The Unexpected Feeling Episode 10: The Art of Belief
‘Pan Soi’ is a term in the local Shan vernacular of Mae Hong Son province. This term refers to a form of Buddhist art created by drilling images on metal plates. Since ancient times, Pan Soi has been a popular decorative item for the roofs and spires of local rulers’ residences, as well as an important architectural element to adorn temples’ eaves and umbrella crowns.
Pan Soi features a combination of Shan and Lanna Thai artistic traditions. Its perforated patterns could be compared to the Kanok motifs commonly seen in temples in Central Thailand. Fundamental Pan Soi art materials include metal plates and chisels, but no power tools are used. The exquisiteness of the Pan Soi art begins with the delicate task of designing patterns related to folk tales and local history. Pan Soi craftsmen usually select folkloric ‘auspicious’ animals; such as, peafowls, lions and swans, as models for their works, which represent the artists’ faith in Buddhism. It is believed that each craftsman must very carefully exert his energy on the chisel – neither too hard nor too softly. Great care must be taken throughout the drilling process, as one tiny mistake means the work is flawed and must be discarded sending the artist back to square one.
Such complexity reflects the Mae Hong Son people’s faith and determination to preserve their long-inherited folk wisdom. Today, Pan Soi ornaments are no longer limited to temples or places of worship, but are also applied to government buildings making Mae Hong Son’s cultural identity more prominent.