished in their afterlife.
In The Fate of Rural Hell, Anderson unravels the intrigue of this strange setting, endeavoring to discover what compels so many Thai visitors to travel to this popular spectacle and what order, if any, inspired its creation. At the same time, he notes in Wat Phai Rong Wua the unexpected effects of the gradual advance of capitalism into the far reaches of rural Asia.
Both a one-of-a-kind travelogue and a penetrating look at the community that sustains it, The Fate of Rural Hell is sure to intrigue and inspire conversation as much as Wat Phai Rong Wua itself.

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"Sparkling, readable, densely packed." (Guardian) "A brilliant little book." (Observer)"

About the Author

Benedict Anderson is professor emeritus of international studies and politics and government studies at Cornell University. He is best known for Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.


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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Aug. 10 2013
By Wiwat - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I notice a lot of 'hell' tableau in Thai Temples, particularly in the far north (Nan and Phayao). This book could do a better job of explaining how this has come about, what's changed in Thai religious culture, etc. Very desciptive, leaves one wanting some explanation.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind April 2 2013
By JDV - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As far as I know, this is the only book written that discusses the "Hell Temples" of Thailand. I have been to the one in Khorat, and this one in Suphanburi. What I found to be the most useful is translations of the Thai writing on the various sculptures that inform the reader about the "sins" that the tormented are suffering for. I took this book with me in Oct of 2012 to Wat Phai Rong Wua, and it was a great aid in understanding the displays. This book is definitely one of a kind. Buy it if you are interested in Thai Buddhism, occultism, ghosts, or legends...or just want a deeper understanding of Thai culture. These temples are a kind of living "Dante's Inferno"--meant to dissuade sinners from deviating from the Buddhist path. In my opinion, they are also a sort of gimmick for generating money for the temples. As are most of the "gimmicks" that require feeding money into displays found in many Thai temples. Overall, small book, great photos, interesting text and subject. I would buy another copy if the one I have got lost or damaged--just to have it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Hell Jan. 2 2013
By Tony Milton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Interesting insights about Theravada Buddhism in Thailand. Copious photographs of Hells in rural Temples. Great biographical information about the monks and artists involved in creating these special spaces.

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