In Thai ceremonies you often see a tall flower arrangement with folded leaves (banana or pandanus) known as Bai Sri tree. As well as krathong, where a pandan or banana leave is folded and stitched together to form a cup. Its very Southeast Asian where in Singapore/Malaysia among the Malays you see weaving of pandanus into ketupat rice cakes.
According to Alex Kerr, in Bangkok Found, this Baisri is a form of architecture. A re-creation of sacred Mt Meru that stretches from India through China and Japan. Meru is the centre of the universe at the peak of which Lord Indra sits with his trident, surrounded by the cosmic.
In Baisri, rising cones and multi-layered extensions of folded bamboo leaves create the details of Mt Meru. This theme is continued in the layout of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the layout of Wat Arun in Bangkok.
Baisri grows from the repetition of many tiny details – a typically Thai approach to art. (I highly recommend Kerr’s book, and can’t wait to read his Book on Japan. He’s actually considered a Japan expert before he moved to Bangkok.)
Above: The grounds of Mandarin Oriental, a European style garden.
Flower arrangements at the Oriental Mandarin by the Chao Praya River.
Baisri – petal folded upon petal to create an elaborate organic form into a huge imaginary flower. Flowers from an alternate universe.
On the streets of Thailand, you see garland sellers with jasmine garlands dangling over dashboards. Very South Indian.
Folded lotuses float in water.
My next trip I’ll certainly visit Pak Klong Talad or the Bangkok Flower Market which opens 24hrs. Best time to visit is after mid-night. If Bangkok is too hot for you, then go at night.
Intricate weaving of the White Elephant’s shawl with Jasmine buds.
Elephants have been revered in Thailand for many centuries. As strong beasts of burden, they were important in battles. A white elephant is even included in the flag of the Royal Thai navy, and the “order of the white elephant” is one of the highest honours, bestowed by the king.
White elephants are linked to Hindu mythology where Lord Indra is depicted sitting on an elephant in Mt Meru. In Thai Buddhist tradition, on the eve of the birth of the Buddha, his mother reportedly dreamed of a white elephant presenting her with a lotus flower, a common symbol of wisdom and purity. (See Wikipedia)
Keeping a white elephant was a very expensive undertaking, and would drain anyone’s resources. The owner had to provide the elephant with special food and provide access for people who wanted to worship it.
If a Thai King became dissatisfied with a subordinate, he would give him a white elephant. The gift would, in most cases, ruin the recipient. Hence, the phrase, a white elephant, an expensive but useless object, yet unable to dispose. Like the set of expensive Chinaware your grandma gives you for your wedding.
Art of folding leaf cups: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WX–YOyuaYs