BUENG PHRA RAM (บึงประราม)
Text, maps & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg
April 2016
Bueng Phra Ram, named after Wat Phra Ram in its vicinity, is located in the center of Ayutthaya in the Historical Park. The former marsh is one of
the 95 sites on the listing compiled in 1987 to be registered as UNESCO World Heritage in December 1991. The site, called in the old documents
Dong Sano or sometimes Nong Sano (1), has been largely altered over the years. Bueng Phra Ram was restored and turned into a park in the period
1956-1957 during the time of Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram. [1]

Bueng Phra Ram is mentioned in the oldest foreign chronicle by the Dutch VOC merchant
Jeremias Van Vliet. The latter describes in the "Short
History of the Kings of Siam - 1640" the birth of Ayutthaya in this place. Remark that he mentions the existence of a city prior:

Meanwhile, he received information about the island where the city of Ayutthaya is built, and appeared surprised that such a beautiful site
was not inhabited nor built upon. But he met a hermit (called rishi by the Siamese) who informed him that
previously there was a city there
called Ayutthaya
. But how it declined he had not knowledge and added that no other city could be rebuilt there. The reason was that at a
place Wo Talenkang, (2) now in the middle of the city, there was a pool in which there was a voracious dragon, called Nagaraja (3) by the
Siamese, who on being disturbed blew poisonous saliva from his mouth. This brought about such an epidemic that everybody around there
died of the stench. Thao U Thong asked the rishi whether the dragon could not be killed and the marsh filled in. The rishi answered that
this would not be a remedy, but that a rishi (like him in every respect) should be thrown in. Thus Thao U Thong had the whole country
searched to find such a person. The rishi further declared that Thao U Thong, after killing the dragon and filling in the marsh, should do
three things if he wanted to live in that place in health: shoot an arrow and catch it again in his quiver; smear his body daily with cow
dung; and blow on a horn every day, just as the Brahman priests do when they go to their temples or places of devotion.

Thao U Thong said that he knew how to fulfill these conditions and went with a perahu to the middle of the river, shot an arrow upstream,
and as the arrow came down the quiver went to the water and received the arrow. In place of cow dung he covered his body with rice meal
every day mixed with a little seruijs, saying that the rice could not grow unless the land had been fertilized. By this he meant that the cow
dung is also part of the rice. With regard to the blowing of the horn, he had sirib leaves rolled close together and ate it as pinang, which
had some similarities with the blowing of horns. The rishi replied, 'Since thou hast made the arrow return to thee, thy people shall be united
with each other and thy kingdom freed from internal wars. Secondly, because thou so cunningly applied the cow dung, thou and thy people
shall suffer little from smallpox. Thirdly and finally, because thou has rolled the sirib which had a likeness horn, the gods shall have great
love for you and bring you great fortune.'

In the meantime, the messengers sent out returned to Thao U Thong the tidings that a rishi like that which they were ordered to look for
could not be found. Thao U Thong kept this message secret, went to speak the rishi at the mouth of the marsh where the dragon was, and
without warning threw him in and filled in the marsh. Since then the dragon has never again appeared, and the land has been free from
epidemics. Then Thao U Thong began to re-establish the city on the fifth day of the waxing fourth moon (in our reckoning being the month
of March) in the year of the Tiger and called it Ayutthaya.
[2]
Pictures taken on 2 January 2012 at the eastern park entry along the road leading to
Wat Phra Ram. This street was an important brick road known by the French in the
17th century as the "Rue au Feu" and figures on different old maps.
Our next source is one of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya, the British Museum version. In this document we find an identical story, but without the
performance of "miracles" by U-Thong.

King U Thòng, however, marched his troops on a journey of several days until they came to a large river and saw a circular island,
smooth, level, and apparently clean, standing in the center of the area. So he had his troops cross over and establish themselves on Dong
Sano Island. C: There he met a holy ascetic and, making obeisance in respect, greeted him, 'When did the Reverend Teacher come to reside
in this country?' So the holy hermit made known his connection with the island, 'I have held religious rites here since the time when the
Crown of the World, the Lord Who Conquered Mara, was still alive on earth. And I had two teachers. One died on Sapphalüng Mountain,
and one died on Phanom Phupha Luang. And at the time when the Omniscient One, the Buddha, came to this place, I presented Him with
tamarinds and myrobalans and bade Him sit and eat them above the ground on the stump of a takhian tree which floated in and hung
suspended there.' Then He made a prophecy that this deserted country would in the future be known as a royal city named Ayutthaya.

Then the holy ascetic drew a picture of the city with charcoal and, throwing it up in the air, it came down in the form of a monk’s bathing
cloth, showing a triple-forked path and revealing that the people born in this country would speak with falsehoods and little truth. Then the
great reverend ascetic said, 'At this time the Great Sovereign has arrived. May you live in this country with serene heart. I will take my
leave and go to look after the Imprint of His Holy Foot on the lofty mountain peak way over there." It is said that when the holy ascetic
had so spoken he floated to his dwelling and observed the practice of the Four Divine States of Mind until his life came to an end on those
towering peaks.
[3]
(Bueng Phra Ram marker)
Phraya Boran Rachathanin (PBR) in his work Tamnan Krung Kao wrote that within the capital, in front of the grand palace on the south side, there
was a large swamp; the swamp in the north was called Yi Khan swamp, the swamp in the south was called Phra Ram swamp. He was in the opinion
that the first denomination should have been Chi Khan, as the latter was mentioned in the Palace Laws and the so called Bueng Phra Ram was just
part of the larger Chi Khan swamp. The northern part of the marsh was stagnant water and its area likely smaller. Bueng Phra Ram was initially called
Bueng Wat Phra Ram as it was in front of Wat Phra Ram, but in daily speech the denomination was shortened and the word "Wat" was dropped.
PBR thought it as possible that at a later stage the ground was dug out to fill up the palace grounds and the premises of
Wat Maha That, Wat Racha
Burana and Wat Phra Ram, making Bueng Phra Ram vaster. [4]

Streets paved with bricks were constructed across the swamp to access more easily the palace and the temples. To allow the passage of boats
openings were left, which were covered by wooden bridges. The paved streets were: the road towards the grand palace (palace street), south of
Elephant street; the road towards Wat Phra Ram, called by the French "La Rue au Feu" and; an a north-south aligned road running to the east of
Wat Chum Saeng towards Wat Saphan Nak.

Boats from outside the city could access the swamp from different sides. On the east there was a junction with
Khlong Pratu Khao Pluak - Khlong
Pratu Jin; on the south was Khlong Pratu Thep Mi linked with Khlong Chakrai Noi near Wat Saphan Nak and in communication with the swamp; on
the west the swamp was accessed by Khlong Tho - Khlong Chakrai Yai and
Khlong Nakhon Ban, while on the north there was an access via Lam
Khu Pak Sra.     
(Maha Prasat in Bueng Phra Ram)
Endnote

Bueng Phra Ram Park is suffering from the local market on Chikun Rd, the regular large festival markets on the grounds itself and all other  tourist
spectacles. The area on its southeastern side is permanently polluted by leftover garbage of the markets, which even find its way into Bueng Phra
Ram. The park is largely deteriorated. The old paved brick road leading from Chikun Road to Wat Phra Ram is heavenly deteriorated; the lightening
completely non-functional, while the wooden bridges need urgent repair. Many large trees came down in the park over the years and where never
replaced. The water in the swamp is stagnant and a hotbed for mosquitoes. Out of health precautions only, there should not be any stagnant water in
the city; old canals should be able to communicate and either water pumps or the northern inflow from
Khlong Mueang should bring in some current
into the remaining canals and Bueng Phra Ram. We never saw park guards to report deficiencies or to counter vandalism. In conclusion, it is a real
sad situation for an UNESCO world heritage site.

Footnotes:

(1) Dong (ดง) = groove or Nong (หนอง) = swamp; Sano (โสน) = Sesbania. .
(2) "Wo Talenkang" probably "Ho Talaeng Kaeng", the drum tower located on Talaeng Kaeng street.
(3) Naga Racha are Pali / Sanskrit words. Naga = snake and Racha = royal or king; the full term meaning the King of Snakes (seven-headed). Old
Siamese sages held that some King of Nagas mixed poison with the air. Among the supernatural powers attributed to Nagas is that of poisoning by
their breath. [5]

References:

[1] Discovering Ayutthaya - Charnvit Kasetsiri & Michael Wright (2007) - Toyota Thailand Foundation - page 55.
[2] Van Vliet's Siam - Chris Baker, Dhiravat Na Pombejra, Alfons Van Der Kraan & David K. Wyatt. (2005) - page 200-1.
[3] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 10 / Source: British Museum.
[4] Tamnan Krung Kao - Phraya Boran Rachathanin (1907).
[5] The Wheel of The Law - Henry Alabaster (1871) - Trubner & Co, London - page 8.
[6] Jumsai, Sumet - The reconstruction of the City Plan of Ayutthaya (1970) - The Siam Society, Bangkok.
(Statue of Mae Thorani, Goddess of Earth in Bueng Phra Ram Park)
Bueng Phra Ram Park contains, next to the larger temples such as Wat Maha That, Wat Racha Burana and Wat Phra Ram on its banks,  the
following temple ruins and structures: Wat Chum Saeng,
Wat Satabap (defunct), Wat Trai Trueng, Wat Phong, Wat Langkha Dam, Wat Langkha
Khao, Wat Sangkha Pat, Wat Song Khon, Wat Jan (mound with Phra Palelai shrine) and Wihan Phra Thinang Yen.

On one of the small islets is Ayutthaya's
Maha Prasat situated, a shrine supposedly built on the place where Brahman priests performed the founding
ceremony for the city state of Ayutthaya in 1351.

The question can be raised if Bueng Phra Ram existed since the establishment of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1351 as such a swamp is mentioned in
the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Two good maps of ancient Ayutthaya dating from the late 17th and begin 18th centuries, being the Kaempfer and
Bellin maps, do not show the swamp; although for example, the French map shows clearly the rural areas (Quartier Champêtre) east and west of the
city.
Map of Jacques Nicolas Bellin - Anno 1764
Detail of a 19th century map - map is orientated S-N
(Map of Jacques Nicolas Bellin - Anno 1764)
(Detail of a 19th century map - map is orientated S-N)
The map showing for the first time the existence of an inundated area near Wat Phra Ram is a mid-19th century map. On this map we see that the
waters from the already silted old Lopburi River (today Khlong Mueang) entering Lam Khu Pak Sra, flooded an area bordering Wat Phong, Wat
Trai Trueng, Wat Phra Ram and Wat Sangkha Phat. In the middle of the flooded area stood Wat Jan (today called Wat Sangkha Pat by the Fine
Arts Department). On the Plan d’Ajuthia of the Bulletin de la Commission Archéologique de l’Indochine dating from 1912, we find the swamp
altered with an additional marshy area north of Wat Phra Ram, but still relatively small compared with the areas already mentioned on the French
map east and west of the city. On Phraya Boran's map of 1926 we see the swampy area increasing to its full extend. Landscaping last century of the
swamp, results in what we see today. As Sumet Jumsai wrote in his document The reconstruction of the City Plan of Ayutthaya:
The point here is
that the claim of Nong Snow or Bueng Phra Ram as having always been in existence from the founding of Ayudhya now seems dubious
. [6]
Detail of the Plan d’Ajuthia of the Bulletin de la Commission Archéologique de l’Indochine - Anno 1912)
(Detail of the Plan d’Ajuthia of the Bulletin de la
Commission Archéologique de l’Indochine - Anno
1912)
(Detail of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map - Anno
1926)