Skip to main content

Distributed for Seagull Books

The Fate of Rural Hell

Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand

In 1975, when political scientist Benedict Anderson reached Wat Phai Rong Wua, a massive temple complex in rural Thailand conceived by Buddhist monk Luang Phor Khom, he felt he had wandered into a demented Disneyland. One of the world’s most bizarre tourist attractions, Wat Phai Rong Wua was designed as a cautionary museum of sorts; its gruesome statues depict violent and torturous scenes that showcase what hell may be like. Over the next few decades, Anderson, who is best known for his work, Imagined Communities, found himself transfixed by this unusual amalgamation of objects, returning several times to see attractions like the largest metal-cast Buddha figure in the world and the Palace of a Hundred Spires. The concrete statuaries and perverse art in Luang Phor’s personal museum of hell included, “side by side, an upright human skeleton in a glass cabinet and a life-size replica of Michelangelo’s gigantic nude David, wearing fashionable red underpants from the top of which poked part of a swollen, un-Florentine penis,” alongside dozens of statues of evildoers being ferociously punished in their afterlife.
In The Fate of Rural Hell, Anderson unravels the intrigue of this strange setting, endeavoring to discover what compels so many Thai visitors to travel to this popular spectacle and what order, if any, inspired its creation. At the same time, he notes in Wat Phai Rong Wua the unexpected effects of the gradual advance of capitalism into the far reaches of rural Asia.
Both a one-of-a-kind travelogue and a penetrating look at the community that sustains it, The Fate of Rural Hell is sure to intrigue and inspire conversation as much as Wat Phai Rong Wua itself.

104 pages | 24 color plates | 5 1/2 x 7 3/4 | © 2012

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: Asian History

Seagull Books image

View all books from Seagull Books


“Anderson presents us with a miniature masterpiece of political and social interpretation, using a popular but atypical religious site to explore, from an unusual angle, the intersection of Buddhist piety, educational and social hierarchy, erotic sensibilities, and the remnants of rural feudalism in Thai society as it lurches unevenly toward more egalitarian relations. This brief but gripping book leaves a long, complex, and lasting taste on the mental palate.”

Michael Herzfeld | Anthropological Forum

“Anderson . . . explores the rise and fall and the persistence of Wat Phai Rong Wua in Suphanburi’s countryside of central Thailand. Through the journey into the wat, he depicts not only the eccentricity of copious sculptures of evil spirits called preta concentrated in the chaotic and creepy epitomized paragon of hell but also the political upheaval and social transformation that surround it. . . . The Fate of Rural Hell is a crucial manifestation of not only how the life and death in Buddhist teaching is perceived and recreated but also illustration of the dynamism—the fates and the faiths—of rural livelihood, the context in which the striving creation of this impressive wat came into existence. It is a fine book, to be read not only its insights into the life and death of the rural people, but also the pathways between them.”

Jakkrit Sangkhamanee | Kyoto Review

Table of Contents


Strange Ghosts
Luang Phor Khom and His Times
Temple Boy? Temple Slave?
The Future

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press