WAT NA PHRA MEN (วัดหน้าพระเมรุ)
Wat Na Phra Men or the Monastery in Front of the Funeral Pyre sometimes called
Wat Na Phra Meru is located off the city island in the northern area of Ayutthaya in Tha
Wasukri sub-district. The temple is located along
Khlong Sra Bua and the north bank of
the
Khlong Mueang just opposite the ancient Grand Palace. It was registered as a
National Historic Site with the Fine Arts Department on 25 February 1935.

History

The temple was constructed during the reign of King Ramathibodi II (r. 1491-1529), the
10th king of the Ayutthaya Suphannaphum/Suphanburi dynasty in 1503 and received the
name Wat Phra Meru Rachikaram. [1] Wat Phra Meru occupied a prominent place in
front of the Royal Palace. As its name indicates, it must have been established at a Royal
cremation area.

King Chakkraphat (r. 1548-1569) captured a lot of white elephants during his reign and
this news crossed the borders quickly. The King of Burma requested again to obtain two
animals, a request which was turned down by Siam. In 1563 (1), the King of Burma,
Bayinnaung (r.1551-1581), came down with a large army in order to enforce his
request. He captured all the cities in the north and descended on Ayutthaya. King
Chakkraphat saw that the Burmese army largely outnumbered his and decided to resolve
the issue through parleys. He ordered to erect a royal building with two thrones, equal in
height in the area between the Phra Meru Rachikaram Monastery and the
Hatsadawat
Monastery. Then he had a jeweled-adorned throne prepared higher than the royal
thrones, and had a Buddha image to preside over the meeting. The terms imposed by the
King of Burma were onerous. Prince Ramesuen, Phya Chakri and Phya Sunthorn
Songkhram, the leaders of the war party, were to be delivered up as hostages, an annual
tribute of thirty elephants and three hundred catties of silver was to be sent to Burma,
and the Burmese were to be granted the right to collect and retain the customs duties of
the port of Mergui - then the chief emporium of foreign trade. In addition to this, four
white elephants were to be handed over, instead of the two originally demanded. King
Chakkraphat had no choice than deliver up to keep a truce. All Siamese prisoners were
released and the Burmese army returned.

"When King Maha Cakkraphat was informed of the contents of the royal letter, he
made his decision, “This time their army is [BCEF: exceptionally] enormous and
it appears to be beyond the capacity of our soldiers to save the Capital. If we do
not go out, the monks, Brahmans, inhabitants, citizens and populace will all be
faced with perdition and destruction, and even the Holy Religion will be disgraced.
We shall have to go out. Even if the King of Hongsawadi does not constantly abide
by his promises, as in the royal letter which has arrived, we will see to it that our
promises are firmly upheld.” Having so decided, he had a royal letter prepared to
specify where he would proceed to and had an embassy carry it out to present to
the King of Hongsawadi. Then he ordered officials to go out to erect a royal
building with two royal thrones, equal in height and spaced [BCDF: four] [E:
one] sòk apart, in the area between
Phra Meru Rachikaram Monastery and
Hatsadawat Monastery. Then he had a jeweled throne prepared higher than the
royal thrones, and had the Holy and Glorious Triple Gems escorted out to preside
over the meeting."
[2]

In 1670, the year following the first fall of Ayutthaya, Cambodia invaded Siam and
camped at the northern side of Ayutthaya. The King of Cambodia thought after the war
with the Burmese to find a defenseless, easy to capture city and took the opportunity to
settle old scores. His thinking proved wrong as the Siamese capital offered a stern
resistance and the Cambodian forces had to retreat with heavy losses.

"The King of Lawaek advanced with his army and [B: the King of Lawæk came
and] halted his elephant in Sam Phihan [CDEF: Monastery]. And the enemy
troops were posted at intervals to Rong Khòng [BDF: Monastery] and Kuti Thòng
Monastery. Then they brought about thirty elephants and halted them in [B: Na]
Phra Meru Rachikaram Monastery with about [B: five] [CDEF: four] thousand
men."
[3]

In 1760, the Burmese King Aloungphaya (r.1752-1760) invaded Ayutthaya. On the first
day of the waxing moon of the sixth month in the morning of the year 1760, the Burmese
positioned their guns again at Wat Phra Men (translated by Cushman as the Holy
Funeral Monuments) and at the Monastery of the Elephant Landing. They started firing
on the Grand Palace during the day and the night and were even able to hit and destroy
the spire of the palace. The next day, the Burmese withdrew north to Ava, along the
Chao Phraya River. The king of Burma died before reaching the border at Mokalok in
Tak province. Following some versions of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya (RCA),
the Burmese King Alaungphraya became ill, although following the Royal Autograph
version, he was wounded by an explosion of a large gun. He returned to his stockade
and decided to abandon the campaign. I found although nowhere mentioned in any of the
RCA versions that the gun burst occurred at Wat Na Phra Men.

"When it was evening, the Burmese gave up [B: on the campaign] and crossed
over [the river] to the banks on the side of the Monastery of the Gold Mountain.
[BCD: During the morning of] [F: When it was ____ day,] the first day of the
waxing moon in the sixth month, [F: in the morning,] the Burmese brought their
great guns [BCD: forward], positioned them at the
Monastery [BCD: in Front of]
[F: of the Temple of the Series of] the Holy Funeral Monuments
[F: and at the
Monastery of the Elephant Landing], and aimed and fired them in volleys at the
Holy Royal Palace Enclosure and at the [BF: Holy] Throne Hall of the Eternal
Ruler of the Sun both during the day and during the night. [F: They hit the spire of
the palace and destroyed it.]"
[4]

There is a record that Wat Na Phra Men was renovated during the reign of King
Borommakot (r. 1733-1758). After Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese troops, Wat
Na Phra Men was left unattended for more than half a century until Phraya Chai Wichit
who was the city mayor in the reign of King Rama III restored it between 1835 and
1838. The traditional Ayutthayan style was maintained. Phraya Chaivichit gathered the
left-over antiquities, which were scattered around the city, so that they could be kept at
this monastery. [5] More renovations took place in 1914 and 1957.

The ordination hall

The ordination hall faces south and measures approximately 50 m by 16 m. The ubosot
has front and back porches with elevated balconies of 4m length in the center that are
used to house a standing Buddha image. Kasetsiri and Wright point out this was a door
before probably for the exclusive use by royalty. [1]

The ubosot’s gable is carved wood primed with black lacquer and covered with gold
leaf featuring Vishnu (in Thailand called Phra Narai or Narayan) mounted on Garuda, on
top of the demon head Rahu (2) placed between two Nagas and flanked by 26 celestial
beings (deva – thewada). Each of Vishnu’s four hands is holding his classic items being a
trident, a discus, a conch and a baton. On top of Vishnu stands a royal tiered-umbrella
and behind his head an arch-framed halo. The gable of Wat Na Phra Men is considered
one of the most beautiful pieces of artistic work from Ayutthaya.

At the southern front entrance there were before three doors. The large middle door was
later blocked, leaving only a high window. At the northern side there are two small
doors. The doors are made of teak wood (Mai Sak) and decorated with lacquered
motifs. Over the doors there are marble slabs with ancient Khmer characters and Thai
numbers. Inside the ubosot, there are two rows of eight huge octagonal pillars with lotus-
bud capital supporting the wooden roof structure. The wooden beams are beautifully
carved and the ceiling is adorned with wood carving showing stars and the moon.

The interior walls of the ordination hall were covered with a painting of 80 Buddhist
monks with Bhikku (nuns) behind them. The painting was white-washed when the
ubosot was restored. The walls of the hall are windowless but have an opening consisting
of a vertical slit to allow some light to enter and to ventilate, called false windows; a
decorative style showing a window-like pattern. The incoming sunlight reflecting on the
golden Buddha image gives a stunning effect. [5] The use of false windows in Siam
existed already in the Middle Ayutthaya period, but has its roots much earlier, as we can
see its use already at Angkor.

The crowned Buddha

The most important Buddha image in the ordination hall was named Phra Buddha
Nimitr Vichit Maramoli Sisanpeth Boromtrailokanat
. The crowned image sits in the
Subduing Mara posture and measures 6 m high and 4.50 m in width across the lap. [5]
The image was cast of metal and covered with gold leaf. The peculiars of Phra Buddha
Nimitr Vichit Maramoli are that the image is attired in royal dress complete with crown,
earrings, necklace, chest and arm ornament. It presumably dates to the reign of King
Prasat Thong, when such Buddha images became popular in the Late Ayutthaya period.
[7]

Kasetsiri and Wright state that the Buddha image could refer to Maitreya (3), the
Buddha of the future. Another explanation is given referring to the legend when Lord
Buddha dealt with Jambupati. The legend of Jambupati was very popular before in
Burma. The records recall the humbling of a boastful king, Jambupati, by the Buddha.
The story tells how the Buddha has Jambupati brought before him having first
transformed himself into a mighty king, set in an incomparable palace. Witnessing the
Buddha in all his majesty, Jambupati accept the dharma and becomes a monk. [7]

The statue is the most beautiful and largest crowned Buddha image that was left
following the war with Burma in 1767.

The small vihara

Wihan Noi or Wihan Khian (the Hall of Paintings) was constructed in 1838 by order of
Phraya Chai Wichit during the reign of King Rama III to house Phra Kantharat. The
hall measures 25 m by 11.50 m and has front and back porches. In front of the vihara,
there are two staircases ascending an erased platform from both sides. The roof of the
vihara is covered with terra cotta tiles. [5]

The door panels, measuring 2.60 m by 0.60 m, are carved in a bas-relief of birds,
animals and deities with intricate flowery flames. It is believed to have been made in the
Mid Ayutthaya period as most of the Late Ayutthaya period door panels were inlaid with
mother of pearl and had finer designs. [5]

The gilded stucco designs at the windows and doors consist of European and Chinese
foliate designs, popular during that time, especially the Chinese design of a flower vase
and a small altar set. [1]

The inside walls contain faded mural paintings of the King Rama III period, mainly
erased by in seeping water and no maintenance. The painting covers the entire wall from
the floor up to the ceiling with no dividing lines. The color tone was dark, such as dark
red or dark green. The stories depicted in the painting were continuous with lines of trees
or roads or building structures to break-up the episodes. Following pictures remain to be
seen: A painting, depicting a king sitting in a pavilion on the water, pointing his finger. In
front of him are his servants. The pillars of the pavilion are carved in the naga form and
many rowing boats carrying offerings. The second painting shows a procession with
dances, musicians and soldiers. At the head of the parade people are carrying bamboo
rockets, and three monarchs sitting on elephants with the last one just departing from the
city gate. There are two men gesturing like they are trying to stop the parade while the
people in the procession looked startled. The third painting shows a long and winding
procession, taking place at night time. The people on the elephant are dressed as
commoners. There are people holding torches and a monk carrying an alms bowl
wrapped in red cloth. [5]

Phra Khantharat

The Buddha image “Phra Khantharat” or also called Phra Sri Ariamet Trai, was
carved in green stone in the Gupta style.

The Gupta period (4th to 6th century) is noted as a time during which the quintessential
Buddha image was created, becoming an iconic form which was disseminated and
copied throughout the Asian Buddhist world. Gupta style stands at a crossroads in art
historical developments in the sub-continent. The Gupta style embodies the earlier
figurative styles of North and North West India (Mathura and Gandhara), while
achieving a new power and sophistication. It is noted for the full, sensuous modeling of
faces and bodies, for a subtlety of expression and for the harmonious proportions of its
figures. During these centuries the workshops at Sarnath [close to Varanasi, Benares,
India], a monastic complex built on the site of the Buddha's first sermon, became
especially artistically influential. A particular type of Buddha image was produced here
whose body is covered by a diaphanous robe, which clings to the figure while flaring at
the sides. This was to become the prototype for a multitude of later images. [8] For the
first time, permanent materials like brick and dressed stone were used in the construction
of temples instead of perishable materials, such as bamboo, wood, etc. Sculpture of the
Gupta period presents a characteristically beautiful figure, full of charm and dignity, a
graceful pose and a radiant spiritual expression. [5]

The sculpture is believed to be made in the Dvaravati style (Mon) dating from 707 - 757
AD. The size of the image is 5.20 m high or three times normal human size. It is the
largest figure of a seated Buddha originally displaying the dharmachakra mudra with his
feet placed on a lotus pedestal in a western style manner, legs apart. The story goes that
the image was moved from Wat Phra Men in Nakhon Pathom province, where several
Buddha images in Dvaravati style have been found, two of which were moved to
Ayutthaya. The statue here was first kept at Wat Maha That. During the reign of King
Rama II the image was relocated to Wat Na Phra Men. One statue is at Wat Na Phra
Men and the other at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. A nearly similar Buddha
statue is found in the interior cella of the Buddhist temple of Candi Mendut in Indonesia.

This Buddha image has several remarkable features writes Kasetsiri and Wright: The
halo around the image's head has tongue flames indicating Chinese influence; The short
hemline exposing the left knee, looks different from those of other images in Thailand but
this is similar to the images of Maitreya created during the Tang dynasty in China; Both
hands of the image rest on the knees, which is different from the postures known in
Thailand, but apparently this was arranged at a later stage. [1]

Wat Na Phra Men is located in Geo Coord: 14° 21' 45.70" N, 100° 33' 31.46" E.
Ubosot or ordination hall
Three satellite chedi in line
The crowned Buddha in the ubosot
Phra Khantharat in the small vihara
Footnotes:

(1) All the RCA except Luang Prasoet put this event in 1548, but 1563 is the in general accepted date for this event. The Burmese stood before Ayutthaya
in 1564.
(2) Rahu is mentioned explicitly in a pair of scriptures from the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon. In the Candima Sutta and the Suriya Sutta, Rahu attacks
Chandra, the moon deity and Suriya, the sun deity, before being compelled to release them by their recitation of a brief stanza conveying their reverence for
the Buddha. The Buddha responds by enjoining Rahu to release them, which Rahu does rather than have his "head split into seven pieces". The verses
recited by the two celestial deities and the Buddha have since been incorporated into Buddhist liturgy as protective verses (paritta) recited by monks as
prayers of protection. [Wikipedia - data retrieved on 11 September 2009]. For the Thais it is the demon who causes eclipses.
(3) Maitreya (Sanskrit) or Metteyya (Pāli) is the future Buddha of this world. Maitreya is a bodhisattva who in the Buddhist tradition is to appear on Earth,
achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor of the historic Śākyamuni Buddha, the
founder of Buddhism. Maitreya is typically pictured seated, with either both feet on the ground or crossed at the ankles, on a throne, waiting for his time. He
is dressed in the clothes of either a Bhiksu or Indian royalty. Maitreya currently resides in the Tusita (Dusit) Heaven. [Wikipedia - data retrieved on 11
September 2009]

References:

[1] Discovering Ayutthaya - Charnvit Kasetsiri & Michael Wright (2007) - page 98/100.
[2] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 44-49 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat,
Phra Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - The King of Hongsawadi’s Letter and Ayutthaya’s Response.
[3] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 77 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - War with Lawæk, 1570.
[4] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 483 / Source: Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend
Phonnarat & Royal Autograph - The Burmese Besiege the Capital.
[5] A critical analysis of heritage interpretation and the development of a guidebook for non-Thai cultural tourists at Ayutthaya World Heritage site - Aphivan
Saipradist (2005).
[6] Ayutthaya, a world heritage (2000) - page 128/129.
[7] www.aziatischekunst.com - data retrieved 11 September 2009.
[8] www.vam.ac.uk - data retrieved 11 September 2009.
Text, maps & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - September 2009
Updated January 2015
Ubosot or ordination hall
Remnants of the old prang
Three satellite chedi in line
Remnants of the outer wall
Remnants of the old prang
Entry door, part of the outer wall
Three chedi in line
(Ubosot or ordination hall)
(Ubosot or ordination hall)
(Remnants of the old prang)
(Three satellite chedi in line)
(Three satellite chedi in line)
(Remnants of the outer wall)
(The crowned Buddha in the ubosot)
(Remnants of the old prang)
(Entry door, part of the outer wall)
(Phra Khantharat in the small vihara)
(Three chedi in line)
(Buddha images from the 13th-14th Century found on the location of Wat Phra Na Men and displayed at the Chao Sam Phraya Museum)
Detail of a 19th century map
Detail of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map - Anno 1926
Detail of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map
(Detail of a 19th century map - Courtesy of the Sam
Chao Phraya Museum)
(Detail of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map - Anno
1926)
(Detail of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map -
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Department - 3th Region)
Buddha image found at the location of Wat Na
Phra Men and displayed at the
Chandra Kasem
National Museum)