“In 731, a year of the cock, Phra Ram Monastery was first constructed.” [1]

Wat Phra Ram is a restored temple ruin located in the Ayutthaya Historical Park in Pratu Chai Sub-district situated close to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Sri Sanphet in a swampy area called Bueng Phra Ram. The monastery was constructed on the cremation site of the first Ayutthayan monarch, King Ramathibodi I (reign 1351-1369 CE).


The exact time of its construction is unknown as the various Chronicles of Ayutthaya give different timings of its building. The oldest version, the Luang Prasoet, written during the late Ayutthayan era, states its establishment in 1369 CE. [1]

Later versions written in the post-Ayutthayan period put its construction in the year 1434 CE, after the death of Borommaracha II (reign 1424-1448 CE) and the throne ascending of King Borommatrailokanat (reign Ayutthaya 1448-1463 CE / reign Phitsanulok 1463-1488 CE), somehow 65 years later.

"And on the cremation site for King Ramathibodi I, he who had founded the Capital, the King had a holy monastery established, consisting of a great holy reliquary and a holy preaching hall, and he named it the Phra Ram Monastery." [2]

The Luang Prasoet version tells us that Wat Phra Ram was the first constructed temple in Ayutthaya when King Ramathibodi I passed away. The later versions we could also interpret as that they renovated the monastery with a Khmer-styled prang and a vihara. Nobody knows exactly.

The general timeline of its construction followed by most scholars is that King Ramesuan (reign 1369-1370 CE / 1st reign) ordered the construction of Wat Phra Ram in 1369 CE at his father’s cremation site. King Ramesuan abdicated the throne after a year while the structure was not yet completed. His successor King Borommaracha I (reign 1370-1388 CE), probably carried on Wat Phra Ram’s construction work. Another assumption is that King Ramesuan resumed the job after returning to the throne (reign 1388-1395 CE / 2nd reign). A significant renovation is presumed to have been undertaken in the reign of King Borommatrailokanat. Another major restoration occurred in 1741 CE in the late Ayutthaya period during King Borommakot’s reign (1733-1758 CE). [3]

The acquisition of merit

But why such temples? Robert Heine-Geldern explains in his "Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia" (1956) that the religious merit acquired in previous lives makes a man born a king or makes him gain kingship during his lifetime. Merit was as thus political legitimacy. The more merit was accrued (in building temples and offering valuables), the more legitimacy for the king or the king-to-be was endowed.

The whole kingship is about the possession of great religious merit. Central to Buddhism, but especially to Theravada, is the acquisition of "Bun" (lit: merit). The concept of merit was based on the law of karma (Th: Kam) and was the basis for the Theravada Kingship. Constructing a temple was regarded as highly meritorious and the deed that brought the most merit. By donating the site to the monkhood, the king could acquire merit simultaneously as he showed his reverence for his predecessor or royal ancestor, commemorated in the temple. To deposit the remains of a former king inside a prang or chedi would also ensure his eventual rebirth as a Buddha. [4]
The same concept of merit applied to valuables deposed in crypts. It has long been a funeral custom to deposit valuable and cherished belongings of the deceased together with the ashes of the dead. Relatives made votive offerings specially fabricated for the occasion in the gesture of making merit (hence the many votive tablets found in the different crypts). For example, most of the treasures found in the vault of Wat Racha Burana were the possessions of the two princes (even clothes, the latter although perished when dug up and came in contact with the atmosphere). They might inherit some part of them from their ancestors. A large number of votive objects came probably from the third brother, King Borommaracha II. Close followers donated their treasures to the deceased as a token of their homage and in a gesture of merit-making. [5]

In the early Ayutthaya period, it seemed to be a custom to establish a monastery on the Royal funeral pyre and to erect a funeral monument (chedi/prang) for the deceased in commemoration. Examples for this period were next to Wat Phra Ram (funeral pyre of King Ramathibodi I), Wat Racha Burana - funeral pyre of the princes Phraya Ay & Yi and King Intharacha (reign 1409-1424 CE). This continued in the middle Ayutthaya period, for example Wat Sop Sawan - Funeral pyre of Queen Suriyothai and daughter - Memorial Chedi at Wat Suan Luang.

Another practice throughout the Ayutthayan era was to build a monastery on the site of a former royal residence, examples were: Wat Phutthaisawan - the Palace area of U-Thong before establishing Ayutthaya Wat Sri Sanphet - old Grand Palace location and Wat Chai Watthanaram - Residence of Prasat Thong's foster mother (although there were also other motives).


Wat Phra Ram as Wat Maha That, Wat Phutthai Sawan, and the later built Wat Racha Burana follows the Khmer concept of temple construction. We find nearly identical but earlier built structures at Angkor. Phnom Bakheng, Preah Rup, East Mebon, Baphuon and Ta Keo were all Temple Mountains, consisting of a central tower surrounded by four corner towers, forming a quincunx, often surrounded by a courtyard and a gallery. I will not repeat the architectural features of this type of temple, as it has been already elaborated on the web page of the other three above mentioned temples.

Source: Ayutthaya Provincial Administration Organisation - World Heritage Relections of the Past.

Wat Phra Ram on the maps

Johannes Vingboons (c.1616-1670 CE) was a Dutch cartographer and watercolourist who published his first drawings of Ayutthaya around 1665 CE. The overall ground plan of Ayutthaya is wrong and its shape is distorted, certainly in the north-western part. The authors of “Van Vliet’s Siam” [6] though, situate Wat Phra Ram on the Vingboons’map, as “a large central chedi flanked by two smaller ones, and a wihan beside them.”

On the most accurate map of the French Engineer Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772 CE), likely based on data provided by another French Engineer de La Mare (who participated in the first French Embassy to Siam), we find Wat Phra Ram clearly indicated as the “Grande Pagode”. Excavations Workers found artefacts during excavations in the second half of the fifties in the crypt of Wat Phra Ram. Some are on display in the Wat Maha That room of the Chao Sam Phraya Museum. But due to the limited number of findings, the relic chambers of Wat Phra Ram were likely emptied by looters earlier.

The Buddha footprint

During excavations at Wat Phra Ram, a Buddhapada or an indentation of the Buddha's footprint was discovered. The object is displayed at the Bangkok National Museum. The sandstone footprint in Ayutthaya Art, dating back to the 15th century, measures 225 cm x 95 cm.

Each toe is marked with two spiral shells curling to the right. It is difficult to discern the big toe, as the size of the toes is nearly the same, but I believe it must be the right foot as the marks are clockwise.

The sole can be broken up into three parts. The upper part is decorated with large and smaller spiral shells curling to the right the centre part has a wheel adorned by 108 auspicious symbols spread over three concentric circles. The heel is decorated and also features some large and smaller spiral shells curling to the right.

The three circles contain the 108 mangalas illustrating the entire world system, such as Mount Meru, the four oceans, the sun and moon, the Himalaya, and the universe itself. The circles surrounding the wheel stand likely for the three realms, the human plane or Manussa Loka (2 circles of 43 symbols). The inner circle stands for the six abodes of the Deva (lower celestial beings) and 16 Brahma (higher divine being) realms, revealing the Buddhist cosmology.

The wheel itself, representing Buddha's teachings and law, consists of a hub and rim with 16 spokes. The depiction of a dharma wheel with 16 spokes is relatively rare and could be symbolising the World of Forms (16 Rupa Bhumi).

Source: Bangkok National Museum website

Khun Chang Khun Phaen

Wat Phra Ram was before an active monastery and is mentioned in the long poem "Khun Chang Khun Phaen", which was based following Prince Damrong, on a true story from the late fifteenth century.

Elder Khwat followed these orders. He went to stay in Wat Phraram for almost one rains retreat. He did not cast off the character of a Lao person from Lanna, and continued to eat rice and drink liquor in the evenings. He would appear drunk in the ubosot and create trouble until the abbot Phra Phimon could not tolerate it and said, ‘You fake elder, you drunkard, I can’t keep you.’ He was expelled from the chapter of Wat Phraram, and so wandered around with Novice Jiw looking for a wat where they could hide and escape their reputation. [5]

Guy Tachard

Guy Tachard (Marthon 1651 - Chandernagor 1712), also known as 'Le Père Tachard,' was a French Jesuit missionary and mathematician. He was sent on two French embassies to the Kingdom of Siam by Louis XIV. The text hereunder is an account of his visit to Wat Phra Ram on his first visit to Siam from October till December 1685. Guy Tachard's "A Relation of the Voyage to Siam" was initially published in 1688. Orchid Press (Bangkok) reprinted the old book under its "Iteneraria Asiatica", a series of reprints of books containing first-hand descriptions and narratives by travellers in Asia.

About an hundred paces South of the Palace there is a great Park walled in, in the middle where-of stands a vast and high Fabric built cross-ways in the manner of our Churches, having over it five solid gilt domes of Stone or Brick, and of extraordinary Architecture, the dome in the middle is far bigger than the rest, which are on the extremities and at the ends of the Cross. This Building rests upon several bases or Pedistals, which are raised one over another, tapering and growing narrower towards the top. The way up to it on the four sides is only by narrow and steep Stairs of betwixt thirty and forty Steps three hands broad apiece and all covered with gilt Calin or Tin like the Roof. The bottom of the great Stair-case is adorned on both sides with above twenty Statues bigger than the Life, some where-of are of Brass, and the rest of Calin and all gilt, but representing but sorrily the Persons and animals for whom they have been made. This Pile of Building is encompassed with forty four great Piramides of different form and well wrought, ranked orderly upon different Plat-forms.

On the lowest Plat-form stand the four greatest at the four corners of it upon large bases. These Piramides end at the top in a long very slender Cone, extreamly well gilt, and supporting a Needle or Arrow of Iron, that pierces through several Cristal balls of an unequal bigness. The body of those great Piramides as well as of the rest, is of a kind of Architecture that comes pretty near ours but it has too much Sculpture upon it, and wanting both the simplicity and proportions of ours, it comes short of its beauty, at least in the eyes of those that are not accustomed to it.

If we have time we may give a more perfect Idea of that Architecture upon the second Plat-form, which is a little above the first, there are six and thirty other Piramides some what less than the former making a square round the Pagod, nine on each side. They are of two different Figures, some taper into a point as the former did, and the rest are made round like a Bell on the top, after the manner of the domes which crown the Building they are so mingled that there are not two together of the same form.

Over these in the third Plat-form are other four Piramides on the four corners of it, which terminate in a point. They are less indeed than the first, but bigger than the second. All the Fabrick and Piramides are inclosed in a kind of square Cloyster, above sixscore common paces in length, about an hundred in breadth, and fifteen foot high. All the Galleries of the Cloyster are open towards the Pagod the Cieling thereof is not ugly for it is all painted and gilt after the Moresko Way. Within the Galleries along the out Wall which is all close ranges along Pedestal breast high, on which stand above four hundred Statues, rarely well gilt, and placed in most excellent order. Though they be only of Brick gilt, yet they appear to be very well shaped, but they are so like one another, that if they were not unequal in bigness, one would think that they had all been cast in the same Mould.

Amongst these Figures we reckoned twelve of a Gigantick Stature, one in the middle of each Gallery, and two at each Angle. These Figures, because of their height are sitting upon flat bases cross-leg`d, after the manner of the Country and of all the Orientals.

We had the curiosity to measure one of their legs, which from the Toes to the Knee, was full six foot long, the Thumb of it was as big as an ordinary Arm, and the rest of the Body proportionally big and tall. Besides these which are of the first magnitude, there are about an hundred others that are as it were Demi-Giants, having the Leg from the extremity of the Foot to the Knee four foot long. In short between the first and second, we reckoned above three hundred, of which none are less than the life, and these stand upright. I mention not a great many other little pagods no bigger than Puppets, which are mingled among the rest.

We never saw a Fabrick no not in France, where Symmetry is better observed, either for the body of the Building, or the Ornaments about it, than in this Pagod. The Cloister of it is flancked on the outside on each hand with sixteen great solid Piramids, rounded at the top in form of a Dome, above fourty foot high, and above twelve foot square, placed in a Line like a row of great Pillars, in the middle whereof there are larger niches filled with gilt Pagods. We were so long taken up with the sight of these things that we had not time to consider several other Temples.

Source: Wikipedia - Father Guy Tachard drawn by Carlo Maratta.


[1] Cushman, Richard Wyatt, David (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. The Siam Society. p11 / Source: Luang Prasoet.
[2] Cushman, Richard Wyatt, David (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. - The Siam Society. p16 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
[3] Ayutthaya, a world heritage (2000). p102-3.
[4] Fouser, Beth (1996). The Lord of the Golden Tower.White Lotus.
[5] Krom Silpakorn (2005). Khruangthongsamay Ayutthaya.
[6] Baker, Chris Dhiravat Na Pombejra Van Der Kraan, Alfons Wyatt, David (2005). Van Vliet’s Siam. Silkworm Books.
[7] Baker, Chris Phongpaichit, Pasuk (2010). The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen. Silkworm Books.
[8] Tachard, Guy (1688). A Relation of the Voyage to Siam. p181-4.

Other consulted works:

1. Ayutthaya Provincial Administration Organisation. World Heritage Reflections of the Past.
2. Kasetsiri, Charnvit Wright, Michael (2007). Discovering Ayutthaya. Toyota Thailand Foundation.