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Wat Phra Si Sanphet is situated on the city island in the Ayutthaya Historical Park in the Pratu Chai Sub-district. It has been registered as a national historic site by the Fine Arts Department since 5 March 1935 CE. This monastery was the most important temple of Ayutthaya and was situated within the Grand Palace grounds. It served as a model for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.


In 1350 CE Prince U-Thong ordered a palace built in an area called Nong Sano, actual the area in the vicinity of Bueng Phra Ram. The palace contained three wooden buildings named Phaithun Maha Prasat, Phaichayon Maha Prasat, and Aisawan Maha Prasat. Upon finalising the palace in 1351 CE, he established Ayutthaya as his capital and the title of Ramathibodi I bestowed upon him. The original size of the old palace compound is believed to be the same as the area of Wat Phra Si Sanphet today. Chris Baker thinks that possibly some of the old palace buildings were integrated with Wat Phra Ram. (1)

King Borom Trailokanat (reign 1448-1463 CE), the eighth king of Ayutthaya, built a new palace just north of the area, adjacent to the old Lopburi River the present Khlong Mueang, serving that time as the northern city moat. He converted after his accession in 1448, the royal pavilions of his predecessors into a Putthawat or sacred religious zone.

"The King gave over the palace to be converted into the Phra Si Sanphet Monastery, came to live on the banks of the river, and then had the Bencarat Palace and the Sanphet Palace built." [1]

Its past is not that clear at all. The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention that King Boromracha II (reign 1424-1448 CE) removed many sacred images of oxen, lions and other animal creatures from Angkor after invading Cambodia in 1431 CE. On return to Ayutthaya, he presented all the images as offerings, some at Wat Maha That and some at the Phra Si Sanphet Monastery. The mentioning of Wat Phra Si Sanphet would indicate that at the fall of Angkor, the monastery was already in existence and occupied a prominent place. [2]

King Ramathibodi II’s (reign 1491-1529 CE) first act after his throne ascendance in 1491 CE was to cremate his father's remains, King Borom Trailokanat and his elder brother King Boromracha III (reign 1488-1491 CE). The legend says that in 1492 CE, King Ramathibodi II built two chedis the chedi to the east was to store his father's ashes the chedi to the west (the actual middle one) was for his older brother.
"In 854, a year of the rat, the King erected a great stupa for the holy ashes of King Boromtrailok and King Boromracha III." [3]

In 1499 CE, a hall of worship called "Wihan Luang" (Royal Chapel) was built on the premises.

"In 861, a year of the goat, the holy Preaching hall of the Phra Si Sanphet Monastery was founded." [3]

The following year King Ramathibodi II gave orders for a vast Buddha image cast and installed in Wat Phra Si Sanphet. This image, representing Buddha in a standing posture (2), was 16 meters high, and the pedestal was 8 meters in length. The temple gave the statue its name. The head was 2 meters long and 1.5 meters wide, while its chest was 5.5 meters wide. The bronze core weighed close to 64 tons, while its surface was covered with 343 Kg of gold and took more than three years to complete. People said that it was the largest and most excellent standing image of Buddha recorded as having ever existed in the world. This statue, called "Phra Si Sanphetdayan", became the main object of veneration in the royal chapel. (3)

"On Friday, the eleventh day of the waxing moon of the eighth month, in 865, a year of the boar, the Holy and Glorious Omniscient One, the image of the lord Buddha, was dedicated. The dimensions of that image of the Lord Buddha were eight wa in height from the feet to the tip of the flame, four sok in length for the face by three sok in width, and eleven sok in width at the chest. The bronze for casting the image of the Lord Buddha weighed fifty-three thousand chang, and the pure gold for gilding weighed two hundred and eighty-six chang. For the front of the image the gold was of seven nam and two kha quality, and for the back of six nam and two kha." [3]

King Boromracha IV (reign 1529-1533 CE) built the third chedi to house the remains of King Ramathibodi II.

The Royal Monastery received more wealth. King Ekathotsarot (reign 1605-1610 CE) ordered five Buddha images and installed them with much pomp and celebration at Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The first Buddha image was beaten out of gold of the purest quality and wore a crown, and jewelled bracelets modestly adorned with the nine gems. The pedestal was beaten out of gold, engraved, and adorned with diamonds and jewels (likely a Buddha image attired in royal dress complete with crown and ornaments). The second statue was beaten out of gold of the purest quality as well as the pedestal, which was engraved. The third image represented Buddha seated under Naga and was made of an alloy of gold and copper. The ornaments were of engraved gold adorned with the nine gems, and its pedestal was made of pinchbeck (an alloy of copper and zinc resembling gold). The last two Buddha images were beaten out of silver and their pedestals were entire engraved silver. [4]

King Prasat Thong (reign 1629-1636 CE) on his accession ordered the renovation of Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The restoration of the temple was finalized in 1631 CE and inaugurated with great festivities. [5]

King Narai (reign 1656-1688 CE) added the Greek cross-shaped vihara on the west side of the temple. It is not clear if the square mondop structures adjacent to the chedi were built around this time or later.

In 1742 CE, in the reign of King Borommakot (1733-1758), the restoration of Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the Mondop Phra Mongkhon Bophit began. The complete renovation took more than a year. The mandapa was pulled down and replaced by a vihara (preaching hall), while the decapitated Buddha image was repaired. [6]

The temple

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, being part of the royal palace, was exclusively used by the Ayutthayan Kings. There was no clergy allowed to reside on its grounds, except for an occasional invitation to pray and to perform ceremonies such as the taking of an oath of allegiance for royal officers and preaching and merit-making by the King. The expansion of the temple caused the moving of the Buddhist centre from Wat Maha That to Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The temple also enshrined the Phra Buddha Lokanat (Protector of the World) and the Phra Buddha Palelai.

The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention that the bone relics of the Kings of Ayutthaya were kept behind the archway of the Royal Wihan of Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The cases mentioned in the chronicles are the relics of King Suthammaracha (reign 1656 CE), King Narai, King Phetracha (reign 1688-1703 CE), King Süa (reign 1703-1709 CE), Queen Yotha Thip (ca. 1715 CE) and King Borommakot. Ashes of the members of the royal family were placed in small chedi constructed at the site.

On the eve of the Burmese invasion, the central portion of the temple included three gilded chedis, three gilded mandapas (square buildings adjacent to the chedis that held objects of worship) and two very large viharas.

When Ayutthaya fell in April 1767 CE, the Burmese sacked and burned the monastery to the ground. All but the chedis were utterly destroyed. Buddha images were taken away, and from the larger ones, the Burmese melted the gold. The Buddha image of Phra Palelai in the south chapel was demolished.

"Then the Burmese used fire to melt off the pure gold which encased that figure of the large standing statue of the Holy Buddha within the holy crown preaching hall of the Monastery of the Temple of the Holy Glorious Omniscient One and carried off the entire amount of pure gold." [7]

The partially restored ruin includes all the buildings that survived the sack of 1767 CE. In the early twentieth century, only the eastern chedi was still standing. The rest was restored, although the two main viharas were not reconstructed. Little more, but portions of the base remain of the mandapas.

(Phra Buddha Lokanat - Wat Pho, Bangkok)

The Buddha image Phra Si Sanphetdayan

The Burmese melted the gold coating from the statue of Phra Si Sanphetdayan, leaving the bronze core of the image damaged. King Rama I of the Chakri dynasty removed the statue to Bangkok in pieces for restoration, together with the remaining Phra Lokanat image kept in the north chapel. The statue was, however, too seriously damaged to be recast into its former state. He installed the bronze core of Phra Si Sanphetdayan in a chedi at the time of the establishment of Wat Phra Chetupon, better known as Wat Pho. The 45-meter high chedi has been called "Phra Chedi Si Sanphetdayan" and is the one with a green tile mosaic of the group of four 42-meter-tall pagodas called Phra Maha Chedi Rachakan. The 10 meters high Phra Buddha Lokanat was placed inside the eastern vihara at the same temple. Both of them remain in Bangkok up to this day.

(Phra Chedi Si Sanphetdayan at Wat Pho, Bangkok)

Relics found at the ruined temple site

The archaeological department started excavations in 1932 in an attempt to safeguard still buried artefacts from illegal excavation by treasure hunters. Workers found in the eastern stupa beneath a smaller stupa, a square cavity. The cavity's walls were lined with metal plates made of an alloy of tin painted over with figures of disciples holding lotuses in their folded hands in attitudes of adoration. Most of these paintings were badly obliterated. Within the cavity were some votive tablets, Buddha images of all sizes made of various substances, bronze, tin alloy, gold silver, crystal and precious stones. All these objects were heaped around a stone miniature of the stupa wherein the artefacts were discovered.

The stone stupika is 81 cm in height with a base of 43 cm in diameter. When opening the stupika, another inner miniature stupa of tin alloy disintegrated on exposure to the air. The crumbled second miniature stupa hid a third stupa made of iron. Within again, a fourth and fifth miniature made of gilt bronze was found. Under the fifth miniature stupa was a silver one containing a gold one. The gold one had a seventh miniature made of crystal. The miniatures show a high standard of artistry. The crystal miniature held what is regarded as relics of the Buddha. These relics came in the shape of small white grains. Until today nobody knows the source of those relics found in the monument said to contain the mortal relics of King Borom Trailokanat. [8]

Source: Buribhand, Boribal (Luang) (1956). Excavations at the chapel royal at Ayudhya. Journal of the Siam Society. Vol 43.2.


(1) Chris Baker writes that "the chronicles state that the palace site was later converted into Wat Phra Si Sanphet, but it is unknown whether the palace occupied the same area as the wat. Possibly it extended further south, and Wat Phra Ram was built opposite its frontage. Possibly it extended further south, and Wat Phra Ram was built opposite its frontage. This site was chosen because the ground was slightly elevated. The main palace building may have become the principal vihara at the eastern end of the wat, as digging showed this building has very deep foundations. The Description states that three buildings were still in existence and used for votive purposes. Perhaps these had become ancillary buildings within the wat, but cannot now be identified." (Reference: Baker, Chris (2013). The Grand Palace in the Description of Ayutthaya: Translation and Commentary. Journal of the Siam Society, Vol 101.)
(2) Nicolas Gervaise wrote in his work published in 1688 CE that the Buddha image was seated with legs crossed in the Siamese fashion instead of a standing posture, though Guy Tachard wrote in his account that the statue was standing and the head of it reached up to the roof.
(3) Nicolas Gervaise, as well as Guy Tachard, wrote that it was said that the main Buddha image was cast in the place where it stood and that afterwards, the temple was built over it. These writings contradict the versions of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya.
(4) Krairiksh uses the wrong element from the oil painting "Iudea", the structure being Wat Maha That instead of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.


[1] Cushman, Richard D. Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. The Siam Society. p. 16.[2] Ibid. p. 15[3] Ibid. pp. 18-9.[4] Ibid. p. 206.[5] Ibid. p. 216.[6] Ibid. p. 435.[7] Ibid. pp. 521-2.[8] Buribhand, Boribal (Luang) (1956). Excavations at the chapel royal at Ayudhya. Journal of the Siam Society. Vol 43.2.

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