WAT CHOENG THA





Wat Choeng Tha is located off the city island in the northern part of Ayutthaya, in the Tha Wasukri Sub-district. The monastery is situated on the north bank of Khlong Mueang (1) opposite the Thai Sanom Fort from the Grand Palace and the entry of Khlong Pak Tho (2). West of the temple ran the Khu Mai Rong (3), a moat around the adjacent Royal boathouse.


This monastery faces south towards the old Lopburi River, instead of east, the direction of the rising sun, auspicious direction, representing life and the sexual prowess of the male. South has a neutral value. (4)


The monastery dates back to the early Ayutthaya period, but its establishment is unknown. The legend goes that a wealthy man had a beautiful daughter who fell in love with a young man and ran away. The rich man waited long for his daughter to return and decided to build a bridal house in forgiveness if she returned. However, the daughter never came back, so her father ordered a temple to be built on the spot, and it was named Wat Koi Tha (Monastery of the Waiting Pier).





The naming of the temple Wat Choeng Tha was also known as Wat Tin Tha because it was located at the foot of a landing across the city island called Tin Tha and a place where cut grass was taken to bring across to feed the elephants and horses from the Grand Palace. A royal dictionary translates 'Tin' (ตีน) as grass (หญ้า). The opposite landing was Tha Ma Ap Nam (Landing of the bathing horses). [1]


During the reign of King Narai (1656-1688 CE), the temple was called Wat Klang until Chao Phraya Kosa Pan (b.1633-d.1699 CE) restored and renamed the monastery Wat Kosawat.


The monastery was again repaired during the reign of King Borommakot (1733-1758 CE).


Finally, during the reign of King Mongkut (1851-1868 CE), the temple’s name would change to Wat Choeng Tha. An important monastery with the same name exists in the Tha Hin Sub-district of Lopburi. [2]





King Tak Sin and Wat Kosawat


Phraya Tak Sin served as a novice monk at Wat Kosawat before the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 CE. The story goes that Nai Sin, the later King Taksin (reign 1767-1782 CE), was brought to Wat Kosawat by Chao Phraya Chakri when he was nine. He studied here Thai Khmer books and scriptures. When 13 years old, upon a day, Sin had the idea to set up a gambling den and persuaded the temple disciples to play. Ajan Thongdi Maha Thera, the leading monk, found it out and punished everyone. Sin was the instigator, so he gave him a heavy punishment, tying his hands and soaking him in water from the time the twilight rises. Ajan Thongdi went to pray, and he forgot Sin. About half time during the prayers, the head monk suddenly remembered Nai Sin and sent the monks to search for Nai Sin. They found Sin on the river bank edge, still tied to the stairs. Then Ajan Thongdi took Sin to the ordination hall to sit in the middle, and all the monks chanted the Buddha with auspicious incantations. Later, Chao Phraya Chakri took Sin, his adopted son, to propose himself as chamberlain (Mahat Lek) to King Borommakot until he was 21 years old. After that, he was ordained to live with Phra Ajan Thongdi at Wat Kosawat for three years.





Architecture


Wat Choeng Tha is an active temple with many ancient structures still in situ. The principal building is the prang combined with the vihara or hall of images at the front. The ubosot or the ordination hall is situated west of the prang. An outside wall surrounds all. On the riverbank, but outside the outer wall of the old premises, there is a Sala Kamparian or sermon hall, dating back to the Rattanakosin period.


The most imposing construction is the large Khmer-style prang with niches in each cardinal direction containing remnants of standing Buddha images. The prang is hollow inside, and there are traces of earlier looting. The prang has porches in three directions. The ruin of a sermon hall is located in front of the prang. The basic foundation of the vihara was renovated, and most of the walls are still standing, including the inner wall. More standing Buddha images are found in arched niches at the back wall of the sermon hall. In the middle of the vihara, we see two recent Buddha images in the ‘Buddha defying Mara’ pose. In addition, there are several small chedis designed in a variety of styles and time periods scattered around the site. The walls and some entry gates of the old monastery are still in situ.


The ordination hall is situated west of the prang. It is a rectangular building with a width of 7.50 meters and a length of 18 meters. The main entrance faces to the south. There are two gates at the front and the same as at the back. This building stands on a foundation that slightly curves at the middle of the long side like a junk (type of Chinese sailing ship), a popular style in the late Ayutthaya period. Most of the boundary stones and their pedestals were preserved. On the western side of the ubosot, there are some intricately carved lion images. Still, they are not in the position described in the document “Phra Rachawang lae Wat Boran nai Jangwat Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya” from 1968 CE. The building was extensively renovated by the Fine Arts Department in 2019 CE.





The modern part of Wat Choeng Tha is situated east of the ancient site, with the standard structures of an active monastery in place (monks’ quarters, bell tower, etc.). In addition, there is a small exposition of old ceramics pieces and local terracotta craft ware.

The sermon hall close to the riverbank was built in the reign of King Rama IV. It is a two floors rectangular building on an east-west axis. The style suggests it once served as a residence hall for someone with a high-ranking position. The inner part of this sermon hall is constructed from teakwood. It is a compound building composed of the main building and kutis, or the monk‘s residences on each long side. Inside the hall, there are splendid mural paintings about the history of the Buddha, the Thotsachat Chadok or the last ten rebirths of the Buddha, portrayed anticlockwise on the lower part of the four walls Thepanom, figures of deities, clasping hands in token of worship (to the Buddha) and facing west are on the upper part of the walls. The western wall depicts the Buddha sitting in meditation inside an arch with offerings on red tables. Some of the wooden shutters display Chinese characters and motifs. Unfortunately, many murals are getting damaged with age, and paint has worn off in places. The murals were created by Master Khae, his followers and Phra Ajan Aphondham, a previous abbot of Wat Choeng Tha. They date from 1806-1868 CE, during the reign of King Rama IV. In the hall are also some intricately carved wooden pulpits and Buddha images.




Excavation at Wat Choeng Tha


In 2020 CE, excavations were performed along the riverbank of Wat Choeng Tha, south of the sermon hall. Next to undefined brickwork, brick slopes in a V-pattern probably meant to facilitate a boat landing were excavated. There was a boat ferry between the landing at the northwestern corner of the Grand Place called Horse Bathing Landing to Wat Choeng Tha. This crossing became the official ferry of the palace from the reign of King Petracha (reign 1688-1703 CE) onwards. In the Ayutthaya period, twenty-two ferry routes were between the mainland and the city island. In the northern area, the six other crossings were: Tha Nuea to Wat Khun Yuan, Tha Khan to Sala Trawen, Tha Sip Bia to Wat Pho, Wat Tha Sai to Wat Rong Khong, Wat Song to Wat Pa Khonthi and Tha Khun Nang to Wat Mae Nang Plum. [3]





Wat Choeng Tha on the maps


Wat Choeng Tha figures on the ‘Mappa Meinam’ or the Chao Phraya River from Engelbert Kaempfer and published in ‘The History of Japan’ in 1727 CE. The temple can be observed on the map on the opposite side of the Pak Tho Canal and is named 'Templum Novum' or the 'New Temple'. Kaempfer's observations date to June 1690 CE, so the monastery was likely renovated by Kosa Pan after his return from France in 1687 CE and before Kaempfer's arrival.


Wat Choeng Tha is mentioned as Wat Tin Tha on a 19th-century map by an unknown surveyor. The monastery stands west of Wat Chang, diagonally opposite Wat Mai (Chai Wichit) and opposite the Pak Tho Canal. The boat landing near the monastery connects to the 'boat landing of the bathing horses'.


The monastery shows on Phraya Boran Rachathanin’s [PBR] map of 1926 CE and is still mentioned as Wat Tin Tha. PBR indicates the royal boathouse and the Khu Mai Rong or Moat of the Crying Wood surrounding it between Wat Phanom Yong and Wat Tin Tha. The latter is opposite the Thai Sanom Fort from the Grand Palace on the other riverbank.


Wat Choeng Tha is in geographical coordinates: 14° 21' 42.95" N, 100° 33' 19.44" E.


Footnotes:


(1) Khlong Mueang, or the City Canal, is a stretch of the old Lopburi River on the northern side of Ayutthaya's city island. Many people believe it is a manufactured canal. The Lopburi River descending from the north, ran in the Ayutthaya period around the city and joined the Chao Phraya River near Bang Sai (below Bang Pa-In). Khlong Mueang is a remnant from that time. Today, the canal starts at Hua Ro and has its mouth at the confluence with the Chao Phraya River near Hua Laem.

(2) Khlong Pak Tho is part of a waterway running through the west of Ayutthaya from north to south. The canal was a shortcut through the oxbow of the Lopburi River and connected the old Lopburi River, present Khlong Mueang in the north with - what is today - the Chao Phraya River in the south. The canal originated opposite Wat Choeng Tha and ran west of the Grand Palace to the Lam Hoei Bridge, where its further extension south was called Khlong Chakrai Yai.

(3) Khu Mai Rong, the Moat of the Crying Wood, was situated off Ayutthaya's city island in Lum Phli Sub-district, adjacent to Wat Choeng Tha. The artificial waterway had its origin adjacent to Wat Choeng Tha on the northern side of the old Lopburi River, ran about half a kilometre inland and had its mouth east of Wat Phanom Yong. Khu Mai Rong contained the sheds where the Royal barges were housed. There were 20 barge houses adjacent to Wat Choeng Tha towards Wat Phanom Yong. The name of the moat was probably derived from the creaking of the wood from the barges.

(4) In principle, the main Buddha image of a temple is orientated in the first place towards a waterway and secondly to the East. Still, the water, in general, has priority over the direction.


References:


[1] Photčhanānukrom chabap Rātchabandittayasathān, Phō̜. Sō̜. 2493, p. 415.

[2] Krom Sinlapakorn (1968), Phra Rachawang lae Wat Boran nai Jangwat Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya (Fine Arts Department).

[3] Pongsripian, Vinai, Dr. (2007). Phanna phumisathan Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya: Ekasan jak Ho Luang. Geographical description of Ayutthaya: Documents from the palace. Bangkok: Usakane. p. 92.



The Ground Plan of Wat Choeng Tha


References: Krom Sinlapakorn (1968), Phra Rachawang lae Wat Boran nai Jangwat Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya (Fine Arts Department).





No. 1: Tha Nam Pavilion is a wooden pavilion with the name of its creator as "Prince Damrong Rajaniti”, built in 1923 CE with a width of 5 metres and a length of 7 metres with a concrete road 2 metres wide, 8 metres long, and 60 centimetres high.

No. 2: A sermon hall (Kanparien), built during the reign of King Rama IV by Khun Klanthip, living in the Tha Wasukri Sub-district below Wat Mai Chai Wichit on the city island side. Nang Daeng (Yom Daeng) was the sponsor. The hall was constructed with brick and mortar on the lowland by the river, facing east with a width of 11 metres and a length of 36 metres having a teak floor, a thatched roof with terracotta tiles with a pointed tail. At the end of each roof ridge of the hall, east and west, reside a swan-tailed 'chofa' with rooster leaves. There is a wooden gable carved in a Kranok pattern (1) a figure of a divinity (Thepanom) is in the middle, with honeycombs hanging down, decorated with red, green, white, blue glass, stunning, and made of wood. It was carved in the reign of King Borommokot and originated from Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. There are two wooden doors on each side, 1.49 metres wide and 2.34 metres high and the door panels are decorated, having in the middle a green painting of a gatekeeper (Thawaraban) holding a spear. There are two wooden windows, 1.06 metres wide and 1.84 metres high. Around the wall of the inner pavilion, there is a colour painting of the history of the Buddha, written by Phra Ajan Thamma, the abbot at that time and painted by Kru Khae. Khae was an artisan and drawing teacher and, together with Pan Tieng, painted the murals of the ordination hall of Wat Yom, which Phraya Boran Rachathanin later ordered copied on a Khoi manuscript in 1897 CE. (2) Khae also painted the murals from the Ubosot of Wat Mai Chai Wichit, the doors of Wat Yan Sen and the ordination hall of Wat Thammikarat, but the paintings faded and were all destroyed. He also painted murals in Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram (Wat Phra Kaeo) and was a great shadow play leather carver, having good skills. There are 14 round Makha wooden pillars (3), each with a painting with a pattern and a yellow figure of a ‘Thepanom’, and the painter's names are visible. On the posts are the names of Nai Phet, Nai Thup, Nai Chon, Nai Khuen, Nai Thaeo, Khun Pim, Khun Yeet of Wat Salapun and Khun Tham of Wat Phrom. Some pillars, though, have their names removed. The ceiling was painted red with images of gilded ‘Jan’ flowers: the colours in these paintings were still very complete. On the west side, in the middle of the pavilion, there is a pulpit (Sangkhet), wood carved, gilded pattern, and decorated with glass. It is shaped like a pulpit in the National Museum acquired from Phetchaburi Province. In addition, there is a pulpit with a watering pattern Thepanom image of the Rattanakosin era.

No. 3: Outer brick and mortar wall, 62 metres wide, with six doors, one on the north side and one on each side, two on the east and west on each side, with a width of 1.50 and a height of 2 metres.

No. 4: 21 small chedis lined up in front of the ordination hall and the vihara from the Ayutthaya period. They are short pointed, bell-shaped and star fruit-shaped most of them are damaged, and their top is broken.

No. 5: A paper burner in front of the ordination hall, made of bricks and mortar, one meter wide. It has an air chimney and a paper slot. No. 6: There are eight boundary stones (Bai Sema) in sandstone standing on a rectangular brick base dating from the Ayutthaya period with a width of 35 cm two are newly made. On the west side, there is a stone lion on the north side, there are two stone lions. No. 7: The Ubosot or ordination hall is 7 metres wide, 17 metres long and has two doors in the front and behind on each side, facing the south. The door is 1.30 metres wide and 2 metres high. The Ubosot is left with only the walls and the roof destroyed, with two windows on each side, east and west. No. 8: The principal Buddha image is made of brick and mortar, lacquered and covered with gold, in the Maravijaya pose, cross-legged and dating from the Ayutthaya period. The lap width is 1.10 metres, and its height is 1.40 metres. The Buddha image is in perfect condition. It has a small square brick base, 1.10 metres high, with a stucco angelic horse (Ma Thip) in front, decorated with red, green, white, blue, and blue glass surrounding the back. No. 9: A vihara, 8 metres from the ordination hall, located on the east side with a width of 10 metres and a length of 21 metres, facing south. Only the wall is left. The front door is one metre wide and two metres high. There are two doors with a width of 3 metres on each side 2 windows on each side, east and west, with a width of 50 cm and a height of 1 meter. No.10: Behind the vihara is a large pagoda connected with the temple. On top of the prang, there is a bronze finial, still intact. Below the garbha, there are stucco statues of Garuda, Yakshas (4), Rakshasas (5), and Gandharvas (6), holding clubs on all four sides. Above and inside the niches are stucco Buddha images from the Ayutthaya period most are damaged. No. 11: The prang has three porches: north, east and west, with a width of 6 m each and a length of 10 m. There are three doors leading into the porches on the north side. Each porch has two square pillars made of bricks, one metre in diameter. In the middle of the northern porch, at the base of the prang, there is a red sandstone Buddha image in the Leela attitude (ปางลีลา) from the Ayutthaya period with a height of 2 metres. The head and hands are broken. There are Ayutthaya-style stucco Buddha images damaged on the two sides of the porches on the east and west. In the middle, at the base of the prang, there is a damaged stucco Buddha image in the posture of giving forgiveness.

No.12: The bell tower is 9 metres away from the prang in the east with a width of 3 metres on each side and 1.5 metres high and is built of brick and mortar. It has arches in the shape of a jade leaf and has a pattern.

No.13: A wooden pavilion located in the east, 8 metres from the vihara, 4 metres wide, 8 metres long. It is a newly built wooden pavilion, leaving only pillars and no roof.

Footnotes:

(1) Kranok pattern is a pattern of lines and one of the most important Thai motif patterns, appearing in many Thai artworks such as Tripiṭaka cabinets, the doors of Thai temples, and coffins.
(2) In 1985 CE, the Muang Boran Publishing House released books about the murals at Wat Pradu Songtham and Wat Yom. The murals at both monasteries are viewed as artistically connected due to execution techniques, including the linear depiction and colour application.
(3) Afzelia xylocarpa is a tree from Southeast Asia. It grows in Thailand in deciduous forests and can reach 30 metres with a trunk up to 2 metres in diameter in a mature specimen.
(4) An auspicious nature-spirit, guardian of wealth and symbolic of fertility and abundance.
(5) A Rakshasa is a demon or unrighteous spirit in Hindu mythology. According to the Ramayana, rakshasas were created from Brahma's foot.
(6) A class of celestial beings whose males are divine singers and females are divine dancers from the Gandhara region.