LUK NIMIT (ลูกนิมิต)
Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - March 2011
A vihan and an ordination hall or ubosot in a monastery differ in the sense that the latter
is situated in an area which is physically sealed off from “worldly” influence.

The sacred ground where upon the ubosot is situated, is demarcated with boundary
stones of various styles and shapes. These boundary stones, called Bai Sema (ใบเสมา),
eight in total, are placed in the cardinal and inter-cardinal directions.

Under these eight boundary stones, are embedded in the ground a same number of
Luk
Nimit
. The word "nimit" is of Pali/Sanskrit origin and stands for "Sign". These "nimit"
have the form of a sphere, looking a bit like large cannonballs.

A ninth stone, often a bit larger than the eight of the Bai Sema, is placed central in the
ubosot, under the location of the principal Buddha image.

Alabaster Henry described it in 1871 as follows:

The Sema, or Bai sema (Sanscrit, Sima, a "boundary" or landmark), are eight
stones placed, one at each point of the compass, round the most holy part of a
temple. When the ground is first dedicated, eight "luk nimit", or round marking-
stones, are sprinkled with holy water and buried, to mark the limits from
which evil spirits are warned off. Over these Luk nimit are built small platforms,
supporting the heart-shaped Bai sema, generally covered by an elaborately carved
or mosaic-worked canopy.
[1]

When an ordination hall is planned to be build, consecrated marble balls are placed in a
vihara on the premises of the monastery. The people are invited to worship the teachings
of the Buddha and to stick some gold leaves on the stones.

The spheres are buried, on a well chosen prosperous day, underground in cubic pits.
These pits are in fact the foundations of the boundary stones or part of the foundations of
the pedestal from the main Buddha image.

The ninth ball is positioned with utmost ceremony. The Luk Nimit is not simply thrown
into the pit, but is often buried the same way as a ship is launched. The large sphere is
positioned on a ramp in front of the cubic pit and is held in place by a ribbon. The ribbon
is cut, by an important person (who accumulated a lot of merit) with a ceremonial knife.
The ball rolls in the pit and is buried, together with precious woods, coins, jewels, scraps
of paper with prayers written and a collection of memorabilia. Then the 9th ball, as a
symbolic seed, is sealed in the heart of the ubosot.

I could not find out as yet, since when this tradition began or from who or where it has
been taken over. Already in pre-Hellenistic times, boundary stones marked out
the sacred area. It was though not only a sacred area, but also linked to asylum rights.
The boundary stones demarcated in fact the asylum area, a refuge “in time of need”. The
Ephesian Temple of Artemis in Greece was one of the famous and respected asylum
sanctuaries, offering protection to slaves, debtors and political refugees - virtually anyone
in need of aid. The Ephesians sought even to incorporate the city within the asylum area,
by tying a thread from the temple to the city wall in order to protect the city from attack.
[2]

In Siamese history we find multiple examples of a temple’s asylum role. The protection of
the Buddha and the fear of divine retribution was an effective tool. Respect was shown to
the Buddha, when somebody sought refuge in a Buddhist monastery and was not harmed.

In 1547 Prince Thianracha – the later King Chakkraphat – was seeking refuge in
Wat
Racha Praditsathan against the abuse of power of Queen regent Si Sudachan.

After the cremation of King Chairacha had been held, Prince Thianracha,
who was of the same royal lineage as King Chairacha, resolved that, "If I were
to remain a layman at this moment, it appears that I would surely be in peril [of
my life] as I cannot think of anything which can be depended upon. Apparently
only the Holy Religion of the Buddha and the orange cloth, that victorious banner
of the Arhats, can be relied upon to escape danger and misfortune." Having so
resolved, he went out to be ordained as a monk at Ratchapraditsathan Monastery.

[3]

In 1754 after the death of King Borommakot, there is a discussion on the throne
ascendancy. King Uthumphon, the former Uparat, leaves the throne to his elder brother
and seeks refuge at
Wat Pradu Songtham. He will be known as Khun Luang Ha-wat, the
king who sought the sanctuary of a monastery.

Somdet Phra Borommakot died on the seventh waxing moon of the
eighth Siamese month (July) in the year of the tiger, B.E. 2301, at the age of
seventy-eight years, having reigned twenty-six years. Chaofa Uthumphon, who
was Maha Uparat, ascended the throne after he had performed the rites and
ceremonies proper for the body of his deceased father. Then he ordered the arrest
of Krom Mun Chit Sunthon, Krom Mun Sunthon Thep, and Krom Mun Sep
Phakdi, and executed the three of them. He then performed the ceremony of
victory, but did not assume sovereign power in the ordinary course. The danger
from the three kroms came to an end by having them executed, but danger arose
from his elder brother Chaofa Krom Khun Anurak Montri who had left the
priesthood. The chaofa prince proclaimed himself independent, installed himself
in the Suriyat Amarin palace, and behaved as another king, wishing his younger
brother to give up the throne to him in the same way as King Borommakot had
given up the throne to King Thai Sa. Somdet Phrachao Uthumphon could not
take any action for fear of offending their mother. Luckily in that year Chaofa
Uthumphon attained the age which enabled him to enter the priesthood. About a
month after, in the waning moon of the ninth Siamese month (August), he offered
the throne to Chaofa Krom Khun Anurak Montri, entered the priesthood at the
Sri Ayotchiya monastery, and came to reside in the Pradu Rongtham monastery.

[4]

References:

[1] The Wheel of The Law - Henry Alabaster (1871) - Trubner & Co, London - page
272.
[2] Power and place: Temple and identity in the Book of Revelation - Gregory Stevenson
(2001) - page 111, 112.
[3] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 21
/ Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
[4] Our Wars with the Burmese - Prince Damrong Rajanubhab (re-edited 2001) - White
Lotus, Bangkok. – page 298, 299.
Luk Nimit at Wat Tamnak Songtham - Saraburi
Luk Nimit at Wat Tamnak Songtham - Saraburi
Luk Nimit
Luk Nimit at Wat Phukhao Thong - Ayutthaya
The ninth ball at Wat Phukhao Thong
Luk Nimit at Wat Racha Praditsathan - Ayutthaya
Luk Nimit at Wat Tanot - Bang Pahan
(Luk Nimit at Wat Tamnak Songtham - Saraburi)
(Luk Nimit at Wat Tamnak Songtham - Saraburi)
(Luk Nimit)
(Luk Nimit at Wat Phukhao Thong - Ayutthaya)
(The ninth ball at Wat Phukhao Thong)
(Luk Nimit at Wat Racha Praditsathan - Ayutthaya)
(Luk Nimit at Wat Tanot - Bang Pahan)