WAT PHUKHAO THONG





Wat Phukhao Thong, or the Monastery of the Golden Mount, is located off the city island in Thung Phukhao Thong, nearly three kilometres northwest of the centre of the city of Ayutthaya in the Phukhao Thong Sub-district. Thung Phukhao Thong is bordered on the west by the present Chao Phraya River, which occupied the bed of the Bang Kaeo River in the mid-19th century. The northern limit ran in line with Khlong Maha Phram (1) on the opposite side of the river. On the east ran Khlong Maha Nak (2), and the delimitation in the south was Thung Khwan (3). The name of the field is derived from the northern landmark Phukhao Thong.





(Thung Phukhao Thong or the Golden Mount Fields)



An event possibly related to Phukhao Thong is the singlehanded elephant back fight between King Naresuan (reign 1590-1605 CE) and the crown prince of Burma in 1592 CE. The legend goes that the Siamese king established a victory monument to commemorate this war event. It is still a point of discussion where the battle exactly occurred and where a victory moment was erected. There are at least three locations which are a contender for the event. Ban Don Chedi in Phanom Thuan District of Kanchanaburi Province was a war elephant battleground, given the numerous elephant skulls and bones discovered at this site. The site has a large chedi and several smaller chedis said to have contained the ashes of the Burmese crown prince and some of his commanders. Prince Damrong Rajanubhap discovered in 1913 CE the remains of a large chedi in Don Chedi District of Suphan Buri Province and identified it as the one built by King Naresuan in 1593 CE after his victory against the Burmese crown prince. Chedi Phukhao Thong is a third possibility, as Burmese history states that the battle was fought just outside the walls of Ayutthaya.





(Chedi Yutthatthi at Ban Don Chedi, Phanom Thuan District, Kanchanaburi)



Phukhao Thong in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya The monastery figures early in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya, but the timing of the monastery’s establishment is very much questioned. “In 749, a year of the hare, ninth of the decade, the Phukhao Thòng Monastery was founded.” [1] The monastery of Phukhao Thong is said to be built by King Ramesuan (reign 1369-1370 and 1388-1395 CE) in 1387 CE. Still, the chronicles mentioning it were written in the early Rattanakosin period (post-1782 CE). The earliest chronicle written by the royal astrologer Luang Prasoet in 1680 CE does not cite its establishment. (4) The actual temple’s name refers to the high chedi on its northeast side. Krairiksh points out that the monastery was likely never established in the reign of King Ramesuan. The first time information on Wat Phukhao Thong was found in the Phan Canthanumat Chronicle, written in 1795 CE (after the fall of Ayutthaya) by Chao Phraya Phiphit Phichai on the order of Rama I and covers the period from the founding of Ayutthaya in 1351 CE through its fall in 1767 CE. Krairiksh view is that the author likely attributed the founding of the monastery to King Ramesuan, another king with a similar-sounding name as King Naresuan, the presumable builder of the temple. [2] H. G. Quaritch Wales (1931) wrote in his book “Siamese State Ceremonies” that Chedi Phukhao Thong could have been a shrine dedicated to the spirit of a mountain, which was also the city's guardian. Are the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya indicating that Chedi Phukhao Thong was initially constructed as a royal spirit shrine for the city of Ayutthaya in the early years of its establishment?





(Maha Seya Stupa on the summit of the Missaka Mt - commons.wikimedia.org)



"From this [the famous inscription of King Ram Khamhaeng], we see that the animism of the early Thai still enjoyed the royal protection, despite the fact that the Kings of Sukhodaya had adopted much of Khmer Brahmanism and were fervent Buddhists as well. But it appears that there was only one spirit who was thought worthy of the royal patronage, and it was a mountain spirit. Probably this class of spirit always enjoyed a pre-eminent position, and may have been the earliest type of guardian spirit of a city. It is probable that Vat Phukhao Don (Temple of the Golden Mount) at Ayudhya was originally a shrine dedicated to the spirit of a mountain, who was also the guardian of the city. It was the deva of the Missaka-mountain that appeared to King Devanampiyatissa of Ceylon in the form of an elk-stag, and led him to Mahinda, the apostle of Buddhism." [3]



The next indication of Wat Phukhao Thong in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya is when the Siamese were preparing for war against the invading Burmese in 1563 CE in the reign of King Chakkraphat (1548-1569 CE). We can conclude from this detail of the chronicles that Wat Phukhao Thong must have been established before 1653 CE, as the monastery already existed at the time of the war.


“At that time a written report from Kancanaburi came in saying that people on the frontier, having gone up to the border in the Municipality of Còiya, had learned that the King of Hongsawadi was advancing and that it had taken his men seven days to pass through Martaban. King Cakkraphat ordered that the families in the third and fourth class cities and within the districts of the province of Ayutthaya be moved into the Capital. Then a royal decree was sent up to Phitsanulok saying that, if the Hongsawadi army should at any time lay siege to Ayutthaya, Prince Thammaracha was to utilize the armies of all the cities of the north as a flanking force. Then the King sent Phraya Cakri out to establish a stockade in Lumphli with fifteen thousand soldiers, all of whom were clad in red tunics and red hats. The Reverend Maha Nak, who was a monk at Phukhao Thòng Monastery, left the monkhood and agreed to erect a stockade to protect the naval forces. He erected a stockade from Phukhao Thòng Monastery down to Phlu Forest Monastery. The followers of Maha Nak, uniting their strength to that of his relatives and of his male and female slaves, helped each other dig a ditch, hence called Maha Nak Canal, outside the stockade for the protection of the naval forces. Caophraya Maha Sena, in command of ten thousand men wearing green tunics and green hats, went out to encamp at Thòng Na Hantra Fort in Dòkmai Village. Phraya Phra Khlang, in command of ten thousand men wearing yellow tunics and yellow hats, encamped at Thai Khu Fort. Phra Sunthòn Songkhram, the ruler of the city of Suphanburi in command of ten thousand men wearing black tunics and black hats, encamped at Campa Fort. And all the affairs of the Capital were capably readied for its defense.” [4]





(View of Khlong Maha Nak running east of the Chao Phraya River)



We gather here that a monk at Phukhao Thong, the reverend Maha Nak, disrobed to erect a fence to protect the naval forces from the approaching Burmese Ayutthaya in 1563 CE. He pitched a stockade from Wat Phukhao Thong down to Wat Pa Phlu (Monastery of the Betel Quarter). The monk's followers united their strength with their relatives and slaves and dug a ditch outside the stockade, hence called the Maha Nak Canal. A large part of this canal is still visible today, southwest of the large water reservoir.


Another mention of Phukhao Thong is during an invasion of the Burmese in 1590 CE (5). The Phukhao Thong field was used as a troop concentration area before going into battle as we find King Naresuan constituting an army of 100.000 men, 800 war elephants and 1500 horses in the Phukhao Thong Plain to stop a Burmese incursion. A large memorial for King Naresuan was set up east of chedi Phukhao Thong.


“Both Kings, being so informed, said, “We would have gone to celebrate the lunar New Year Festival in Lawæk, but now the solar New Year Festival takes precedence! We shall have to advance forth first to have fun celebrating the solar New Year Festival with the Mòns.” Then They ordered that one hundred thousand fully armed levies, eight hundred war elephants, and fifteen hundred horses be conscripted, had the rites of the Forest Entrance, Cutting the Wood, and Cursing the Enemy’s Name celebrated in the vicinity of Lumphli, and established Their Victory Camp at the Phukhao Thòng Field.” [5]





(King Naresuan Memorial near Wat Phukhao Thong)



During the reign of King Borommakot (1733-1758 CE), around 1742 CE, a bull elephant with short tusks was caught in the area of Nakhon Si Thammarat and brought to Ayutthaya. The king ordered a festivity held on the occasion at Wat Phukhao Thong. (6)


“A celebration shed was directed to be erected for him at the Monastery of the Gold Mountain and a celebration was held. After it was finished, the King bestowed upon him the holy royal gift of the title Holy Paramount Royal Elephant Sovereign of Celestial Exaltation and then had him board a raft and be brought on in to be kept at a spired barn within the Holy Royal Palace Enclosure of the Crown.” [6]


In 1744 CE, King Borommakot ordered the renovations of Wat Na Phra Men and Wat Phukhao Thong.


"In that year the King manifested His holy compassion by having officials restore the holy grand funeral monument and the holy temple of the Monastery of the Gold Mountain and they were finished after ten months." [7]





(Chedi Phukhao Thong with in the front the foundations of the bell tower)



In 1759 CE, the Burmese started their incursion into Siamese territory. Finding little resistance on their way to Ayutthaya, they finally crossed the Bang Kaeo River to the Phukhao Thong Field and installed big guns near Wat Na Phra Men and Wat Hatsadawat to fire on the Grand Palace. Unexpected, the Burmese army withdrew suddenly after the Burmese King Alaung Mintayagyi (Alaungpaya) became heavily wounded when lighting a fuse of a big gun, the last burst.


“When it was evening, the Burmese gave up and crossed over the river to the banks on the side of the Monastery of the Gold Mountain.” [8]


In 1764 CE, the Burmese invaded the Siamese territory again. The Burmese captured Phichai, Sawankhalok, and Sukhothai and came down to Nakhon Sawan by way of Kamphaeng Phet. Phitsanulok was not attacked. King Ekathat (reign 1758-1767 CE) in an additional effort to defend the city, ordered an army from Phitsanulok to erect a stockade at Wat Phukhao Thong.


"The King thereupon had an army conscripted in the provincial municipalities of the Southern Estuaries to go to encamp and engage the enemy at Bamru. A boat army was encamped at the Hamlet of the Shrimp. Then the King had an army conscripted from the Municipality of Phitsanulok to come and encamp at the Monastery of the Gold Mountain. After an army from the Municipality of Nakhòn Ratcha Sima had encamped at the Monastery of the Red Funeral Monument, the King had Phraya Thamma take command of the brigades of the army of Nakhòn Ratcha Sima and come down to defend the Municipality of Thonburi." [9]





(The ordination hall in 2013 CE)



After the death of Maha Nawrahta, the Burmese southern commander, around March 1767 CE, Nemiao Sihabodi (Ne Myo Thihapate) became the chief commander of the northern and southern armies. He moved his headquarters to Pho Sam Ton and established his advanced forces at Wat Phukhao Thong.


“Nemiao thereupon advanced troops of soldiers forward to establish his main stockade in the Vicinity of the Three Fig Trees, had them raze the recitation hall and preaching hall of the monastery and bring the bricks to build a surrounding wall to form the stockade. Then he conscripted and had all the army masters advance forward to establish stockades at the Monastery of the Gold Mountain, at the Village of the Fort and at the Monastery of the Crying Crow. He had them erect bastions and build forts so they were tall, take large and small guns up into them and fire them on into the Holy Metropolis.” [10]


I am here to end the inputs regarding the Phukhao Thong Monastery in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya.



The Chronicles of the North


The Phongsawadan Nuea, or the Chronicle of the North, alludes to the probability that the Chedi Phukhao Thong was built to commemorate King Naresuan's victory over the Crown Prince of Burma. The legend goes about the king of Hongsawadi (Pegu) and the king of Ayutthaya being close friends and having a misunderstanding. The Burmese king came down with an army to Ayutthaya. To refrain from a fight which would brought suffer to both parties, the two kings agreed on a challenge to construct a pagoda. After 15 days, the Burmese king was able to build to the height of the top moulding of the base and gave it the name Wat Phukhao Thong. The king of Ayutthaya, believing he would be defeated, resorted to a ruse by building his chedi with bamboo scaffoldings and covering them in white cloth. The Burmese king saw the chedi at a distance and understood he was beaten, so he retreated with all his men. The king of Ayutthaya ordered the chedi to be completed and gave it the name Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.


This legend, though not giving an exact time frame, gives a hint regarding the base of the chedi built in Burmese style and bearing some resemblance to the base of the Mahazedi at Bago. We can allude that this legend goes about King Naresuan and the crown prince of Hongsawadi and must be dated to 1592 CE.





(The Mahazedi of Bago/Pegu - commons.wikimedia.org)



Other lines of thought


Some scholars opt for the possibility that the Chedi Phukhao Thong was built as a victory monument to commemorate King Naresuan's victory over the Crown Prince of Burma in 1592 CE. They refute that the victory monument should be situated in the Suphan Buri area, notwithstanding the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention that King Naresuan ordered a chedi, in which to inter the corpse of the Maha Uparat, built in the vicinity of Taphang Tru in Phanom Thuan District, where supposedly the duel took place.


“The King ordered a funeral monument, in which to inter the corpse of the Uparat, built in the vicinity of Taphang Tru. At that time he was pleased to bestow an elephant, together with driver and mahout, on the Governor of Maluan and sent him back up to report to the King of Hongsawadi.” [11]





(Satellite chedis on the premises of Phukhao Thong Monastery)



The Burmese chronicles (the Maha Yazawin completed by U Kala) state that the battle was fought just outside the walls of Ayutthaya. [12]


Also, Jeremias Van Vliet, who was in Ayutthaya thirty-nine years after the event, corroborates with the Burmese chronicles that the battle took place half a mile above the town near a ruined temple.


“At last they [Burmese soldiers] appeared before Judia which town they thought to conquer very easily. But the Siamese prince marched with his army against the enemy and met them half a mile above the town near a ruined temple which is still existing.” [13]


Moreover, Engelbert Kaempfer's illustration of the Chedi Phukhao Thong in his 'Description of the Kingdom of Siam 1690' has a caption which reads 'The Pyramid Pukathon near Juthia. It was built in memory of a victory, which the Siamites obtained over the Peguans, and thereby recovered their liberty.' [14]



The Statements of the Residents of the Old Capital


The Statements of the Residents of the Old Capital mention that the king of Hongsawadi (Bayinnaung) (reign 1550-1581 CE) when staying at Ayutthaya, caused a large chedi to be built and gave it the name of Chedi Phukhao Thong. In December 1568 CE (reign of King Mahin 1568-1569 CE), a large Burmese army invaded Siam and positioned itself around Ayutthaya. The siege lagged on until 30 August 1569 CE, and in the end, the city fell through the treachery of Phya Chakri, a Siamese (2). The invading Burmese forces ransacked and plundered the city, dismantled the defences, and forcibly transported most of Ayutthaya’s population to Burma. King Bayinnaung remained at Ayutthaya to witness the coronation of his vassal, Maha Thammaracha (reign 1569-1590 CE). He started the building of a Mon-Burmese-styled chedi to commemorate his victory over Ayutthaya. King Bayinnaung returned to Bago (Pegu, Hanthawaddy, Hongsawadi) around the time the chedi’s base was constructed. King Maha Thammaracha likely felt not too much excitement in continuing the construction of his neighbours’ victory monument, and the chedi was never finalised.





(Chedis with 12 twelve rabbeted-angles)



Deliberationem


In conclusion, though not corroborating with the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya, the base of the chedi could indeed have been constructed at the first fall of Ayutthaya in 1569 CE. The construction project was aborted and the large base was taken back by nature as Van Vliet wrote in 1638 CE that the ruin was still existing.


The Chedi Phukhao Thong depicted by Kaempfer must have been built after 1640 (Van Vliet’s stay) and before 1690 CE (Kaempfer’s stay), either during the latter half of King Prasat Thong's reign (1640-1656 CE) or in the reign of King Narai (1656-1688 CE).


According to the Chronicles of the North, King Prasat Thong sent a delegation to Pegu to give offerings to the Phra Mali Chedi, a mythical chedi, but maybe suggesting the Mahazedi built by King Bayinnaung in 1560 CE to house a gold and jewel-encrusted tooth relic of the Buddha. Kraikrish wrote: "It is possible to assume that the delegation was sent to Hamsavati to collect more information on the Mahazedi for King Prasat Thong's reconstruction of the Chedi Phukhao Thong, since King Prasat Thong might have known that King Naresuan's original intention for the Chedi Phukhao Thong was to build a replica of the Mahazedi at Pegu, in which city he had spent his youth as a hostage. As the Chedi Phukhao Thong was modeled after the Mahazedi of Bayinnaung, its correlation with Bayinnaung, as told in the Statements of the Residents of the Old Capital, may contain a modicum of truth after all." [15]





(Kaempfer’s sketch of Wat Phukhao Thong, 1690 CE Kaempfer, Engelbert - Werke 4. Kritische Ausgabe in Einzelbänden. Herausgegeben von Detlef Haberland, Wolfgang Michel, Elisabeth Gössmann. Engelbert Kaempfer in Siam. Iudicum Verlag GmbH München 2003. Edited by Barend Jan Terwiel.)



King Borommakot (reign 1733-1758 CE) had the chedi rebuilt in 1744 CE on a square pedestal with indented corners and niches on the four sides, running smoothly into an indented dome, a design which still can be seen today. Krairiksh compared Kaempfer's drawing and description and the Chedi Phukhao Thong of today, showing that substantial modifications took place after 1690 CE.


“The most obvious is the change in the lower structure where, instead of having "Three corners [which] jet out some few paces on each side," there are only two today, for the central projection which housed the stairway has been removed. Otherwise, the mouldings on each of the four storeys of the lower structure remain essentially the same as in the drawing. The upper structure from the base to the top of the platform on which stand the "several short columns" has been modified beyond recognition. Kaempfer's drawing shows that it has a projection on each of the four sides, making it an added-angle type chedi (chedi phoem mum), and the course of mouldings of the upper structure repeat that of the lowermost structure. The present upper structure, on the other hand, is an elaborate redented added-angle type chedi whose sequences of mouldings, consisting of three sets of superimposed lower and upper cyma recta moldings decorated with torus mouldings, are typical of the 18th-century. Also an extra projection was added to the center of each side to contain an image niche. The cylindrical dome was changed to one of a square plan with rabbeted angles. The form of the "steeple," however, has not been changed. This transformation must have been the result of the restoration undertaken in 1745, as recorded in the Phum Hora (Astrological Calendar).” [16]


In 1956 CE, the government of Plaek Phibun Songkhram placed a golden ball weighing 2,5 Kg on top of the chedi to celebrate the Buddhist religion's 25th century.





(Restoration work September 2020 CE)



Excavation work was done in 2017 CE by the 3rd Regional Office of Fine Arts, followed by a conservation and development phase from 2020 to 2021.


Visitors can climb the Mon-Burmese-styled base until the foot of the chedi, from which the surrounding rice fields and the town of Ayutthaya can be seen.


The architecture of the monastery


Wat Phukhao Thong was abandoned in the last Siamese-Burmese war, which heralded the end and fall of the mighty city of Ayutthaya. Monks settled again in 1957 CE near the ruins of the temple.


The sloping base of Chedi Phukhao Thong is unique in Ayutthaya. On the base rest a Thai-style chedi, very similar to the Chedi Sri Suriyothai. A typical feature of a Thai chedi is the row of columns over the square harmika directly under the umbrella.


There was a structure built on the remains of the ancient ruin. The foundations and part of the pillars of the old ubosot or ordination hall are still visible. The hall is rectangular, 40 m long and 11 m wide. The building had front and back porches and two gates, east and west. Its entrance is northeast. The structure was torn down in 2017 CE due to excavation and renovation, and a new hall was built.


Next to the ordination hall is a vihara measuring approximative 12 m long and 6 m wide. The single entrance faces northeast.


On the southwest side are four bell-shaped chedis with 12 rabbeted angles at par with the principal Chedi Phukhao Thong. The chedis also have four niches, one on each side.


An outer wall and moat surround the whole complex.


Kaempfer refers to the monastery as follows: “Next to this pyramid are some temples and colleges of the Talapoins, which are taken in with particular neat brick walls. The temples are of a very curious structure, covered with several roofs, supported by columns.” [17]


The temple, in earlier times, could not be reached on foot as there were no roads leading to it, and the area around was very swampy. A canal connected the monastery to the main river.


Wat Phukhao Thong is in geographical coordinates: 14° 22' 6.05" N, 100° 32' 21.20" E.



The Ground Plan of Wat Phukhao Thong



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





No 1: The brick wall surrounding the Phutthawat area is square with six entry gates. Most of the walls were damaged, leaving only the foundation. Only in the front (northeast) can we still clearly see the door pillars, which are 2.13 m in width. The wall is about 688 meters long.

No 2: The vihara is 8 meters wide and 14.8 meters long. Currently, only some of the foundations remain.

No 3: The Phra Maha Chedi in Thai style, two sen, five wa (90 meters), consists of four levels in a square shape. Each floor has a side length as follows: The first floor is 69 meters long the second floor is 63 meters long the 3rd floor is 49.4 meters long the 4th floor is 32.4 meters long. Each level, besides the first floor, has a square wall with a decorative basis consisting of sloping layers with an inverted lotus. In the middle of all four directions, there is a stairway up to the 4th floor. From the ground up to the pagoda, there are 75 steps one step is 8 inches high and 2.10 meters long the other three sides lead from the 1st floor. In the middle of the 4th floor is an arched tunnel inside the chedi with a Buddha image enshrined. The base of the chedi is octagonal. The crystal ball is made of gold, weighing 2,500 grams.

No 4: The bell tower is brick and mortar in the shape of a square, 4.30 meters wide on each side, with access in the southwest. Currently, only the foundation remains.

No 5: A small twelve rabbeted-angled chedi in Thai style with a broken spire. It is located on a square base with sides of 6.90 meters.

No 6: A chedi similar to No. 5 but not situated on a base. The upper part from the throne onward was broken.

No 7: A square twelve rabbeted-angled chedi, with a width of 5.40 meters on all sides. The mouth of the bell is placed on a group of 2-tiered lotuses. The body of the bell consists of carambola petals. The base of the throne is twelve rabbeted-angled.

No 8: The vihara is 6 meters wide, 11.75 meters long and 3 meters high. It has a door on the east side, 1.80 meters wide, and a window on the northeast and south side, 1 meter wide. The Chukchi base is damaged. In the southwest, about 4 meters away from the vihara, there is a chedi. It has only a square foundation left.

No 9: The ordination hall is 40 meters long, 11 meters wide, and has a strange shape, divided into three sections, with one door on the northeast and southwest sides. When passing through the outer wall, the northeast side has entered (maybe an overhanging porch) with a partition wall with an arch. The door pattern on the upper door pillar is a Thai bougainvillaea pattern, meticulously made and very beautiful. After passing through this door, there is a sandstone Buddha image from the Ayutthaya period, in a meditation posture, surrounding the Chukchi pedestal base. There are six main Buddha images, and most of them are damaged. The shape of the ubosot is strange. The roof is still stunning.

No 10: A chedi in the four directions, made of bricks and cement, shaped like a square with 12 twelve rabbeted-angles, all the way to the throne still complete There is a porch on all four sides.



Description of the Golden Mount by early western visitors


Engelbert Kaempfer


Kaempfer, a medical doctor working for the Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) wrote in 1690 CE a description of the chedi.


“It is a bulky, but magnificent structure, forty odd fathoms high, standing in a square taken in with a low neat wall. It consists of two structures which are built one upon the other. The lowermost structure is square, each side being one hundred and fifteen paces long, and rises to the height of twelve fathoms and upwards. Three corners jet out some few paces on each side, which are continued up to the top, and altering its square figure make it appear, as it were, multi-angular. It consists of four Stories, built one upon the other, the uppermost of which growing narrower leaves at the top of that below it an empty space, or walk to go round. Every story had its cornices curiously diversified, and all the walks, the lowermost only excepted, are taken in with low neat walls adorned in each corner with fine columns. The middlemost corner of each story represents the frontispiece of the Building. It exceeds the others in beauty and ornaments, especially in a magnificent gable it ends into. The staircase is in the middle of it, which leads up to the upper area on which is built the second structure, and consists of seventy four steps, each nine inches high, and four paces long. The second structure is built on the upper surface of the first, which is square, each side being thirty six paces long. It stands out in the middle for ornament's sake, and is taken in like the rest, with a low neat wall. It had a walk five paces broad to go about the second structure. The staircase ends into this walk, each side of its entry being adorned with columns. The basis, or pedestal of the second structure is octangular, consisting of eight sides of different length, those facing South, East, West and North, being eleven, but the North East, South East, South West, and North West sides, each twelve paces long. It had its cornices much after the manner of the lowermost structure to the height of some fathoms. It then becomes not unlike a Steeple, on whose top stand several short columns at some distances from each other, the spaces between being left empty. These columns support a pile of globes, which run up tapering, their diameters decreasing in proportion to the height. The whole ends into a very long spire, and withal so sharp, that it is very surprising, how it could hold out for so considerable a space of time against all the injuries of wind and weather.” [1]





(Kaempfer, Engelbert (1727). The History of Japan (Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam). John Gaspar Scheuchzer.)



Kaempfer added a sketch of Chedi Phukhao Thong to his writings. In the draft, we see a bell-shaped dome on an octagonal base or pedestal. Over the years, the upper part of the chedi fell into disrepair and collapsed.



John Bowring


John Bowring (1792-1872 CE) was a British political economist, traveller, writer, literary translator, polyglot and the fourth Governor of Hong Kong (1854-1859 CE). He was appointed by Queen Victoria as an emissary to Siam and assigned in 1857 CE by King Mongkut as ambassador to London. He made a treaty of amity with Siam on 18 April 1855 CE, now referred to as the "Bowring Treaty". Below is a detail of his book "The Kingdom and People of Siam" (1857) on Phukhao Thong.
“At a league’s distance from the city, on the northern side, is a majestic edifice called the “Golden Mountain,” built a.d. 1387. It is a pyramid four hundred feet high, each side having a staircase by which large galleries surrounding the building are mounted. From the third stage there is a splendid prospect and there are four corridors by which the dome is entered, in whose centre is a gilded image of Buddha, rendered fetid by the depositions of millions of bats, which day and night are flitting in dire confusion around the altar. The dome is elevated one hundred and fifty feet above the galleries, and terminates in a gilded spire.” [18]
I have received the following account of the present condition of Ayuthia, the old capital of Siam, from a gentleman who visited it in December 1853 CE:

“There is one sacred spire of immense height and size, which is still kept in some kind of repair, and which is sometimes visited by the king. It is situated about four miles from the town, in the centre of a plain of paddy-fields. Boats and elephants are the only means of reaching it, as there is no road whatever, except such as the creeks and swampy paddy-fields afford. It bears much celebrity among the Siamese, on account of its height, but can boast' of nothing attractive to foreigners but the fine view which is obtained from the summit. This spire, like all others, is but a succession of steps from the bottom to the top a few ill-made images affording the only relief from the monotony of the brickwork. It bears, too, none of those ornaments, constructed of broken crockery, with which the spires and temples of Bangkok are so plentifully bedecked.” [19]





(View of Chedi Phukhao Thong)



Henry Alabaster


Alabaster was born on 22 May 1836 CE in Hastings, East Sussex, England. Aged 21, Henry Alabaster arrived in Bangkok as a deputy Consul, one of the first British diplomats to Siam in 1857 CE. In 1871 CE, he got his widely known book published, "The Wheel of the Law". Two years later, in 1873 CE, he became a personal adviser to King Chulalongkorn. He designed and constructed the Gardens at Saranarom Palace as a place for the public to relax and study plants and animals he helped to start the Survey Office in 1875 CE, trained the first Thai surveyors and plotted together the route for a land telegraph cable from Bangkok to Battambang He mapped the Gulf of Thailand and administered the first Thai lighthouse. Alabaster started the first museum in Siam, inside the Grand Palace. He catalogued the royal library and instructed the Siamese on how to classify books he started the Post and Telegraph Office, trained the staff and arranged the first postal deliveries. Alabaster was given the rank of Phraya. He died on 9 August 1884 CE at the early age of 48. The King of Siam erected a funeral memorial at the Protestant Cemetery in Bangkok, which still can be viewed today. [20]


Below is a detail from Alabaster's book 'The Wheel of the Law" describing his visit to Phukhao Thong in 1868 CE on the way to the Phra Phuttha Bat in Sara Buri.


“The first is the "Mount of Gold," the highest of the spires, which differs from most Buddhist towers in having three accessible terraces round it. The highest terrace commands a view over most of the tree-tops. From it we count about fifty spires, so there may be some truth in a native assertion, that Yuthia had two hundred temples. There is nothing very elegant about the spire to justify its grand name and its height, which I judge to be about a hundred and fifty feet, is nothing very great but as a good illustration of one of the forms of Buddhist spires, it is worth describing. Upon an extensive square base rises a pyramidal tower in three parts, tier above tier, separated by wide terraces. Cornices of many forms, round and angular, encircle it in close succession. Deep flutings and reentering angles reduce the squareness of the four corners. Two flights of steps on the north and south sides lead to the terraces. From the highest terrace, which is about sixty feet from the ground, the tower rises for about thirty feet more in the same pyramidal form as described for the lower part. In this portion are two niches containing images of Buddha about seven feet high. Above the niches the still tapering tower is without cornices and quite smooth for about fifteen feet and thence changing from a square pyramid to a cone, it rises about forty feet to a point. The upper part of the spire is ornamented with narrow headings or rings, lying close one over the other. "The tower is built of brick, and seems to be almost solid, excepting only a small chamber, to which access is obtained from the highest terrace. We find nothing but bats in the chamber, which seems to have suffered from fire. Previous to the Burmese invasion, it probably contained some idols or relics. I know of no other large spires, or Phrachedi, as they are generally called, which have an accessible chamber, though such are found in a few of the smaller spires.” [21]





(View of the ordination hall from the main chedi)



George Bacon

George Blagden Bacon (1836-1876 CE) was a United States clergyman and author of texts on religious issues. Bacon was a congregational pastor in Orange, New Jersey. Hereby is a detail from his book on Phukhao Thong, posthumously published in 1881 CE.

“There is one sacred spire of immense height and size which is still kept in some kind of repair, and which is sometimes visited by the king. It is situated about four miles from the town, in the centre of a plain of paddy-fields. Boats and elephants are the only means of reaching it, as there is no road whatever, except such as the creeks and swampy paddy-fields afford. It bears much celebrity among the Siamese, on account of its height, but can boast of nothing attractive to foreigners but the fine view which is obtained from the summit. This spire, like all others, is but a succession of steps from the bottom to the top a few ill-made images affording the only relief from the monotony of the brickwork. It bears, too, none of those ornaments, constructed of broken crockery, with which the spires and temples of Bangkok are so plentifully bedecked.” [22]





(Ordination hall and Chedi Phukhao Thong)



Peter Thompson


Peter Anthony Thomson (1876-?) is a British painter and writer whose works won him election to the Royal Academy. Below is a detail from his book published in 1910 CE regarding a visit to Phukhao Thong.


"On the following day we took a sampan and rowed up the river. Above the town we entered a pretty klong overhung with trees and bamboos, but presently it became a regular street of floating houses. Here we turned off into a by-way, only practicable for boats when the floods are out, for it led us through a forest where the trees were standing in two feet of water. After turning and twisting amongst the trunks and breaking through the bushes we came out upon the open fields, and rowed across to a patch of higher ground on which stood a tall pra chedi, raised upon a pyramidal base. This was the famous "Mount of Gold," of which old writers tell, but the glory of its gilded spire had departed, and since our visit it has been overthrown by a hurricane. From the highest terrace we had a splendid view over the surrounding country, and looked across the flooded fields to the wooded island of Ayuthia." [23]





(The arched tunnel leading to a Buddha image)



Sunthorn Phu


Phra Sunthorn Vohara, known as Sunthorn Phu (1786-1855 CE), was a Siamese royal poet during the Rattanakosin era. His career as a royal poet began in the reign of Rama II, and when the king died, he resigned from the role and became a monk. Twenty years later, in the reign of Rama III, he returned to court as a royal scribe, where he remained for the rest of his life. Sunthorn Phu was especially renowned for composing verses. His works include the 'Nirat Phukao Thong', a collection of poems depicting his journey to the Golden Mount written around 1828 CE. Here under 7 of the 89 stanzas (slightly adapted) of the Nirat Phukao Thong translated by Muninthorn W. These stanzas help the reader visualise the chedi and feel the spiritual sensations and sense of sorrow experienced by Phu as he sees that the pagoda is showing the signs of age. The last stanza connects the visual state and condition of the ancient pagoda to the Buddhist teachings of impermanence.





(One of the four twelve rabbeted-angled chedis)



In the morning, it's Uposatha Day,
taste the holy pleasure of Dhamma,
going to the stupa named Phukhao Thong,
which is immense floating in the sky

Erecting in the field, alone yet graciously,
The river is playing, clear and bright, nearby,
The temple court next to the stairs,
Forming a canal around the foundation

There's a temple court, the church, and a stupa,
with walls surrounding them,
The stupa is architecturally playful with twelve rabbeted-angles,
Three levels, three steps projecting themselves

The four stairs are appeasing,
Each inviting to climb to the third level,
To march around the stupa,
and pray three times, blessing and blissful

There's a cave-room for the candles to worship,
With the flow of wind ventilating, surprisingly,
It seems that the wind is marching around the stupa as well,
But today, the stupa is so ancient

The foundation is cracking nine cracks, The top is broken,
Oh, the stupa is without love,
It's ashamed
thinking of it, I shed my tears

Compared to the fame, the glory,
All can vanish within a blink,
As the rich become poor and vice versa,
All is Anicca [24]



Footnotes:

(1) Khlong Maha Phram is, at present, not much more than a moat, running north of Bang Ban's district office towards Ban Pom. The Maha Phram Canal runs between Wat Khanon and Wat Lat Bua Khao and joins there the Chao Phraya River. The canal was dug to give Ayutthaya access to the Chao Phraya River, which in the Ayutthaya era ran through the present Bang Ban Canal, a few kilometres west of the city. This western entry/exit of Ayutthaya was very important as the waterway was used to travel to the northern cities.
(2) Khlong Maha Nak is situated off Ayutthaya's city island in the northern area, in Phukhao Thong Sub-district. The canal was dug during the period of the Siamese-Burmese war of 1563-1564 CE called the "White Elephant War". The Maha Nak Canal ran from Wat Pa Phlu towards Khlong Phukhao Thong.
(3) Thung Khwan, or "field of fumes", is an area north of the city of Ayutthaya bordered on the north by Thung Lum Phli, on the east by Khlong Sra Bua and Thung Kaeo, in the south by the old Lopburi River and in the west by Thung Phukhao Thong.
(4) Discrepancy in the reign years. Luang Prasoet assigns Ramesuan's reign to the years 750-757 C.S. (1388/89-1395/96 CE), a span of seven years while others, of which the Royal Autograph is representative, assign to it the five or six-year period 744-749 C.S. (1382/83-1387/88 CE).
(5) The chronicles state 1582, the year of the horse, but should be amended as 1590, the year of the tiger. [Rajanubhap, Damrong (Prince) (1917). Our Wars with the Burmese. White Lotus, Bangkok (2000)].
(6) Elephants with short tusks belong to a sub-class of royal elephants called 'Chang Niam' and consist of three varieties. The Chang Niam is, in general, said to have magical power and give victory whenever used in royal warfare. [Stott, P. A. (2005). Nature and Man in South East Asia. Routledge. p. 156].

References:

[1] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. p. 14.
[2] Krairiksh, Piriya (1992). A Revised Dating of Ayudhya Architecture (II). Journal of the Siam Society. Vol 80.2.
[3] Quaritch Wales, H.G. (1931). Siamese State Ceremonies. Their history and function. London: Bernard Quaritch, Ltd. p. 301.
[4] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. p. 32.
[5] Ibid. p. 141.
[6] Ibid. p. 437.
[7] Ibid. p. 443.
[8] Ibid. p. 483.
[9] Ibid. pp. 495-6.
[10] Ibid. p. 511.
[11] Ibid. p. 131.
[12] Giles. Francis H. A critical analysis of van Vliet's Historical Account of Siam in the 17th century," Journal of the Siam Society.
[13] Baker, Chris Pombejra, Dhiravat na Van Der Kraan Alfons & Wyatt, David K. (2005). Van Vliet's Siam. Silkworm Books. p.125.
[14] Kaempfer, Engelbert (1727). The History of Japan (Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam). John Gaspar Scheuchzer.
[15] Krairiksh, Piriya (1992). A Revised Dating of Ayudhya Architecture (II). Journal of the Siam Society. Vol 80.2.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Kaempfer, Engelbert (1727). The History of Japan (Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam). John Gaspar Scheuchzer.
[18] Bowring, John (1857). The Kingdom and People of Siam. Vol I. London, John W. Parker and Son, West Strand. p. 14.
[19] Ibid. pp. 17-8.
[20] http://www.anglicanthai.org/alabaster.htm - data retrieved 3 February 2012.
[21] Alabaster, Henry (1871). The Wheel of The Law. London: Trubner & Co. London. pp. 269-271.
[22] Bacon, George B. (1893). Siam, the land of the white elephant. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
[23] Thompson, Peter Anthony (1910). Siam an account of the country and the people. J. B. Millet, The Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass., USA. p. 235.
[24] https://lyricstranslate.com/...nirat-phukaothong-nirath-phu-khao-thong retrieved 26 July 2022 - Translation by Muninthorn W.