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 Buddha containing a lock of his hair cut off when he began his search for enlightenment. He t engages in discourse with Indra, the green faced king of the gods, and eventually meets and does the same with the Buddha to come, Maitreya.
These manuscripts usually contain the following illustrated scenes: Devas (heavenly beings), monks with laymen, scenes of hell, the picking and offering of the lotus flowers, Chulamani Chedi and the talk with Indra, and people fighting and meditating.
The dating of these manuscripts is done through analysis of the calligraphy, style of painting (during the 19th century, western techniques of painting such as perspective gained popularity), and use of color for background. Depiction of foliage and clouds also offer insight. Ginsburg has the manuscript tradition dying in Thailand with the introduction of the printing press, ca 1906, and this manuscript would date to that period.
The covers are lacquered, the the lower showing some holes and wear. Internally, generally clean with sporadic water stains which fade 2 paintings. My reserve is $300.
Additional information on these manuscripts can be found in Henry Ginsburg's books "Thai Art and Culture" and "Thai Manuscript Painting
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