WAT RAKHANG





Wat Rakhang is a restored temple ruin situated within the Ayutthaya Historical Park and west of the Grand Palace in the Pratu Chai Sub-district.


The temple is part of a cluster of three restored temple ruins. The ruin is south of Wat Worapho (active temple), east of Wat Worachettharam (ruin), and North-northeast of Wat Lokaya Sutha (ruin). Wat Rakhang stood on the north bank of Khlong Fang and the west bank of Khlong Pak Tho.


We can access the cluster via Khlong Tho Road and a stretch called earlier Na Rong Mai Road, the latter referring to a wood factory on the premises of today’s Wat Worapho. A small road leads to it, starting at the Grand Palace's southwest corner, going to Wat Rakhang. Field Marshal Plaek Phibun Songkhram ordered the construction of this road in 1949 CE.


Although the temple ruin is referred to today as Wat Worapho, a second monastery nearby – but visibly separated - shares the same name. I consider the two temple locations thus as separate entities and retain the restored ruin’s original name of Wat Rakhang for a reason explained on this page.


History


Wat Rakhang was built before 1600 CE. The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mentions the monastery for the first time at the time of the ordination of Prince Si Sin in 1602 CE at Wat Rakhang, receiving the name of Phra Phimon Tham Ananta Pricha and holding the rank of Phra Ratchakhana. Prince Si Sin was the son of King Ekathotsarot and a first-class concubine. He became a Buddhist scholar who was revered by many nobles and disciples, which enabled him to gather many followers. After his father's death, Prince Si Sin awaited the opportunity to dethrone his father’s successor and half-brother, King Si Saowaphak. (1) On an early morning in 1611 CE, he gathered his followers at Wat Maha That, invaded the Grand Palace, and seized the king. The next day the one-eyed king Si Saowaphak was executed with a sandalwood club at Wat Khok Phraya, and Prince Si Sin mounted the throne as King Songtham. This period of history is very vague, and there are different historical interpretations. Prince Damrong wrote that Wat Rakhang mentioned here could have been the temple now called Wat Choeng Tha. [1]


Thereupon all of the thao phraya, ministers, statesmen and chiefs, in the company of the holy patriarchs of the Village Dwelling Sect and the Forest Dwelling Sect, finished consulting together and invited His-Supreme-Holy-Lord-and-Child Phra Si Saowaphak, who had lost a holy eye on one side, to assume the ascendant sovereign kingship for ruling the world and to perpetuate the royal customs henceforth. The Supreme-Holy-Lord-Omnipotent had the preparations made for Lighting the Holy Fire for the holy corpse of His Supreme-Holy-Royal-Father in accordance with the royal customs of past holy great kings and lords. In 964 of the Era, a year of the tiger, fourth of the decade, Phra Si Sin, having been ordained as a monk at the Monastery of the Bell, received a religious appointment as Phra Phimon Tham Ananta Pricha, being expertly versed in the Three Holy Baskets. Being proficient in both the manuals of the Three Vedas and the manuals of royalty, he had many pupils and followers - even Camün Si Sararak having presented himself to become his adopted son. At that time he was learned and everyone revered him greatly, so they plotted together to seize with Camün Si Sararak and the pupils and followers in secret. Having assembled many accomplices, they broke out in revolt at twilight and betook themselves to hide their troops at the stupa of the Monastery of the Holy and Glorious Great Jeweled Relic. When an excellent moment of astrological auspiciousness obtained, they brought their troops to chop [down] the Gate of Good Fortune and managed to enter the imperial plaza. The nobles which were reclining on duty took the matter and prostrated themselves to inform the King. The Supreme-Holy-Lord-Omnipotent was terrified for a few moments and then said, “Even if Our time has come, just do not cause any trouble!” Phra Phimon Tham managed to enter the holy royal palace and then had the Holy-Lord-of-the-Realm seized and taken under guard to be securely imprisoned. The next day he had one hundred holy monks invited for the Rite of Unveiling the Corpse and presented them with joss sticks to ask forgiveness. Then he had the King executed with a sandalwood cudgel and His holy corpse was taken to be buried at the Monastery of the Knoll of the Phraya. Phra Si Saowaphak had been ensconced in the royal wealth for one year and two months. [2]


In 1662 CE, King Narai (reign 1656-1688 CE) resumed the war with Burma and readied an army to invest the Burmese. A certain Phraya Si Racha Decho, possessing the ability to make himself disappear and withstand weapons for as long as he could hold his breath, became the leader of the front brigade. Phraya Si Racha Decho was ambushed near Ava when the Burmese tricked him and his followers into an enclosure. The group, attempting in vain to fight the Burmese off, were captured and tied up. The disastrous news quickly reached the palace, and King Narai invited the abbot of the Monastery of the Bell, Phra Phimon Tham, to make a divination regarding the situation of Phraya Si Racha Decho whether he was dead or still alive. The abbot foretold that the Phraya would escape from capture, gain a victory over the Burmese troops and obtain a vast quantity of booty. The abbot’s prediction came true, and King Narai bestowed on him in recompense one set of the three garments made. [3]


The Monastery of the Bell is again mentioned in the royal chronicles for the year 1741 CE. At his ascension to the throne, King Borommakot’s eldest son Chao Fa Thammathibet (2), received the title of Krom Khun Sena Phithak. In 1741 CE, Phra Racha Kosapan of the village of the Monastery of the Bell requested the king to appoint Thammathibet Maha Uparat or deputy king (Front Palace), which the king agreed upon after a meeting of the nobles.


When it was the fifth month of the year of the cock, third of the decade, Phra Ratcha Kosa of the village of the Monastery of the Bell prostrated himself and said to the King, “I would request that the Supreme Holy Lord Child and Department of the Fourth Rank Sena Phithak be appointed the Department of the Holy Royal Palace Enclosure.” The King thereupon ordered him to consult with all of the primary grand marshals. After they agreed unanimously, the Holy Lord Omnipotent was accordingly pleased to have the Department of the Fourth Rank Sena Phithak appointed to the standing and dignity of the position of the Grand Deputy King according to tradition. [4]





Architecture



Wat Rakhang covers a large area. In an overview from north to south, we find first an ordination hall with the entrance towards the east and towards Khlong Pak Tho. Sema stone foundations mark the building boundaries. The ubosot has a Buddha image. The base of the Buddha image was made of bricks and cement, 5 meters wide on each side, 6 meters long on each side and 2 meters high. The original Buddha image was a statue in the Mara Wichai (3) attitude from the Ayutthaya period, built with brick and cement. Later, it was damaged, and there was only a Chinese Buddha image left. Locals repaired the Buddha image with new cement. His right and left fingers were broken, his right foot was broken in half. On the south side of the ubosot, we find the basic foundations of a chedi on a square base and a two-tiered chedi with a staircase on its eastern side. The staircase leads to a double terrace whereupon stands a bell-shaped chedi on an octagonal base, of which the dome is slightly tilted.


The following monastic structure is the main stupa of the monastery. The stupa was surrounded by a square gallery of 45 x 45 metres, of which the foundations are visible. The stupa was a 36-rabbeted-angled prang, typical for King Borommakot’s reign and unique in Ayutthaya. Unfortunately, only the base remains. The prang has steep staircases in the cardinal directions as usual.


South of the central stupa is a restored sermon hall with redented foundations on a large square base or platform with sides of approximately 30 metres aligned east/west. In the front and at the back of the base, as well as the vihara, are staircases.


Several small chedis in various styles and conditions are spread all over the site. Remnants of the outer wall are also visible.


Epithet


Engelbert Kaempfer’s Map indicates another temple north of Wat Rakhang along the Na Rong Mai Road opposite the Saphan Sai So Bridge (Chain Bridge) and the Maha Phokharat palace gate. The Fine Arts Department writes that during the reign of King Borommakot, the name of Wat Rakhang was changed into Wat Worapho to commemorate the return of the group of monks having re-established the upasampada (higher ordination) and created the Siam Nikaya order in Sri Lanka and having brought a sprout of a Bodhi tree from Sri Lanka. The latter tree was considered to be a sprout from the original Bodhi tree of Bodh Gaya, under which Buddha reached enlightenment.


Based on Kaempfer’s map, I believe Wat Worapho was established to shelter the sprout of a Bodhi tree from Sri Lanka, and the change of name attributed to Wat Rakhang is not correct. Today at the exact location indicated by Kaempfer, there is the modern Wat Worapho. Archaeological excavation on the site could confirm whether or not Kaempfer’s drawing is correct.


Wat Rakhang is indicated on a mid-19th century map in an identical position as on Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map drafted in 1926 CE. The 19th-century map shows the existence of a chedi, not a prang. On the latter map, the monastery is called Wat Borom Phot (วัดบรมโพธ), while on PBR's map, it is called Wat Worapho (วัดวรโพธ์).


Wat Rakhang is in geographical coordinates: 14° 21' 26.65" N, 100° 33' 15.81" E.


Footnotes:


(1) 'The Short History of the Kings of Siam' of Jeremias Van Vliet, written in 1640, does not mention King Si Saowaphak. [5] In 'Van Vliet's Siam,' a footnote mentions that George V. Smith argued that none of the Dutch and English archival evidence nearly contemporary with the events concerned, mentions King Si Saowaphak. [6] Hence the latter was called the ‘phantom’ king.

(2) In 1735 CE, King Borommakot became ill. Suren Phithak (Chaofa Naren, the eldest son of the late King Thai Sa), who was ordained at Wat Khok Saeng, often visited King Borommakot during this period. Chaofa Thammathibet, the only son of the elder consort of the king, Queen Aphainuchit, and two of his children laid an ambush for Chaofa Naren, likely out of jealousy as the latter enjoyed the king’s favour. Naren escaped Thammathibet 's attack and reported the attempt on his life afterwards to the king. The elder consort, Queen Aphainuchit, realising her son was in danger, smuggled Thammathibet out of the palace in her palanquin and took him to Wat Khok Saeng, where he was ordained. King Borommakot searching for Thammathibet and unable to find him, ordered the execution of Thammathibet 's two children. [7] In 1737 CE, the first Queen became very ill, and she asked the king to forgive her son. The king consented to her wish, upon which she died. Thammathibet left the monkhood immediately and resumed his position. [8] In 1755 CE Thammathibet, then Uparat, was accused by his three rival half-brothers of committing adultery with some of the king’s royal consorts, two of them Lady Sangwan and Lady Nim. Chao Fa Sangwan was the third queen of King Borommakot and the granddaughter of King Petracha, while Lady Nim was the king’s first concubine. The Uparat was condemned to a flogging of 230 strokes and died during the execution. The court ladies received 30 strokes each. Queen Sangwan died three days later, while Lady Nim survived and was degraded to a servant. The Uparat and Lady Sangwan were buried at Wat Chai Watthanaram. [9] Chaofa Thammathibet was next to a ruthless politician, a poet and the writer of many travel poems titled Kap Ho Khlong Nirat Phra Bat and Kap Ho Khlong Praphat Than Thongdaeng, and the Kap He Ruea boat song. Bhawan Ruangsilp covers an extensive account of Thammathibet in her book ‘Dutch East India Company Merchants at the Court of Ayutthaya: Dutch Perceptions of the Thai Kingdom, 1604-1765.’ [10]

(3) Māravijaya Attitude or Mara Vichai is an attitude of Buddha in Thai art in which the seated Buddha is putting his hand in a relaxed posture towards the ground, loosely holding his knee. The other hand is on his lap. His eyes, sometimes closed, look down to the ground.





References

[1] Rajanubhab, Damrong (Prince) (1917). Our Wars with the Burmese. White Lotus, Bangkok (2000). p. 203, 367.
[2] Cushman, Richard D. Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. The Siam Society. pp. 207-8.
[3] Ibid. pp. 280-2.
[4] Ibid. pp. 434-5.
[5] Van Vliet, Jeremias. The Short History of the Kings of Siam. Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1975 (Translated by David Wyatt).
[6] Baker, Chris Pombejra, Dhiravat na Van Der Kraan Alfons & Wyatt, David K. (2005). Van Vliet's Siam. Silkworm Books.
[7] Cushman, Richard D. Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. The Siam Society. pp. 428-30.
[8] Ibid. pp. 433-4.
[9] Ibid. pp. 454-5.
[10] Ruangsilp, Bhawan (2007). Dutch East India Company Merchants at the Court of Ayutthaya: Dutch Perceptions of the Thai Kingdom, 1604-1765. pp. 201-2.