WAT RAENG (2)





Wat Raeng, or the Monastery of the Vulture, is located in the southwest area of the city island in the Pratu Chai Sub-district, west of the Somdet Phra Sri Nakarin Park (U-Thong Soi 22). This area is part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park.


The temple was situated between Wat Pho Phuek/Wat Chayaram and Wat Maha Saman.


A mid-19th century map shows the monastery partly outside the city walls.


Wat Raeng was situated close to the Wat Chayaram boat landing, which connected with the Ban Chi landing on the opposite side of the Lopburi River (at present, the Chao Phraya River).


In situ is a mound covered mainly in vegetation.


Some excavation by the Fine Arts Department had been undertaken before our visit in 2009 CE, as filled-in excavation pits were visible at that time.


Its historical background and period of construction are unknown.


The monastery is mentioned on a 19th-century map in a more or less exact position on Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map drafted in 1926 CE. Phraya Boran (1871-1936 CE) was the Superintendent Commissioner of Monthon Ayutthaya from 1925 till 1929 CE but occupied important functions since 1896 CE in Monthon Ayutthaya.





The exposure of the corpse to vultures was a very ancient and widespread custom. Quaritch Wales wrote that it used to be the custom in Siam before cremation to cut off part of the corpse's flesh immediately after death and offer it to the temple dogs and vultures on gold or silver dishes. This act was only done by the wish of the deceased. It was given a Buddhist significance and considered an act of great merit. It ceased long ago to be the custom of royalty and has been prohibited by law in the case of commoners. The practice of exposing a corpse to the vultures was a very ancient one amongst the Khmers since it is mentioned in the History of the Leang. It was also common amongst the Malays before the introduction of Islam. [1]


It existed in Siam until the beginning of the 20th century in its primitive form to dispose of the bodies of criminals and paupers. (1) De La Loubère wrote: Those that have not wherewithal to pay the Talapoins, do think they do honor enough to their dead parents, to expose them in the field on an eminent place, that is to say on a scaffold, where the volturs and the crows devour them. [2]


I believe that Wat Raeng was a kind of temple "specialised" in exposing bodies in the open air and letting vultures and carrion birds consume the flesh. The bones were then burned and the ashes scattered.


Wat Raeng was in geographical coordinates: 14° 20' 33.34" N, 100° 32' 49.91" E.


Footnotes:


(1) Even in these cases, the bones were collected and either buried or burnt.





References:


[1] Quaritch Wales, H.G. Siamese State Ceremonies. Their history and function. London. Bernard Quaritch, Ltd. 1931.

[2] Loubère (de la) (1693). A new Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam (2 Tomes). London. Edited by John Villiers. White Lotus. Bangkok, 1986. p. 125.