Muang Sema: The City Among the Moats

Muang Sema is certainly not a well-known site among travellers. Like most of the other major Dvaravati sites, it is ignored or glossed over by the major guidebooks. It has been visited by a few plucky bike-riders and bloggers, who have raised its profile (at least a little) on the Internet, but they have mostly not been excited about what they have seen either. Without any of the soaring architecture of Khmer temples such as Phimai, it was not an obvious drawcard. Nonetheless, it remained somewhere that we wanted to see, if only for its important role in history. After all, it has been suggested that (along with Si Thep) Muang Sema was one of the two main settlements through which the Buddhist culture of Dvaravati had permeated the Khorat Plateau. The region had long been the ‘gateway to Isaan’.

The site is set about 32 kilometres from the capital of Nakhon Ratchasima province. It is on the banks of the Lam Takhong River, with is one of the major tributaries of the Mun River. As is typical of ‘Dvaravati’ sites in Thailand, Muang Sema is an oval-shaped moated settlement. For archaeologists, these egg-shaped moats are one of the identifying features of a Mon-Dvaravati city. This moated area is especially large, being three kilometres wide and four kilometres long. This was a particularly massive for a city of that era, marking out the site as a former centre of some importance.

This moat is still visible today; in fact, it is possibly the single most prepossessing feature of the site. In coming from the Reclining Buddha- our first stop in Sung Noen- the moat was the first part of the city that we saw. Filled with dark water and partly choked with water-weeds, it has a swampy, frog-accommodating look. There was a man out in a small a wooden boat, fishing in its waters. As so often in Thailand, modern village existed right alongside the ancient past. We also talked about the logistics of building the moat. In terms of the work hours involved, it would have been a sizable project at the time, attesting to the power of the local ruler. Judging from the important Buddhist religious structures in the area, he was probably also a protector of the faith.

The modest remains of Muang Sema, located in a parkland setting

Our driver pulled up inside the moat and we wandered towards the largest of the ruins, a mere, low-lying jumble of bricks. Here we found a metal signboard which announced the site and gave a brief overview of its history. It suggested that the site had been founded in the Dvaravati period, around the 7th to 8th centuries, and had later been occupied by the Khmers. One inscription from the site mentioned the overlord of a kingdom called Sri Canasa, and a later one mentioned King Jayavarman V, who ruled Angkor around the end of the first millennium AD. It mentioned that most of the excavated material was similar to that was other Dvaravati sites, but there was a Khmer overlay. This mixed Dvaravati and Khmer heritage was also evident in the moats; while the larger egg-shaped moat was Mon, it contained a smaller, rectangular moat that was attributed to the Khmers.

With this overview in mind, we set off to explore the monuments of the moated city- as meager as we expected them to be. As it turned out there really was very little above ground level, with only the barest outlines of the original monuments remaining. The largest of them, known as Monument 1, must have been an impressive structure in its day, as it measured 46 by 50 metres. It has been suggested that this was the vihara of a monastery. The second largest ruin was known as Monument 4 and it was probably the ubosot, where the monks performed religious rites. A short staircase was discernible at the front. There were also some leaf-shaped bai sema (Buddhist boundary markers)  outside this structure, which had helped archaeologists to discern its original function. However, unlike in Central Isaan, the bai sema here were very plain and did not contain any narrative art.

The restored base of an octagonal stupa

Apart from these main two monuments, there was five more minor ruins scattered around the area. These were much smaller in size, and are presumed to have been stupas on the grounds of the monastery. Some of them were square-based, and some of them were octagonal, but so scant are the remains that they barely rise above the grass today. Overall, the site showed the value of doing some research in advance: If we hadn’t read something about Muang Sema beforehand, it would have been hard to make anything at all of the slight remains. Having read Steven Murphy’s essay about the place, we at least got the sense of a ruined monastery.

This religious area was only a tiny corner of the ancient city, but it was the only part with any remains at all. Presumably the rest of the city had been built in perishable materials such as timber, which had left no trace at all. Having quickly surveyed the abandoned site, we climbed back into the van and headed back to the main road. From there we got on a bus heading into Nakhon Ratchsima, which turned out to be the same one which had been waiting in Sung Noen market early that day.


The Reclining Buddha of Sung Noen

From Pak Chong, we got on the Nakhon Ratchasima bus, which we had learned passed right through Sung Noen: the town which was home to both Wat Dharmacakra Semaram and Muang Sema Historical Park. After leaving Pak Chong, the bus made good time, and after about forty minutes the conductor signaled for us to get down by the side of the road. It was at this point that our illusions of a trouble-free trip to Muang Sema ran into difficulties. It seemed that the highway passed along the edge of Sung Noen but didn’t head right into the centre of town.

As it turned out, there was a songthaew waiting at the turn-off but this was one of the times when my attempts to communicate in Thai failed completely. The songthaew driver couldn’t recognize my pronunciation of either of the places we wanted to go to, so we were stranded. Instead of renting something there, we decided to hop onto the next kind of public transport that was heading towards town and try and rent something there. After about twenty minutes another songthaew came along that took us the final couple of kilometres into town.

It turned out that Sung Noen was a sleepy country town of two-storey, timber-fronted shops, with few signs of modernization besides the obligatory branch of 7-11. We looked around the street near the railway station but couldn’t find any public transportation for rental. There was a public bus waiting in the street but apparently it just did the run into Nakhon Ratchasima a few times a day. By this point our frustration was mounting and we really didn’t know what else to do. We confronted the possibility that we just have to wait around until the bus to Nakhon Ratchasima left. But fortunately, it didn’t come to that. Cameron eventually found the name of the sights we wanted to see in Thai and a songthaew pulled up just down the road from the bus. It turned out that it was the same vehicle and driver we had met on the main road, but this time he understood where we wanted to go, or at least claimed to. He said he would take us there and back for three hundred baht. It was probably an exorbitant price but we had no other options.

But then the driver took us to a small wat on the outskirts of town, which was clearly not Wat Dharmacakra Semaram. There was simply nowhere that a colossal Reclining Buddha could have been housed. However, there was some sort of community meeting or function happening in one of the halls at the temple, so there were a lot of people around. Fortunately one of the guests could understand my Thai pronunciation and he gave our driver directions to the right place. We set off again and this time there was no more confusion; we pulled up at the historic wat some five minutes later.

It was in most respects a very modest temple which you would not have glanced twice at if you passed it along the road. However, it was home to one extraordinary antiquity, which was now preserved in a custom-built hall. The hall was an open-sided structure consisting of a metal roof on brick pillars. It was really just a protective shelter for the 11-metre long, sandstone Reclining Buddha which was the temple’s main claim to fame. We signed into the visitor’s book, made a 20 baht donation and then went into the hall to get a closer look at the monument.

A view from the front of the Reclining Buddha

It was a seventh century Dvaravati Buddha seated in mahaparinirvana, or the ‘sleeping’ posture. The English name of the Reclining Buddha gives a somewhat misleading impression, as the posture is actually a representation of the Buddha’s death scene- literally, the Buddha entering Heaven. The facial features of the figure are somewhat degraded, making it impossible to get a clear sense of his expression; the nose in particular is very damaged. The tight curls of his hair are quite obvious however and these have a typically Mon appearance. In addition, there were traces of gold leaf evident on the face of the statue; however, they were probably not recent. A smaller model of the Buddha had been made in front of the historic statue for devotees to apply gold leaf to. This was presumably so the locals could continue making offerings to the Buddha without damaging the original statue.

The 11 metre-long Buddha’s colossal feet, with traces of gold leaf

It was difficult to get a clear view of the entire statue because of the rather cramped building it has located within. However, he had particularly massive feet which reminded us of the very famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok. By going around to the rear of the statue, you get a sense of how the statue consists of many interlocking blocks of sandstone. It would once have had a stucco coating- the Mon were masters of using stucco to face monuments- but the stucco has now mostly peeled off. Nonetheless, sections of it still remain on the head and the arm on which it rests. Originally, the entire statue would have been housed in a timber building which was twenty-six metres long; archaeological work at the site had revealed faint traces of this original structure.

As we looked at the statue, which discussed its extraordinary age: some thirteen or fourteen centuries old. If this date is even close to correct, it is by far the oldest Reclining Buddha statue in the country. As such, it bears testimony to the earliest penetration of Buddhism into Thailand, especially Isaan. It is presumed that Buddhism must have entered Isaan  (Northeastern Thailand) via this part of the country, as there is a relatively narrow passageway between the mountains wilds of the Khao Yai area and Cambodia to the South. It is worth noting that there are many carvings of the Buddha in the mahaparinirvana posture from rock shelters in Isaan.

The Buddha’s head and the upturned fingers of the supporting hand

It is possible that this image the precursor or ancestor of the later images from across the Isaan region. It has been speculated that the Sung Noen area was actually the site of the capital of the early Buddhist polity of Sri Canasa. Perhaps Buddhism spread first to Sri Canasa from the Chao Phraya River basin and the art and religion of Sri Canasa was later to influence that of the entire Isaan plateau. Whatever the full story, the Reclining Buddha of Wat Semaram Dharmacakra proved a rare and unique example of the monumental arts of the Dvaravati period.

Apart from the hall of the Reclining Buddha, there is a building known as the Temple Museum. This one-room museum is worth a quick look for visitors to the site. There are a number of Dvaravati antiquities on display, most of them in a highly fragmentary condition. There is a very large lotus pedestal which may once have supported a Buddha statue, but it is only the base which now survives. Behind it on the wall is a pastel-colored painting of a seated Buddha, which may serve as a representation of what the whole statue may have looked like.

There is also what appears to be a headless and armless standing Buddha, as well as various other stone fragments, few of which are very prepossessing. Easily the most interesting exhibit is a magnificent and complete dharmacakra which dates back to the 8th or 9th centuries. With a diameter of 1.41 metres, it closely resembles ‘wheels of the law’ from other Dvaravati sites such as Nakhon Pathom and U Thong. The artefact represents the first sermon of the Buddha at Sarnath, where he set the wheels of a new religion in motion, preaching about the eightfold path to Enlightenment.

The dharmacaka of Sung Noen is now encased in a plastic box to protect it from over-zealous devotees, who would doubtless love to stick gold leaf to its exterior. In front of this protected dharmacakra is another one (perhaps a replica?) which Thai visitors are free to hang floral votives off and make incense offerings to. There is a ceramic pot before this dharmacakra in which incense sticks were burning. It gave the whole place the atmosphere of a smoky village shrine. For me, the most interesting detail of the dharmacakra was perhaps the small lion’s head at the bottom, a common feature on Dvaravati ‘wheels of the law’. You can see a similar motif on the famous example from the Guimet Museum in Paris. Having seen this little museum-cum-shrine, we went in search of our songthaew driver, ready to move on to Muang Sema Historical Park.

Two Early Boundary Markers from Muang Fa Daet

During the Dvaravati period (from the 8th to the 11th centuries) Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang emerged as one of the leading artistic centres of Isaan (Northeastern Thailand). Set in Kamalasai District of the modern province of Kalasin, the moated city produced a very large number of carved boundary markers (bai sema in Thai), which served to delineate the sacred area of an ubosot in a Buddhist monastery. While these boundary markers have been found from many different parts of Isaan and Laos, Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang has yielded them in the greatest quantities. The Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang boundary markers are also notable for the artistic skill with which they were composed, suggesting that the city was home to a stonemason’s workshop where high-quality bai sema were commissioned.

We can surmise, without indisputable proof, that this workshop enjoyed royal patronage, as most of the boundary markers were found in the immediate vicinity of the city itself, with numerous examples being located inside the moats. Also, many of them display royal personages or occasionally even palace grounds, which is a further hint of royal associations. A large number of these bai sema have now been relocated to the Khon Kaen National Museum in the city of Khon Kaen. This post will be dedicated to two damaged, lesser-known bai sema from the museum, which, despite their fragmentary condition, remain impressive examples of Dvaravati art.

Sema 13 from Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang

The first of these two boundary markers (bai sema) is the one which the historian Stephen Murphy has classified as S13. This bai sema is located on the ground floor of the Khon Kaen National Museum. The top of it is broken off and the section which he do have is cracked across the middle. Nonetheless, it presents an enigmatic scene which has proven impossible to identify. At the bottom of the fragment are four seated figures, the ones on the right being rather more distinct. Above the crack are two larger, seated figures, one of which has a Mon style conical head-dress and the other has a rounded halo. At the centre of the scene is an altar with three triangular objects on top. Perhaps they represent some kind of votive offerings. Based on stylistic features, it has been suggested that they date to the early period of Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang, from the eighth or ninth centuries.

S16 features a Buddha with a flaming nimbus

The second bai sema,  otherwise known as S16, is also thought to date from this earlier period of Dvaravati art history. Unlike S13, it is located in a small courtyard garden to the rear of the ground floor. It is one of a small subset of Muang Fa Daet boundary markers which depict a standing Buddha with a flaming nimbus around his head. This pointy nimbus suggests a supernatural aura, which would have been an important feature for monks trying to win new converts to the Buddhist faith. Though S16 is cracked, with the bottom section missing, the main features of the scene are clear. The standing Buddha has curled Mon hair, full lips, closed eyes which suggest a blissful spirituality and a richly draped robe. There is a much shorter figure standing beside him, looking up in an attitude of reverence. Despite its damaged condition, this is a very graceful carving, indicating that Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang was an artistic centre as far back as the 8th or 9th centuries.

The Kulavaka Jataka Boundary Marker

One of the lesser-sung treasures from the Khon Kaen National Museum is the carved stone known as the Kulavaka Jataka Boundary Marker. Like many of Thailand’s most remarkable bai sema (boundary markers), it came from Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang, an archaeological site in Kamalasai district of Kalasin province. The boundary marker is broken and incomplete, with only the top section remaining. However, despite its fragmentary state, it offers crisp and vivid stone carving. Whereas the carving on many of Isaan’s bai sema is now very time-worn, the scenes on the Kulavaka Jataka Boundary Marker are still distinct.

The Kulavaka Jataka boundary marker

The boundary marker depicts a jataka scene, a scene from one of the lives of the Buddha. The scene on this stone has been identified as Jataka story #31, otherwise known as the Kulavaka Jataka. This story tells of several reincarnations of the life of a woman called Highborn. Its pedagogic value was to instruct the faithful in the notion of Buddhist merit, informing people that those who lacked good works in their current incarnation could expect to be reincarnated in a lower station- perhaps even as an animal- in the next life. In one of her incarnations, the ironically named Highborn was one of four women in a household. The other three, known as Goodness, Thoughtful, Joy, all performed acts of merit, but Highborn ignored their example. As a result, in her next life she was reborn as a wild bird.

A close-up of Sakka and Highborn 

The Kulavaka Jataka at the Khon Kaen National Museum shows the considerable compositional skills of the stone carvers of Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang. In the centre of the slab is a figure which Murphy identifies as Sakka (another name for the god Indra). Presumably he was seated atop his vehicle, the multi-headed elephant Airavata. This section of the scene is lost but there is a tusked elephant to the left of the god, which helps to support this identification. Sakka has a conical head-dress, broad lips and heavy, metal ear-rings, all of which are common features of Mon art. There is a halo around the head of Sakka and a tree behind him, which strongly suggests the iconography of Mon-Dvaravati banyan trees. To the left of Indra are three women, who Murphy suggests are Goodness, Thoughful and Joy, now the handmaidens of the god. They have elaborate head-dresses and heavy jewelry. One of the woman has a bird in her hand, which represents Highborn in her lowly new incarnation. A particularly compelling example of Dvaravati jataka art, it is worthy of close attention even its incomplete state.

The Dvarapala of Ku Noi

While the ground floor of the Khon Kaen National Museum is notable mostly for its fine collection of boundary markers from Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang, the upper level of the museum is largely devoted to the Khmer period (sometimes referred to as the ‘Lopburi’ period by Thai art scholars). There are numerous fine sculptures here, but perhaps the most eye-catching is a male figure, which is either the god Shiva or a dvarapala. It was excavated at the Khmer archaeological site of Ku Noi, which is located in Nadoon district of Maha Sarakham province. At the time of our visit, the sculpture was situated on a pedestal against a railing at the end of the Khmer art gallery. Easily the largest of the Khmer sculptures on display, it is an undoubted highlight of a trip to the museum.

A head and chest shot of the dvarapala

Made from sandstone, the sculpture is roughly life-sized, standing 175 centimetres tall. Due to the third eye which is present in the centre of its forehead, it has been suggested that the statue depicts the Hindu god Shiva. However, there are also instances of Khmer dvarapalas with a third eye. One beautiful example can be found on a bas-relief at the temple of Banteay Kdei at Angkor, and in all other respects, the statue bears a very close resemblance to Angkor-period dvarapalas. A dvarapala was one of the pair of guardian figures who protected the entrance to Hindu sanctuaries. In ancient Cambodia each had a name: Nondhikesavara or Mahakala. Some historians believe that this sculpture represents Nondhikesavara. It certainly bears a close resemblance to the dvarapala which still guards the main prang (tower) of Thailand’s most magnificent Khmer sanctuary, Prasat Phanom Rung. Whereas dvarapalas in Indonesia were usually fat monsters with long fangs, the Khmer dvarapalas are more humanoid in form.

A full-length shot of the statue

This sculpture has a square face with a serious expression. There is, as already mentioned, a third eye in his forehead, which has created academic debates about the figure’s true identity. Above his face is a a broad headband, with the hair rising in a cylinder on top. It creates the overall impression of a miter. Around the statue’s neck is a large necklace, or perhaps a band of ornamental lace, which is of great intricacy. The torso of the figure is bare but both his arms have been broken off. They would probably have come together in the centre to grip the handle of a mace (katha), which would have been planted between his feet. His sampot (the traditional Khmer sarong) is draped with incredible complexity here, greatly adding to the beauty of the sculpture. It forms a fish-tail design in the centre of the sampot,the bottom of which is exactly equal with the rim of the sampot generally. Both feet were found broken off, but they have now been reattached to the statue.

Whether this is was a sculpture of Shiva, or a rare Khmer dvarapala with a third eye, it remains one of the most striking sculptures to have been found in the central zone of Isaan. It is another compelling reason to visit the Khon Kaen National Museum on a trip through Isaan.

Two Indra and Airavata Images from Isaan

Images of the god Indra atop his vehicle, the multi-headed, white elephant Airavata, are very often featured in decorative lintels and pediments from Khmer art. They are one of the most common images depicted on Khmer lintels in particular, and many beautiful examples survive. For instance, the visitor to Cambodia will find a late 9th century image of Indra at Lolei in the Roluos Group near Angkor. In addition, a particularly elegant 10th century example can be found at East Mebon temple in Angkor Archaeological Park. Whereas the earlier example showed a one-headed Airavata, the one at East Mebon shows a three-headed Airavata supporting a standing Indra. There is also Indra lintels from the far reaches of the Angkorian realm, including a couple from Phnom Chisor near the border with Vietnam and a splendid example from Wat Phu Champasak, the best known Khmer temple from the current territory of Laos. Clearly, this image was popular right across the territory of the former kingdom of Angkor.

Typically, Indra was depicted on lintels which faced east, as this Hindu sky-god was known as the ‘guardian’ of that direction. Indra was also regarded as the god of the atmosphere and weather, so he was sometimes shown holding a thunderbolt in one hand. However, it is more common in Khmer art for him to be holding the end of garlands or nagas (dragons). Known as the king of the elephants, Airavata was also said to have been the stongest of the sixteen elephants which held up the world. He was created as a by-product of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a prominent Hindu legend. While in India, he is often shown having five heads and ten tusks, in Thailand he is usually represented with three heads and is known as ‘Erawan’.

Isaan (Northeastern Thailand) was once part of the Khmer empire, so it is not surprising that numerous Khmer temples and hospitals have been found in this part of  the country. In Isaan, as in Cambodia itself, Khmer temples often featured lintels and pediments with images of Indra. During our most recent trip through the region, we encountered two little-known Indra images depicting Indra and Airvata. Because both of them were still in a good state of repair, I decided to feature them in a post on this blog.

The Indra pediment from Muang Tam

I encountered the first of them at Muang Tam, which is often described as the third best Khmer temple in Thailand, after Phanom Rung and Phimai. The Indra image is no longer part of the temple complex itself; instead, it is found on the ground near the entrance to the site. It is a pediment carving from the central tower at Muang Tam, which was overall too incomplete to restore. In spite of its unflattering position, it is a singularly beautiful image. The carving depicts Indra atop a three-headed Airavata, with a sensuous background of stylized foliage. Beneath the sky-god is the grinning head of a kala, a kind of Hindu demon. It is said to be in the 11th century Baphuon style, and it bears a strong resemblance to the Indra lintel at the 11th century sanctuary of Wat Phu Champasak. The pinkish hue in the sandstone makes it an especially appealing relief.

An Indra image at the Khon Kaen National Museum

A few days later, we encountered another lesser-known Indra image at the Khon Kaen National Museum. This one was not featured inside the building but rather in the little courtyard garden out of the back of the ground floor. Indra is depicted with a two-tiered miter, heavy metal ear-rings which had greatly elongated his ear lobes and a small, crescent-shaped loincloth. His right knee juts upwards at a sharp angle and a three-headed Airavata is beneath him. Just like the pediment from Muang Tam, the background is filled with a rich field of floral and vegetal designs. The exhibit informed us that during the height of the Angkor period, the popularity of Indra images had extended at least as far north as Central Isaan.

The Dvaravati Naga-Buddha Boundary Marker

The richest source of bai sema (boundary markers) in Northeast Thailand was the so-called ‘City of Steles’, the archaeological site of Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang. From a total of twelve hundred bai sema which have come down to us from antiquity, one-hundred and seventy two of them are thought to come from this one site. The Muang Fa Daet bai sema are not only the most numerous but also the most artistically accomplished, demonstrating narrative art from the Jatakas (stories of the life of the Buddha) in vivid, sensuous sandstone carvings. There are fifty-five known bai sema from Muang Fa Daet which are carved with jataka scenes; many of these have been gathered at the Khon Kaen National Museum, which is arguably the premier museum of Isaan (Northeastern Thailand).

One of the most intriguing is a rare example of a Dvaravati-era Naga-Buddha- the finest of only three known examples of this image appearing on an ancient bai sema. This artefact is known by the very unromantic name of No.504/2517 from Muang Fa Daet, but I would prefer to call it the Naga-Buddha Boundary Marker, which is both more descriptive and evocative. Despite being a rare and valuable artefact- it is one of only eight known Dvaravati Naga-Buddha images surviving in any medium- it is not very prominently displayed. To find this bai sema you need to go out through the back door of the first floor into a little courtyard garden. You will find this boundary marker there along the porch, without any special lighting or signage.

The Naga-Buddha boundary marker

In spite of its unexalted position at the museum, it has gained a degree of fame in academic circles, with the historian Stephen Murphy discussing in its study of the boundary markers of Isaan and Laos, attributing an eighth or ninth century date to it. The French archaeologist Jean-Pierre Gaston-Aubert has also written about it in recent years, making the startling suggestion that the famous Naga-Buddhas of Angkor were actually inspired by a Dvaravati prototype, of which this bai sema remains one of the leading examples.

The Mucalinda episode relates to a story in which the Buddha was meditating to attain enlightenment when a terrible storm began to blow, continuing for seven days. During the deluge, a serpent (naga) emerged from the tree and wrapped himself around the body of the Buddha with its coils, also forming a seven-headed hood over his head in order to shelter him from the rain. In Buddhist iconography, the Buddha has usually been shown seated on the coils of the naga, which is the position known as paryaṅkāsana. Gaston-Aubert insists that the particular depiction on this bai sema demonstrates Southern India characteristics, because he makes the gesture of teaching known as vitarkamudrā and has crossed ankles. The naga hood has five heads, which is also indicative of Southern Indian art. There are two kneeling figures in front of the Buddha, one of them a royal figure listening to the First Sermon of the Buddha. He wears a high, conical head-dress, which is a common feature of Dvaravati (Mon) art. The facial features of the Buddha also display Mon characteristics, with a broad nose and full lips. In this way a degree of synthesis is evident between Southern Indian prototypes and the Mon-Dvaravati artistic tradition.

The Buddha on the coils of the naga


Considering the fact that only eight known instances of Naga-Buddha sculptures have been found in the whole Dvaravati relam, it does not appear to have been an especially potent or popular image. However, the Naga-Buddha was eventually to become of enormous religious importance in Angkorian Cambodia, where it was eventually to become the main deity of the kingdom. Gaston-Aubert argues that the Dvaravati Naga-Buddha may have been transmitted from Isaan to Angkor, probably via the temple complex of Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima. If he is correct, the neglected bai sema at the Khon Kaen National Museum may have been much more culturally significant than its current humble position suggests.