The story of Phra Malai is one of the most popular subjects of 19th century Thai manuscripts. The earliest examples of these Thai manuscripts date to the late 18th century even though the story is much older. It assumed to be based on a Pali text from Sri Lanka, though anonymous Thai versions may date to the 15th or 16th century. Phra Malai is mentioned in a Burmese inscription from the 13th century. In 19th century Thailand, this became a very popular preaching text for weddings and funerals.
Phra Malai is a monk who attained supernatural powers through his accumulated merit and meditation. He visits heaven and hell and describes to the people what he has seen. By his visit to hell, he temporarily brings respite to the suffering of it's inhabitants, who implore him to to warn their relatives on earth of the horrors of hell and how they may escape it through good deeds and meditation. On earth, he receives an offering of lotus flowers from a woodcutter, which he promises to bring to heaven and offer at the Chulamani Chedi, a monument to the Bud ... read more