UNESCO recognition sought for historic Wat Pho inscriptions

Wat Pho (Thai: วัดโพธิ์) or Wat Phra Chetuphon (Thai: วัดพระเชตุพน)

Wat Pho (Thai: วัดโพธิ์) or Wat Phra Chetuphon (Thai: วัดพระเชตุพน)

Thailand will propose that the historic inscriptions and hermit statues teaching traditional Thai yoga at Wat Pra Chetupon Wimolmangalaram be included in the UNESCO Memory of the World (MOW) Programme in 2009.

At a meeting on Monday at the Bangkok temple, Prof. Maenmas Chavalit, chairperson of Thailand’s National Committee on the MOW Programme, said the knowledge inscribed on the walls and embodied in the ancient yoga postures at Wat Chetupon — more commonly known as Wat Pho — had universal value.

“It is not only valuable to Thais,” Khunying Maenmas said, “but the artistic compilations have merit for preserving and sharing with others.”

The inscriptions, engraved on sheets of gold, silver and marble, compile wisdom, ranging from Buddhist precepts and literary works, to treatises on traditional medicine, as well as being a demonstrating record of postures used by hermits. They are believed to have medical benefits for treating muscle and joint pain.

Wat Pho was formerly regarded as the country’s first university, and was built on the orders of King Rama I (1782-1809).

The committee will start a rigorous vetting process to ascertain that Wat Pho would stand scrutiny from UNESCO as a world heritage site to be included in the MOW programme. Khunying Maenmas added the final nomination would be submitted this June.

The committee’s first success was the inclusion of King Ramkhamhaeng’s first inscription in the MOW Programme in October 2003.

It is currently in the process of applying for the 102-year-old abolition of slavery document passed by King Rama V for inclusion in the UNESCO programme.

Preeda Tangtrongchit, director of Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, said he fully supported the committee’s plan. He added that UNESCO recognition of the 200-year-old inscriptions would make Thai traditional massage better known.

The term ”Ruesi Datton” (hermit postures) was earlier used in Japan as the name of a magazine. It also was the name of a shop run by a Thai traditional massage operator in the United States, he said, stating that he is concerned that the term would be misused and misappropriated by foreigners.

Mr. Preeda said he is prepared to sue those who misuse the term as it would reflect badly on Thai traditional massage. He said the Wat Pho massage school has over 100,000 Thai and foreign students a year.

UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Programme in early 1990s to guard against collective amnesia, calling upon the preservation of valuable archives and library collections all over the world ensuring their wide dissemination.