UTHAI THANI — The abbot of a temple in central Thailand said he will not comply with an order to erase a reference to an internet meme on the temple’s religious murals.
Wat Nong Tao abbot Phra Somchai Techapalo said he did not find the appearance of meme figure Sitang Buathong offensive to Buddhism as claimed by the religious authorities. Officials previously told the temple Sitang should have been depicted with her face up to Lord Buddha, instead of facing down and pointing at an orange.
“I don’t know who Sitang is because I’m not on social media,” the abbot said Wednesday. “But I will not let the picture be removed because the provincial Buddist office did not explicitly order it to be removed. I didn’t find it offensive either, so it depends on the artist to decide what to do next.”
Artist Charanpat Kaewum said earlier this week that she will correct the painting as instructed by the officials, but she appeared to change tact when Sitang herself visited the temple yesterday.
“Her meme is popular on social media right now, so I think adding her onto the mural should have made it more recognizable,” Charanpat said. The artist said she had no intention to mock Buddhism.
Sitang’s visit was highly anticipated by her fans and locals, who crowded the temple to greet her. Dressed in a red traditional costume similar to how she appeared in the painting, the celeb broke into tears upon seeing the mural in person.
“I don’t want this painting to be removed,” Sitang said. “Many people came here to see it. I don’t want to see their feelings being hurt.”
She also criticized the authorities for being narrow minded.
“Open up your kala,” Sitang said, referring to coconut shell, a Thai idiom for stubborn ignorance.
“I’m 58, almost 60. Is it time for the new generation to come in and nourish the religion?” she continued, “I just wanted to apologize to the abbot at first, but on a second thought, I don’t want it to be altered because I’m Thai, and being Thai means to be free.”