‘Khao Mor’, The Antique Treasure of Landscape Architecture

Gardening has been one of Thailand’s most interesting and trending leisure activities, especially in the past few years. However, although this hobby might seem new and coeval, the art of herbs and vegetation has long been associated with Thai culture, history, and lifestyle. Through different periods of time, various species of plants shared their popularity and limelight in Thai society, whether for medical, cookery, beauty, or even lifestyle purposes. Interestingly, the passion and capability for gardening were used to indicate and categorize one’s social class in the past, dividing the nobles from the proletariat.

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This includes the creation of one of the most traditional features of the Thai garden’s decoration, “Khao Mor”. Adapting its name from the word “Ta-Mor” which means ‘rock’ in Cambodian and the word “Khao” which translates as ‘mountain’ in Thai, the traditional garden feature of Khao Mor alludes to the visual representation of its name, consisting of artificial stones or pebble mountain in the center of the garden. Often, a Khao Mor mountain will be the center of a pond or pool, built on garden soil; the owner might include a waterfall as an addition to the atmospheric aesthetic of tropical life. At other times, the concept of Khao Mor may be miniaturized into a small-sized garden in a pot to create an illusion of greenery in a household. With its luxurious ideal premises of blending nature with lifestyles, the decoration of Khao Mor became a widespread and significant element of the Thai nobles’ lifestyle back in the ancient era of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

From Palace to People

Based on the unearthed discoveries and archaeological evidence found in King Narai’s Palace, Lopburi, Thailand, the history of Khao Mor goes back to the ancient era of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, with its grandiose influence lasting until the Thonburi period and the era of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, which we are in today. During the reign of Rama II, in particular, Khao Mor became one of the most ubiquitous items in Thailand. This is due to his majesty’s passion for gardening and the art of topiary that entails the reign of his son, King Rama III, who publicized the concept of Khao Mor beyond the palace’s wall. In his era, the garden decoration style of Khao Mor was endowed to several temples, making them available, for the very first time, to the eyes of Thai citizens who are not ranked as a member of the noble clan. This granted endowment by King Rama III was intended as a stratagem to give Buddhist believers an opportunity to experience the beauty of Khao Mor, one of the most traditional and natural features of the Thai lifestyle. The garden decoration of Khao Mor, therefore, transformed into one of the most significant elements of Thai temples, their architectural style, and culture, which still remains today for us to observe and experience. This includes the Khao Mor of Wat Phra Chetuphon (also known as Wat Pho), Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan (Wat Arun), and Wat Prayun Wongsawat Worawihan (Wat Prayun), which is known to have the most magnificent and ideal Khao Mor decorations of all. In addition, Khao Mor was awarded by UNESCO as the winner in the category of ‘Cultural Heritage Conservation Award of Excellence 2013’ for its historic and prestigious individuality and addition to Thai culture. Thus, although the concept of Khao Mor today is varied and adapted differently in many temples across Thailand, the ideal core of it reflects the association of Thai people with their belief in the subtle control of nature. The elements of trees, rocks, water, and mountain in the middle illustrate the stratification of Thai culture that reflects in the division of class and lifestyle, especially when the concept of Khao Mor was mainly restricted to the palace’s garden, with the mountain making of Khao Mor gardening reserved only for the King and the miniaturized garden pots for the general public.


The Garden of Culture and Philosophy 

Inspired by the Chinese philosophy behind the name of its country, the ancient concept of “中國 (Zhōngguó)” represents their belief in the idea of centralism. By simulating the idea of nature and the universe where the emperor is believed to be the center of all prosperities, the Zhōngguó concept reflects many beliefs of the world’s oldest kingdoms and religions. This includes the ancient Indian concept of Mount Meru with its premise of the golden mountain standing in the center of the universe, serving as the world’s axis, and the Hindu gardening style that mirrors the realm of Mount Kailash, the home of Shiva, the God of Destruction. Khao Mor is, thus, the visual and physical revitalization of the mythical settings from local legends and national literature many Thai people are familiar with, such as Mount Meru , Himavanta Forest, and many more.

Brought to you by the RCB Auction, this national treasure is one of the selected highlight items for our upcoming Timed Auction event. With the large Khao Mor pot delicately painted with a picturesque landscape, this item is one of the most prestigious antiques you could own.

Lot 711: A large of blue and white porcelain rectangular planter painted with a continuous village life scene in a river and mountainous landscape
Style: Chinese
Circa: 19th Century

Browse and bid other items for Timed Auction until 5 November, 2022 on here.