Paintings of Japanese superhero "Ultraman" with Thai-style Buddha's head are seen in Bangkok.
A group of Buddhist hardliners in Thailand filed a police complaint against a young female artist on Wednesday over paintings that depict images of the Buddha as the 1960s Japanese superhero character Ultraman.
The complaint over four paintings, displayed last week at a shopping mall in northeastern Thailand, highlights the emboldenment of ultra-conservative Buddhist groups that seek to go farther than establishment religious authorities in combating perceived threats to their faith.
The painting was removed from the exhibition last week and the artist - a fourth-year university student whose name has been withheld for her safety - had to publicly apologise to northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province's chief monk in front of the provincial governor.
"The paintings dishonoured and offended Buddhists and harmed a national treasure," Buddhist Power of the Land representative Charoon Wonnakasinanone told Reuters.
ESTABLISHMENT VS HARDLINERS
Thailand's official Buddhist authorities oppose criminal charges against the artist.
Pongporn Pramsaneh, director of the Office of National Buddhism, told Reuters he considered the matter closed after the public apology.
"Whoever want to take legal action, we will not get involved," Pongporn said.
Surapot Taweesak, a Buddhist scholar, said the controversy showed the reforms of Buddhism that took place under the previous military government, which aimed to clean up temples and the monkhood stalked by scandals, have failed.
On the one hand, some Thais feel that the religion is less relevant to their daily lives. And at the same time, a reactionary hardline movement has arisen that sees Buddhism as under threat and in need of defence the religious establishment is not providing.
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