Candle Carving

I didn’t carve these:

The last two Fridays I’ve been fortunate to get to explore the local temples and wats in Ubon Ratchathani as they prepare for the Candle festival in a few days on July 22 and 23rd.  This blogpost is a chance to share pictures of the temples and also tell you about the preparation going on for the Candle Festival. It’s the biggest, most elaborate religious ceremony in Ubon and every temple is creating its own wax sculpture float for the parade. Each float will depict a scene of the Buddhist tradition in Thailand.

The float at Wat Phra That Nong Bua

One artisan said they started working on their float 50 days ago, another said a few months. Either way, the floats are massive structures, with at least 10 life sized or bigger than life sized figures on each one, covered in ornate scrolling, carving, and designs in orange and yellow wax in a variety of poses and gestures. The floats are made from wooden and metal frames with wax molded over. So even though these are the “candles” in the candle festival, they won’t actually be melted in the parade. Only the carved pillars in the middle will be lit.

I’ve seen two styles so far for the wax sculpting.

1. Carving and chiseling with knives, chisels, and molten wax:

Pouring and setting the wax
Melting more wax in his fire bucket
Progress one week later.
(I spy three friendly ajarns in the background)

All the school kids wants to donate money!


2. Rolling and cutting the wax to press it on the figures.

A different float:
1 week ago.
1 week later
New figures..

I even got to participate in the wax cutting. If you feel like being impressed by how boring it is to watch a person roll out wax with a glass bottle, you can watch this lengthy video of me doing just. What I find interesting about the video, however, is that you get a feel for what it’s like in one of the workshops we visited. You also get to see a master artisan (who isn’t allowed to compete anymore because he always wins) taking time to instruct me.

Eek! Technical video problems, will have to post later.  I know you’re all dying with anticipation.

Instead, amuse yourselves with these pictures of us cutting out the designs, step 2 after rolling the wax into the molds:

Kasey putting on the finishing touches
Ai and Brandon, second-time carvers
Jerica, Hami, Rung, Yuzuko, Dr. Day and Julia in various stages

Cutting out the little forms was incredibly engrossing. Of all the facets of my personality here, my artistic side probably gets the most neglect. This is not a good thing. I don’t realize how much it’s lacking in my life until I’m given a little blade and piece of yellow wax.

My finished products (notice I did not say masterpieces)

Taking time to concentrate on the minute details and share that feeling of absorption with my fellow ajarns was like a salve for the mind. I’m not sure if our cut-outs got any better the second time around, but we’re told they’ll be used in the “community” part of the float. Possibly here?

Being optimistic about where our “community” help will go.

Total, I visited three different wats.

This is the first wat I visited. I liked the closeness of this building in particular. No big open spaces.  It had a safe, homey atmosphere and is built above a pond. Peaceful in the shadows, I felt the wood beneath my fingertips and watched as its subtle intricacies appeared through the dim light.

It was easy to spot the glittery statues in the dark, and I learned that there is a Buddha pose for each day of the week. If you’re Buddhist, you definitely know which day of the week you were born. But since I’m not, I’m sure I can just ask my mom.


Wednesday evening

Turns out, I was born on a Wednesday, but there are two Buddha postures for Wednesday and I didn’t take a picture of Wednesday morning. Nuts. He’s holding an alms bowl to his chest on my day/morning.

  This wat‘s candle sculpture is Buddha being cared for by a god after he drowns:

I got to visit the Wat Phra That Nong Bua both days. It’s probably the most famous in Ubon Ratchathani, and definitely has that initial  ‘Wow!’ factor. Pristine white paint and gold trimmings dominate the quiet garden scene. Everything dazzled, both in the sun and on a cloudy day. And all the way at the top, that tall golden topper is painted entirely with real gold.

Sunny day…

Ai appropriately attired. Jay appropriately posed?


And cloudy day.



Architecture inside:


The third wat was where I got to cut the wax, but it wasn’t until my second visit that I went inside the temple.

Shoes off, good job Ai and Danny!

The murals were painted in warm, rich colors, and the scenes were filled with pattern, repetition, and nuance. It sent me back to the rich colors and design inside Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Krakow, Poland. Although the scenes and patterns are completely different between the two houses of worship, the amount of detail in the designs are amazing and make inviting places to reflect.

Oh, and, fyi, someday I will be trying to recreate these shutters and put them on every window of my future home because I’m in love with them.


To finish up, we saw one last sculpture that we hadn’t seen before. Definitely the scariest:

Especially with this artisan’s cool explanation, complete with sound effects, “Buh-duh-buh-duh-buh-duh!” to illustrate the general scariness going on:

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