Koh Samui’s Mummified Monk at Wat Khunaram is an unusual sight yet it offers a unique insight into Buddhist and Thai culture.
The monk Luong Pordaeng died in 1973 in a seated meditative position, and ever since his body has been on display in an upright glass case at the temple. Remarkably, even more than 30 years on the monk’s body shows little sign of decay. For some visitors, having a dead man in full view might be a shocking sight, but for Thais it is something to reflect upon and revere.
Far from being frightened by death, most Buddhist Thais are highly accepting of the end of life as the natural order of things and they view death as an opportunity to be reborn into a better place, one step closer to nirvana. There are other mummified monks on Koh Samui and throughout Thailand, but Loung Pordang is among the most highly revered.
Loung Pordang is said to have told his followers shortly before his death that if his body were to decompose he should be cremated, but if not then he wanted to be put on display as a visual reminder of the Buddha’s teachings. For Thais, both the life and death of Loung Pordang serves as an inspiration to follow the Buddhist precepts and walk the middle path.
Loung Pordang was born as Dang Piyasilo on Koh Samui in 1894 to a prominent family within the tight-knit island community. Like many Thai Buddhist men, Khun Dang ordained as a monk in his early 20s, where he spent two years at Wat Samret before disrobing and marrying a local woman, with whom he had six children. Later on in life after his children were grown he returned to the monastic life, where he immersed himself into studying Buddhist texts and meditation. The name given to him as a monk was Phra Khru Samathakittikhun.
After spending some time in Bangkok, he returned to Koh Samui where it is believed that he did an intensive meditation session in Tham Yai (Big Cave), and lived out his days as a highly respected monk and abbot. In the week before his death, Loung Pordang, aged 79, stopped eating and speaking, and sat in a deep meditative state before his life slipped away. It is believed that his simple life, healthy diet and long meditation sessions contributed both to his long life and to his body’s amazing preservation after death. The only noticeable change to the body has been the disintegration of the eyes, which have now been respectfully covered by sunglasses.
Aside from the mummified monk, Wat Khunaram is a fairly typical Buddhist temple, where local people come daily to make merit and pray. Amulets and other Buddhist artefacts may be bought, and visitors are welcome to join or observe the daily rituals and have a look around.