Dr. Seilert allowed me to design the shape of the cabinet and draw all the decorative patterns. To design the cabinet’s shape, the prototype is an old cabinet which is now kept in the Phra Monthientham Chapel of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. All mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinets in this chapel were made in the reign of King Rama I (r. 1782-1809) to store old Buddhist texts. They were made of high quality teakwood with different sizes. All the cabinets are inlaid with Muk Fai or “Flaming Mother-of-pearl” which is the highest quality mother-of-pearl shell. This type of shell will be crystal bright in rainbow colors when it receives light.

     I am glad to know that the artisans who will help create this mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet are the same persons who have restored those ancient mother-of-pearl cabinets in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

     After I got the shape of the cabinet, the next step is to draw the decorative patterns for the artisans to inlay the shells. The decorative patterns on the left, right and front panels of this cabinet will depict a story from the Jataka or the former lives of the Lord Buddha. I choose to depict the story “the rabbit on the Moon” as the decorative patterns for this cabinet. The story describes one former life of the Buddha when he was born as a rabbit.

The mother-of-pearl Tripitaka Scripture cabinet, dating from the early Rattanakosin period, is housed in Hor Phra Montien Tham (the Scripture Hall) of the Emerald Buddha Temple.

     Once upon the time, the Bodhisatva (the Buddha to be) was born as a rabbit. He resides in a forest and behaves all the good deeds. One day the Bodhisatva rabbit intends to devote his body and meat to be food to any poor man who comes into the forest. His strong intention is known by the God Indra who is the King of the Davadingsa heaven. Indra appreciates the rabbit’s intention and wants to save his life from the sacrifice of his body and meat. Indra comes down the earth and disguises himself as an old and poor Brahmin. Then he walks towards the forest where the Bodhisatva rabbit resides.

     When the rabbit sees the old Brahmin who looks starving, he then asks:
     “Venerable, what would you like to have?”
     “I am so hungry. I would like to have some food”, replies the Brahmin.
     “Venerable, I do not have any food supply. I have only my body and meat which I am happy to devote them as your food”, the rabbit says willingly. The he offers:
     “Venerable, please kindly set a fire and I will jump in it. When my body is cooked, please enjoy your meal”.
      With his magical power, Indra Brahmin has a large fire set, but the flame is actually cool. He then says to the rabbit:
     “The fire is ready, you may jump in it!”
     The rabbit does not hesitate. He wishes his great sacrifice return him a better life and then he jumps into the fire. Suddenly, he realizes that the fire is cool. It cannot even burn his body. He says to the Bhramin:
     “Venerable, why is this fire so cool? It cannot even burn my body!”
     Indra Brahmin laughs at the rabbit, and says:
     “Because it is not the real fire, and neither I am a poor Brahmin! I am the God Indra who comes to test your intention.” Indra returns to his real image and says further:
     “You now have devoted your body and meat to me. Your life is now immortal and you have no right to sacrifice it to anybody else. To declare your sacrifice, I will inscribe your image on the surface of the Moon. From now on people on earth can see your image when they look up the Moon."

     Personally, I love the Moon because of its cool and soft light. I always feel happy when I look up the night sky and see the full Moon. Thai people’s old way of life has been close to the Moon. Lunar calendar was very significant during our ancestor’s time. The Moon is always mentioned in lots of our old nursery rhymes and tales, including this story of the Bodhisatva rabbit.

     The depiction of the story of the Bodhisatva rabbit on the panels of the mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet will be clockwise presented. The story will start on the left panel, showing the first scene of the story in which the Bodhisatva rabbit and different kinds of animal residing happily in the forest. On the right panel one can see a scene of Indra’s heaven and his incarnation as an old and poor Bhramin to save the rabbit’s life. The other scenes, such as the sacrifice of the rabbit and Indra inscribing the rabbit’s image on the surface of the Moon, will be continued on the two door panels at the front part of the cabinet.

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