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Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Thailand's unsuitable statue

The statue has become known as the "superman buddha"

A statue in Thailand is causing controversy over claims that its depiction of the Buddha is too unorthodox.

The statue at Wat Sanamchan, a temple 100km from Bangkok, shows the Buddha resting his foot on a globe. It is being called the "superman Buddha of Chachoengsao" and has been attracting a lot of attention - some good, but most bad.

[ image: With its foot resting on the world, the statue's posture is considered too aggressive]
With its foot resting on the world, the statue's posture is considered too aggressive
Buddhist leaders and government officials are trying to decide whether the statue is giving religion a bad name.

'Sneering at the world'

The Thai Education Minister says the statue is inappropriate and should be destroyed.

"Posing with one foot on the globe is like sneering at the world. There is no such thing in either the Buddha's teachings or in our traditions,'' the Thai newspaper The Nation quoted him as sayting.

Many Buddhists and academics believe the statue looks more like a comicbook hero than the Buddha as depicted throughout history. They also say he looks too aggressive, as though he rules the world, and they want it destroyed.

[ image: There are over 60 recognised buddha positions]
There are over 60 recognised buddha positions
There are about 60 recognised statue positions for the Buddha, all of which symbolise peace.

But art professor Santi Leksukhum says the statue does not fit with any of them.

"This controversial Buddha image has been built in contradiction with the Buddhist concept" he says. "People are expected to live a modest and peaceful life."

Controversial claims

The temple's abbot says he built the Buddha because he saw the statue in a dream.

[ image: The temple is also in trouble over its holy water claims]
The temple is also in trouble over its holy water claims
He says the statue symbolises the ''protection'' Lord Buddha gives the world through his teachings.

The statue is not his only problem. An investigation is under way into the temple's sale of holy water on tap, said to cure anything from possession by evil spirits to an unfaithful husband.

Without proof for these claims, officials say the abbot could be charged with fraud. Nude wall paintings addorning the temple's interior are also seen as innapropriate.

If found guily of insulting buddhism, the abbot could face up to seven years in prison.

His only defence - "the angel made me do it" - may not be enough to convince the judges.

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