Travelling around Thailand, we have sometimes seen unusual graveyards and wondered about their origin. On a recent trip to the region of Kanchanaburi, we came across such a cemetery. Not having the classical Buddhist type styling, statues or figurines, we wondered if their derivation was Chinese.
Visualise this scene! A low hill backed a large gently sloping field. Well maintained grass covered this field though not like a well-clipped lawn cemetery. A much more natural look prevailed. Row upon row of tombs neatly crossing the area. Many hundreds of tombs which from a distance looking more or less identical. On both sides of the field groves of trees provided a barrier, perhaps even a windbreak. The whole field overlooked a quiet road and a wide reach of the River Kwai. A very tranquil scene.
The headstones were shaped like a curved cement armchair with a central panel like a door or window into the tomb. Immediately behind the tomb was a mound of soil covered in grass. These elaborate and decorative tomb headstones were one meter or so in height. The whole scene was fascinating.
As we wandered through we came across some local Thai artisans working on a new tombstone. We stopped to watch and using our best broken Thai managed to find out a little information. The grave is for the whole family, and as a person dies their remains are added. They explained the body is placed in a box and buried and our research indicates the body might be cremated first. The artisan said it takes about one month to build and sculpt the graves frontage and tombstone and it’s all done onsite.
This visit piqued our interest and our research indicates the graveyard design dates back to the Song Dynasty, 960-1127 AD. Many people from southern China, have long regarded this as the ideal shape for a grave, believing it provides a sense of wealth, comfort and dignity. Followers think a graveyard with good Feng Shui can protect the owner’s descendants and bring them peace, health, wealth and good fortune.
Ideally, the graveyard has mountains behind, and a river in front and graves are aligned in arcs. The grave itself should be well maintained. The grassed area kept mown and free of weeds and trees. Any collapse of the earth mound quickly attending to. Feng Shui experts list many other considerations along with potential consequences for the living family if they do not follow the graveyard Feng Shui.
Over the centuries, Chinese people have immigrated to Thailand and their culture, customs and influence can be observed throughout Thailand. Undoubtedly, this Kanchanaburi graveyard is evidence of that continuing custom.
Leave a comment below if you’ve encountered such graveyards! We’d love to hear from you.
An abridged version of this story was originally published under the title ‘Feng Shui Graveyards’ in the October edition of International Living Australia magazine. Vivien and I are the authors of both versions of this story. International Living Australia magazine is a subscription-only publication which Vivien and I regularly write for.