WAT KHUN MUEANG JAI





Wat Khun Mueang Jai is situated on Ayutthaya’s city island in Pratu Chai Sub-district. The site is found near the intersection of Chikun Road and Rojana Road. Near this intersection was a wooden bridge over the Khlong Pratu Jin (defunct) called Wat Khun Mueang Jai Bridge. The temple stood on the east bank of the canal and was south of Wat Khok Saeng (defunct), east of Wat Mae Nang Muk, north of Wat Tha Jin (defunct) and west of Wat Jingjok (defunct).

Pre-dating Ayutthaya?

Wat Khun Mueang Chai is a very ancient temple, which may pre-date the establishment of Ayutthaya in 1351. Derick Garnier points out that "Archaeologists have found traces of a pre-12th century Dvaravati town on and below the island of Wat Khun Muang Chai, Wat Maha That, and Tambon Bang Kracha." [1].

Also, Chris Baker wrote: “The architecture suggests the original stupa may pre-date the foundation of Ayutthaya, and archaeological finds, including images and pottery, confirm its early date and importance.” [2]

N. Na Pak Nam wrote that the main chedi of Wat Khun Mueang Jai, as well as the main chedi of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, relates to the model of the octagonal chedi of Wat Phra Kaeo at Phraek Sriracha in Sankha Buri District of Chai Nat Province. This ancient octagonal chedi is from the post-Dvaravati period and existed thus long before the 'founding' of Ayutthaya in 1351. [3]

The mentioning in the chronicles of the construction of the giant Buddha Luang Pho Phanan Choeng in 1324 CE indicates that before establishing Ayutthaya as the capital, the area was already thriving and very populated. [4]

Wat Khun Mueang Jai could thus have been connected to the settlement of Ayodhya, a Khmer outpost related to Lop Buri and the forerunner of Ayutthaya.

Architecture

Wat Khun Mueang Jai consists of four primary structures: an ordination hall, a vihara, a large stupa, a two-storey brick building and several minor chedis. The site in the past was probably more spacious than what we see today as the Rojanan Road cuts through its premises. South of Wat Khun Mueang Jai was another monastic area before including Wat Tha Jin, Wat Khanom Jin and Wat Cho Ae.

Chedi

The original plan of this important chedi was likely a square bottom base in support of the octagonal drum before merging into the bell-shaped dome. The octagonal throne or harmika fell to the ground on the west side of the base, including some parts of the conical spire. As seen from the renovation work chedi, the monastery must have undergone at least 2- or 3-times significant renovations in the Ayutthaya era. Only the square base of the principal chedi remains. The base is of a taller type representing a style dating back to the early Ayutthaya period.

The low walls above the base were designed to look like balustrade walls. These were simply balustrade-like decorative patterns that provided space to install standing Buddha images, whose style belongs to the early Ayutthaya period (which embodies traces of the Khmer artistic tradition) but must have been remodelled later. The eastern wall has 2 Buddha images in standing posture remaining, made of mortar and enshrined between the pillars.

The style of the base was designed with several layers supporting the bell-shaped body. One layer was superimposed on another in such a way as to give additional space to each of the four sides of the base. Specific decorative patterns belong to the early Ayutthaya period, while others are those of the late Ayutthaya style. The latter must have been part of later restoration work. The construction style of the base referred to above is known in traditional Thai architecture as 'yok ket'. This construction technique results in the base having additional angles it also gives rise to the name ‘angles added’ [or indented] base. Over the walled corner, a small chedi-shape construction was erected, called a corner chedi. Only a ruined corner chedi on the south-eastern side survives. The main chedi and the four corner chedis are representing Mount Meru. [5]

Absence of a gallery

The architecture of the early Ayutthaya period was a central stupa surrounded by a gallery with a vihara to the east and an ordination hall to the west, forming the temple's central axis. Examples on the city island are Wat Phra Ram, Wat Maha That and Wat Racha Burana.

It remains the question if there ever was a gallery. The absence of a gallery does not interfere with the dating of the temple, as there are many more indications that the site belongs to the early Ayutthaya period or even pre-dates it.

Dr Santi Leksukhum wrote that if there was no gallery, it might be explained that the absence of a gallery surrounding the main chedi is an exception for the main chedi that is not prang-shaped. In my opinion, this argumentation only applies to Wat Phukhao Thong, which has no traces of a gallery, but not to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, unless the latter had a prang in the early Ayutthaya period. [6]

Ubosot

The ordination hall or ‘ubosot’ stands east of the main chedi. Only some foundations remain of the largely damaged building, likely from a reconstruction post-Ayutthaya era. The structure includes some remnants of Buddha images, and a large bodhi tree grows out of its altar.

Around the structure, incomplete pedestals are supporting the boundary stones in all eight directions. The pedestal is adorned with an image of a lion's leg, believed to be craftsmanship of the middle Ayutthaya period and can be compared to a similar lion's leg that decorates the base of the Vihara Luang of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which the chronicles state it was built in the first half of the 16th century CE.

On both sides of the ordination hall, there is still evidence of minor chedis made of brick.

It is believed that the original ordination hall of Wat Khun Mueang Jai when the monastery was established, was initially in the west, as the traditional pattern of the temples built in the early Ayutthaya period had the vihara east of the main chedi, as can be seen at Wat Phutthaisawan and Wat Maha That.

Vihara

The sermon hall or ‘vihara’ is west of the main chedi. There is evidence that it was expanded 2 or 3 times. The base platform on the left and right of the vihara has been enlarged. Rows of minor stupas are lined up on the platform, but they are all significantly damaged, leaving only the lower part. Only one minor octagonal chedi on the south side and near the main chedi remains in more or less good condition but is heavily tilted.




Two-storey brick building

A two-storey building of the late Ayutthaya period is located on the northwest side of Wat Khun Muang Jai. The lower level of the side walls in the north and the south are lined up with lotus-shaped window openings reminding of a Persian style. An entrance door existed on the east side, but it has completely collapsed. Inside the building, along the east wall, there is a not decorated square plinth, about three metres wide and over three metres high. A similar construction exists at the Residence of the Ambassadors in Lop Buri. This building must have got a specific purpose and is very likely an additional construction dating back to King Narai's reign. In my opinion, this must have been a ‘Tamnak’ or royal pavilion as we can find it near the most important temples of that time. Examples are Tamnak Kammalian of Wat Kudi Dao, Tamnak Wat Maheyong, Tamnak Prasat Thong at Wat Chai Watthanaram, Wihan Phra Thi Nang Yen at Wat Phra Ram and the other royal pavilions, for example, at Wat Jao Ya and Wat Pho.

History

There is no mentioning of the establishment of this monastery nor its renovations in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Still, old documents refer to this monastery as being used for the important ceremony of taking the oath of allegiance. (1)

The old documents state that Wat Khun Mueang Jai was one of the principal places of the capital city of Ayutthaya, while its stupa was part of the five great stupas of the city. [7]

Evidence from the temple ruins indicates that the construction work probably started at the beginning of Ayutthaya or slightly earlier because there is evidence of restoration in the first period of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, and there were no fewer than 2-3 subsequent times before the end of the Ayutthaya period. Major restoration work and construction during the late Ayutthaya period also indicates the importance of the temple. The presence of what may have been a Royal pavilion could suggest that either the king or the royal family was involved in the renovations.

The Fine Arts Department restored this monastery in 1969-1970, 2006 and after the great flood of Ayutthaya of 2011 CE.

Maps

Wat Khun Mueang Jai shows on Vingboon’s aquarelle ‘Afbeldinge der stadt Iudiad hooft des choonincrick Siam’ of 1665 CE. Johannes Vingboons (1616-1670 CE) was a Dutch cartographer and watercolourist. I position the monastery based on the six bridges over the Pratu Khao Pluak – Pratu Jin Canal described in the old documents, all visualised on Vingboons' painting. The fifth bridge was Saphan Khun Mueang Jai, made of wood and stood in the monastery's vicinity.

There are no traces of Wat Khun Mueang Jai on Kaempfer’s sketch. Engelbert Kaempfer was a medical doctor working for the Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) who surveyed the city of Ayutthaya in June 1690 CE.

Based on an overlay, I believe the monastery is shown on Bellin’s map ‘Plan De La Ville De Siam’. Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772 CE) was one of the most important cartographers of the 18th century. He was a hydrographer and 'ingénieur hydrographe' at the French 'Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine'.

A mid-19th century map by an unknown surveyor shows the monastery on the east bank of Khlong Pratu Jin, north of Wat Khok Saeng and south of Wat Krabue. It is named ‘Wat Khun Khon Jai’ and indicated with a chedi.

The monastery appears on Phraya Boran Rachathanin’s [PBR] 1926 CE map, on the east bank of Khlong Pratu Jin and south of the Street of the Moors (more or less present Pa Thon Road). Wat Mae Nang Muk stood on the opposite river bank Wat Jingjok was in the east and a series of three temples in the south: Wat Tha Jin, Wat Khanom Jin and Wat Cho Ae (of which foundations likely disappeared under present Rojana Road). Interestingly, PBR draws it on a northwest-southeast axis, which is odd because Wat Khun Mueang Jai is constructed on an east-west alignment.

Wat Khun Mueang Jai is in geographical coordinates: 14° 21' 4.59" N, 100° 34' 14.39" E.

Footnotes:

(1) One of the most important State Ceremonies from the point of view of the upkeep of the established form of government in Siam is undoubtedly the Drinking of the Water of Allegiance (Sri Satchapankan ceremony or 'thu Nam'), which is still celebrated on the same impressive scale as it has been since the days of the Cambodian Empire. The Drinking of the Water of Allegiance ceremony of Phra Phiphat Sattaya (พระราชพิธีถือน้ำ พระพิพัฒน์สัตยา) is an important royal ceremony since the Ayutthaya period and find its roots in India. The purpose of the ceremony was to instil the morale and the integrity of the military and civil servants to perform the duties of the state in the right way. Those who participate in the ceremony have to drink water to show their loyalty to the King. [8]




References:


[1] Garnier, Derick (2004). Ayutthaya: Venice of the East. Bangkok: River Books.

[2] Baker, Chris (2014). Final Part of the Description of Ayutthaya with Remarks on Defense, Policing, Infrastructure, and Sacred Sites. Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 102.

[3] Na Pak Nam, N. (1973). Stupa and Chedi in Thailand. Bangkok: Odeon Store.

[4] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. Bangkok. pp. 10 / Source: Luang Prasoet.

[5] Tourism Authority of Thailand (2000). Ayutthaya: A world heritage. Bangkok: Darnsutha Co. Ltd.

[6] Leksukhum, Santi (Dr). Wat Khun Mueang Jai. Icomosthai.org (downloaded 1 July 2021).

[7] Baker, Chris (2014) - Final Part of the Description of Ayutthaya with Remarks on Defense, Policing, Infrastructure, and Sacred Sites. Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 102.

[8] Quaritch Wales, H.G. (1931). Siamese State Ceremonies. Their history and function. London: Bernard Quaritch, Ltd.



Groundplan of Wat Khun Mueang Jai



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





No. 1: The chedis which are in the area near the ordination hall total ten. They are made of brick-and-mortar in the Ayutthaya period. Only their foundations remain.


No. 2: An inner wall made of brick-and-mortar, built in the Ayutthaya period with a width of 12 metres and a length of 24.50 metres, with two doors on the east side. The width of each entry is 1.50 meters. The inner wall is damaged and broken, leaving only the foundation.


No. 3: An ordination hall built during the Ayutthaya period, facing west with a width of 9 metres and a length of 18.50 metres. There is a single door into the hall of 2 metres wide. The ordination hall is damaged, leaving only the basic foundations. The boundary stones (Bai Sema) are destroyed, and even their base foundations were not found.


No. 4: The main chedi, 14 metres away from the ordination hall, is a twelve rabbeted-angled chedi made of brick-and-mortar, built during the Ayutthaya period. It has a diameter of 19.30 metres. The top part is broken.


No. 5: A square chedi, 3 metres from the main chedi, built of brick-and-mortar in the Ayutthaya period and with a width of 4.80 meters. The stupa is destroyed, leaving only the foundation.


No. 6: Ten small square chedis made of brick-and-mortar in the Ayutthaya period, in the area of the vihara. Six stupas have a diameter of 4.50 metres, and four stupas have a diameter of 4 metres.


No. 7: A vihara or sermon hall, 10.40 metres from the main chedi, built of brick-and-mortar. The sermon hall faces east and is 13 metres wide, 27.40 metres long. There are the foundations of 16 brick pillars, damaged and broken.


No. 8: A small vihara in the northwest, 19.40 metres of the large vihara, made of bricks and mortar in the Ayutthaya period. It has a width of 10 metres and a length of 20 metres, and a single entry in the east. The sermon hall is destroyed, leaving only the foundation.