WAT KHUN SAEN





Wat Khun Saen is a restored temple ruin situated on Ayutthaya’s city island outside the Historical Park in Hua Ro sub-district. The temple can be accessed via U-Thong Road and stands near the Hua Ro market.


Wat Khun Sean stood on the south bank of the old Lopburi River, present Khlong Mueang, within the old city walls. Wat Khian stood southwest, Wat Racha Phruek on its east and Wat Wihan Thong on the opposite river bank. The Maha Chai Fort and the Thamnop Ro Bridge was in the northeast. Its present-day boundary extends right to the edge of the road. One of its minor chedis stops right before the pavement begins.


Architecture


The main stupa is a sizeable bell-shaped chedi built with an overlapping brick casing made in the reign of King Mongkut.


The inner stupa is a chedi of the middle Ayutthaya period. The inner chedi is visible only at the top part, consisting of a bell-shaped dome, a rectangular harmika, a colonnade supporting the spire, and the tapering conical spire itself. The knob is missing as well as several discs, which probably were at the number of 31, being the Thirty-one Planes of Existence,


The outer chedi has a base consisting of a two-tiered brick terrace. The first terrace has a height of about 1.80 meters. The next terrace has a height of about 2.50 metres measured above ground level. Both decks were fully paved with bricks. Above the base, the construction of the drum was started but halted when it had to make the transition towards the dome. The structure thus was never completed.


The vihara was a building 16.30 metres wide and 26.20 metres long, standing northwest of the chedi and facing the old Lopburi River. Only the restored foundations remain. The layout is rectangular, with a small porch in the front and the back and stairs leading up on both sides. Both porches had entrance doors to the vihara on both sides. The central pedestal is large and has traces of later additions. The foundations of the pillars are octagonal.


There are five minor chedis excavated and restored. Four are located to the north of the vihara. Only the foundations are visible. On the south side of the vihara remains one large minor chedi. The central part shows a twelve rabbeted-angled chedi, but the upper part was destroyed and lost.


There was an outer wall surrounding the vihara and the minor chedis. Some parts are missing. It is assumed that the outer wall was built later because of evidence found of the old exterior wall at the chedi base. [1]





History
The construction period of Wat Khun Saen is unknown as there are no records regarding its establishment. The monastery existed very likely before the reign of King Maha Thammaracha of Ayutthaya (1569-1590 CE), as it appeared in the chronicles. (1) The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention that a group of Mon settled at Wat Khun Saen. In 1584 CE, the King of Hongsa, Nanda Bayin (reign 1581-1587 CE) and the ruler of Ava, his suzerain, had differences. Bayin, fearing Prince Naresuan, the ruler of Phitsanulok, wanted to make away with him. Using the feud with Ava, he requested the help of Naresuan in defeating Ava. Naresuan left Phitsanulok for Khraeng (2) over Chiang Thong (3). Arriving at the Mon City of Khraeng, he encamped his troops near the monastery of the Maha Thera Khan Chòng. King Bayin instructed Phraya Kiat and Phraya Ram to make a flanking attack on Naresuan's troops from the rear as they went up to Ava and had to make sure that King Naresuan was seized and executed. They informed Maha Thera Khan Chong of their instructions. Maha Thera Khan Chong advised on his turn Prince Naresuan of Bayin's plans. Naresuan withdrew over Kan Buri, taking the important monk and the two army leaders with their army and families to Ayutthaya. King Maha Thammaracha of Ayutthaya installed Maha Thera Khan Chong as the new Patriarch of Wat Maha That and his relatives at the village behind Wat Nok. Phraya Kiat and Phraya Phra Ram were to reside in the vicinity of Khamin Village (4) near the Khun Saen Monastery with all the Mon families who had followed them.
When the Royal Father and King Naresuan had finished making their plans together, the King was pleased to have the great holy Thera Khan Chòng located at Maha That Monastery [F: as His Holiness Ariyawong, abbot of the Village Dwelling Sect residing at Phra Si Rattana Maha That Warawihan Royal Monastery,] and bestowed on him a sappathon umbrella, a kanching umbrella, a palanquin, bearers, rice, an annual bounty, and the various eight requisites of a Buddhist monk. [F: Now, the King was pleased to have the position of His Holiness Wannarat, the original Patriarch of the Village Dwelling Sect, administer only the Assembly of the South as the Division of the Right the separation of the Village Dwelling Sect into two assemblies originated at that time and has continued right down to the present.] On Phraya Kiat and Phraya Phra Ram the King bestowed gold trays of rank, gold lotus water-goblets, swords inlaid with gold, silver coins, clothing, and utensils and comestibles in great amounts. The Mon families which had been transported on down were also granted to Phraya Kiat and Phraya Phra Ram to supervise and administer. Then Phraya Kiat and Phraya Phra Ram were directed to reside in the vicinity of Khamin Village and Khun Saen Monastery. [2]
In more recent times, King Mongkut or Rama IV (reign 1851-1868 CE) ordered the restoration of Wat Khun Saen by enlarging the original central bell-shaped chedi and building an ordination hall and a ‘Sala Thong’ (pavilion). He also commanded a small canal dug around the temple, cutting through the city wall in two locations and connecting with the old Lopburi River, present Khlong Mueang. However, the King died before the project was finished. As a result, the restoration of Wat Khun Saen was permanently halted, and the monastery has remained in this situation since. [3]

In the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, reign 1868-1910 CE), the Monthon Krung Kao was established in 1893 CE. The Governor of Ayutthaya, Phraya Chai Wichit Sitthi Satra Maha Pathesathibodi, ordered a road made around the city (U Thong Road) in 1895 CE and the canals around Wat Khun Saen were filled up. (5) After the restoration works were halted, people build houses in the area of Wat Khun Saen, even over the foundation of the ancient site.

In 1941 CE, the Fine Arts Department announced the registration of Wat Khun Saen as a national historic site with publishing in the Government Gazette, Volume 58, Part 16, dated 18 March 1941. In 1994 CE, the Fine Arts Department conducted a survey and started a restoration, which was completed in 1996 CE. The houses on the temple site were removed, making the foundations of the monastic structures and the outer wall appear. Another excavation took place in 2005 CE, and the site was again restored after the great flood of Ayutthaya in 2011 CE.




Wat Kun Saen and the Chankasem Palace
Nantana Hengpujaroen wrote that according to some old documents, the walls around the Chan Kasem Palace or Front Palace had a length of 50 Sen or approximately 2000 m. The palace occupied thus an area roughly going from the Unmilled Rice Fort (Pom Khao Phluak) and Wat Tha Sai towards the Maha Chai Fort going down to the Ho Rattanachai Gate and running back along the Ho Rattanachai canal towards the Unmilled Rice Gate. The palace area should have included at least eight monasteries, one of them was Wat Khun Saen. The issue of such significant palace ground, as mentioned here, was although heavily discussed by scholars and rejected. [4]
In the "Geographical description of Ayutthaya: Documents from the palace", we read that Wat Khun Saen was a monastery inside the palace with an ubosot (ordination hall), a vihara (preaching hall), a teaching hall (kanparien), a reliquary stupa (chedi) and some minor chedis. As this was a monastery inside the palace, no monks were residing identical to the sanctuary of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. This confirms the writings partly on the Front Palace by Hengpujaroen. [5]
Maps
I believe Wat Khun Saen shows on Engelbert Kaempfer’s sketch. Kaempfer was a medical doctor working for the Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) who surveyed the city of Ayutthaya in June 1690 CE. Though the sketch is a bit unclear in that area, there are two marks of temples at a short distance of each other. A road is running to the south of both temples (today, U-Thong Road is to their north), which let us assume that the city wall was the northern limit of the temple area.
The monastery is found on a mid-19th century map of an unknown surveyor in front of the old city wall and on the bank of the old Lopburi River. Wat Song stood to the east, Wat Racha Phruek to the south and an unnamed fort, Pom Jampaphon from the Description of Ayutthaya, to the west.
On Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map drafted in 1926 CE, we find Wat Khun Saen near the bank of the old Lopburi River, south of Wat Chang, east of Wat Khian and north of an unnamed temple, which should be Wat Racha Phruek. Phraya Boran was the Superintendent Commissioner of Monthon Ayutthaya from 1925 till 1929 CE.
Wat Khun Saen is in geographical coordinates: 14° 21' 55.05" N, 100° 34' 15.84" E.
Footnotes:
(1) The Office of Archaeology of the Fine Arts Department excavated the site of Wat Khun Saen before its restoration, and some evidence has been found that this temple may have been built in the early Ayutthaya period or even a little bit before that, but more study is required.(2) Michael Vickery, in a review of ‘The Short History of the Kings of Siam - Journal of the Siam Society 64.2 (1976)’, believes Khraeng/Graeng stands for the Gyaing River, a river in Kayin State and Mon State, southeastern Myanmar. The river flows into the Salween River immediately above Moulmein. The City of Khraeng was likely along this river.(3) Chiang Thong was situated between Kamphaeng Phet and Tak. Simon de La Loubère shows the location on map 'Carte du Royaume de Siam' in his book ‘Du Royaume de Siam’ published in 1691 as 'Tian Tong' along the 'Menam River', in fact, the Ping River. Chiang Thong today is a sub-district of Wang Chao in Tak Province.(4) Wat Khamin must have been the local temple of Ban Khamin before 1580 CE. Ban Khamin was a hamlet on the northeastern tip of Ayutthaya's city island outside the city wall, at a time that the eastern city wall ran alongside Khlong Nai Kai (Khlong Makham Riang) and the connection canal (in front of the later Maha Chai Fortress) between the old Lopburi River and the eastern city moat (Khu Khue Na) was not yet dug. Ban Khamin could have been where Curcuma plants were prepared to be sold as spices or medicine.(5) Roads within the city were also constructed at that time, which led to the filling up of Khlong Pratu Khao Pluak - Pratu Jin.




References:


[1] Macharoen, Chaweengam (2005). Wat Khun Saen.

[2] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. pp 90 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - Naresuan and Hongsawadi Fight, and Naresuan Returns to Ayutthaya.

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

[4] Hengpujaroen, Nantana (2003). The study of Chantharakasem Palace for developing the Management Plan. Bangkok: Silpakorn Fine Arts University.

[5] Pongsripian, Vinai, Dr. (2007). Phanna phumisathan Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya: Ekasan jak Ho Luang. Geographical description of Ayutthaya: Documents from the palace. Bangkok: Usakane. pp 56.