WAT SUAN LUANG





Wat Suan Luang, or the Monastery of the Royal Garden, was situated in the western part of Ayutthaya’s city island in the Pratu Chai Sub-district. The temple stood on the east bank of the Lopburi River, today the Chao Phraya River, south of Hua Laem and opposite Wat Kasatrathirat. Wat Suan Luang is translated in Cushman's Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya as the Monastery of the Crown Garden. The monastery was located adjacent to the Monastery of the Corpses of Heaven or Wat Sop Sawan, separated by the Chang Maha Chai Canal. (1)


History


We know from the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya that Suan Luang was the location where King Chakkraphat (reign 1548-1569 CE) ordered his wife's body, Chief Queen Suriyothai, brought after she died on the battlefield (2). As the war with the Burmese continued, her body was laid to rest at Suan Luang, waiting for royal cremation. After the Burmese finally, retreated King Chakkraphat ordered the royal funeral rites be held and a stupa and vihara established on the cremation ground. He then named the monastery 'Wat Sop Sawan' in memory of his beloved wife and daughter.


Queen Suriyothai, seeing that her royal consort had lost his position and would not escape the hands of the enemy, manifested her faithfulness and, weeping, drove her royal male elephant, Song Suriya Kasat, out to rescue him. The royal elephant of the King of Præ handily got its shoulder into her elephant and lifted it. The royal elephant of Queen Suriyothai swung its head up and lost its position. The King of Prae reached down and slashed with his war scythe, struck Queen Suriyothai on the shoulder and cut down to about her breast. Prince Ramesuan and Prince Mahin forced their royal elephants in to intervene and save their mother but were not in time. As soon as their mother died on the neck of her elephant, the two brothers Prince Ramesuan and Prince Mahin, retreated to wait to engage the enemy and were able to protect the entrance of the corpse of their mother into the Capital. The troops of the Capital were routed by the enemy and died in great numbers. Then King Maha Cakkraphat had the corpse of Queen Suriyothai, who had been his Chief Queen, brought to be kept in the Municipality of Suan Luang. [1]


Meanwhile, Prince Maha Thammaracha came down for an audience with King Cakkraphat to report on all aspects of his fight with the Hongsawadi army. After the army of the King of Hongsawadi departed, King Cakkraphat had the royal cremation held for Queen Suriyothai, who had been killed on the neck of her elephant. When it was over, Prince Maha Thammaracha took his leave and went back. King Cakkraphat had a funeral monument and a preaching hall constructed on the site of the royal cremation, and, when they were finished, bestowed on them the name of Sop Sawan Monastery. [2]





What’s in a name?


There seems to be confusion regarding the position and the name of King Chakkrapath’s funeral monument for his Chief Queen Wat Sop Sawan, Wat Suan Luang or Wat Suan Luang Sop Sawan.


Phraya Boran Rachathanin, the Superintendent Commissioner of Monthon Ayutthaya from 1925 till 1929 CE and Prince Damromg Rajanuphab believed that Wat Sop Sawan must have been a small temple in existence before King Maha Chakkraphat’s reign located adjacent to Suan Luang. Queen Suriyothai was cremated in the location where her body was brought during the war, whereafter a temple was established called Wat Suan Luang Sop Sawan. Both agreed the chedi of the monastery contained the ashes of Queen Suriyothai. [3]


Prince Damrong Rajanuphab confirms the above in his book ‘Our Wars with the Burmese.’


The dead body of Somdet Phra Suriyothai was placed at Suan Luang (Government Garden), the place where Wang Lang was built. At the present day it is to the south of barracks of the soldiers. When the war ended, Somdet Phra Maha Chakkraphat built a temporary structure for the cremation of the body of Somdet Phra Suriyothai in Suan Luang, which adjoins the boundary of Wat (Monastery) Sop Sawan. He built a monastery at the place of cremation where a large pagoda, (Phra Chedi) is a landmark existing at present and the monastery is known as “Wat Suan Luang Sopsawan.” [4]


Amatyakul, in his booklet ‘Guide to Ayudhya and Bang-Pa-In’, also speaks of Wat Suan Luang Sop Sawan.


Wat Suan Luang Sopsawan is situated in the western part of the city (on the premises of the old cantonment). It was built by King Maha Chakraphat on the premises of the royal garden (Suan Luang) near Wat Sopsawan which was there already. Hence the name was Wat Suan Luang Sopsawan. [5]


The Fine Arts Department (FAD) mentions on their information board that Chedi Suriyothai is situated on the premises of Wat Sop Sawan, but this is incorrect as Wat Sop Sawan was located adjacent and north of Wat Suan Luang Sopsawan, as explained by Phraya Boran Rachathanin and Prince Damrong Rajanuphab.


Chedi Suriyothai stands on the premises, or at least near the premises, of the former Rear Palace. The palace was first mentioned in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya during the reign of King Chakkraphat (1548-1569 CE). End 1565 CE, King Chakkraphat appointed his son, Prince Mahin, to be regent, and retired to the Rear Palace.


In 914, a year of the rat, during the twelfth month, King Cakkraphat, Lord of the White Elephant, raised Prince Mahin, the Nò Phraphutthacao, to rule the realm as its supreme sovereign, observe the royal traditions and govern the Kingdom of the Capital City of Ayutthaya. King Cakkraphat, Lord of the White Elephant, went out to occupy the Rear Palace. [6]


Old maps indicate that Suan Luang and Wat Sop Sawan were divided by a canal called Khlong Chang Maha Chai. Wat Sop Sawan stood on its north bank, while Wat Suan Luang was on its south bank.


It was more or less customary in the early Ayutthaya period that on the location of the funeral pyre of a royal, a monastery was built and a commemoration chedi erected.


King Rama VI (reign 1910-1925 CE), under the influence of Phraya Boran and Prince Damrong, realising the importance of the site, re-established the memorial of Queen Suriyothai and named the chedi Phra Chedi Si Suriyothai. [7]


The Thai Army and the Fine Arts Department restored Phra Chedi Si Suriyothai and landscaped its surroundings in 1990 CE. During excavations in the area around the chedi, brick foundations of a monastic structure (vihara or ubosot) were discovered on the north side of the chedi. There was a path made of bricks linking the structure and the chedi, while there was also evidence of a wall around the perimeter. A large chedi, a vihara or ubosot and a wall, hence all indications for Wat Suan Luang. [8]


Wat Suan Luang was mentioned in the chronicles as one of Ayutthaya's defence positions during the siege by the Burmese in 1760 CE. Ex-King Uthumpon (reign 1758 CE) left the monkhood to assist in the defence of the city. The chronicles recall him doing an inspection of this position and others and the giving of specific instructions after the Burmese fired their canons on the city, damaging buildings and wounding and killing people. King Suriyamarin ordered to answer the Burmese fire with the large guns in this position and others on the opposite banks of the river.

When it was the fourteenth day of the waning moon in the fifth month, the Burmese brought up great guns, positioned them at the Monastery of the Royal Gift and at the Monastery of the Ruler, and fired them into the Capital. His Majesty the Holy Lord Omnipotent rode the premier bull elephant Defeater of a Hundred Thousand Troops to look with His holy eyes at, and to give specific instructions to, the positions at the Monastery of the Crown Garden, the Monastery of the Corpses of Heaven and the Fort of Grand Victory. [9]

After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 CE, the Rear Palace and Suan Luang were deserted. Somewhere in the 19th century, the Army department settled in the area, and the remaining buildings of the palace, except for the large chedi, were destroyed. Later the Ayutthaya Distillery was established next to the army cantonment. The distillery ceased its operation in 1996 CE because it was located within the area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Previous attempts to preserve the chedi were discovered: boundary stones from other temples were placed around the chedi a torso of a Buddha image and a partly destroyed sandstone Buddha head were placed in the pedestal of the chedi and covered with bricks and cemented all over.

On 20 May 1990 CE, during the FAD excavation and restoration works at the chedi, several valuable objects were found. These findings included a quartz Buddha image, a miniature quartz bell-shaped chedi, a gilded terracotta cup, beads, gems, and gold leaves. The Chao Sam Phraya National Museum has these items and a 17th-century sema stone from Wat Sop Sawan on display. [10]

The FAD restored the chedi by removing the existing plaster and re-plastering using a traditional technique. During the first phase of restoration, gold leaf was applied at the top of the stupa only. HM Queen Sirikit requested, on the occasion of her 60th birthday, the construction of a life-size Buddha image (163 cm high) to be placed inside a niche of the stupa. The queen gave this image, decorated in the queen’s ornaments, the name of Phra Phuttha Suriyothai Sirikit Thikhayu Mongkhon. In 1991 CE, renovation finished, the spire and dome were covered with golden porcelain fragments, while the drum was white-washed. [11]

The chedi is very similar in style to chedi Phukhao Thong, but the first has small chedis atop the inter-cardinal niches, forming a quincunx to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru. The entry to the relic chamber is in the east. The Si Suriyothai Chedi served as a prototype for the chedi constructed at Wat Pho in Bangkok by King Mongkut (reign 1851-1868 CE) next to the three chedis built by the previous kings of the Chakri dynasty. (Kasetsiri &Wright, 2007).





The re-dating of Chedi Si Suriyothai


Dr. Piriya Krairiksh, in his document "The Chedi Sri Suriyothai Reconsidered", proposes a new date for the monument as the chedi visibly not belongs to the period of King Chakkraphat but rather to the reign of King Borommakot (1733-1758 CE). A chedi of the second sub-period would have been erected in the form of the round Singhalese-type stupa. In contrast, the Suriyothai stupa is a square-based twelve rabbeted-angled chedi or a chedi in a square plan with three rabbets on each angle, typical for the late Ayutthaya period. [12]


Kasetsiri and Wright added that the main chedi of a monastery is usually constructed as a memorial to the Buddha, sometimes containing his relics. Memorial chedis for those other than the Buddha are never the main chedi of a monastery.


Dr. Piriya Krairiksh additionally writes that the objects found in the stupa in 1990 CE undoubtedly dates from the 18th century CE and that the alleged relics of the Buddha it contains were indeed brought back from Sri Lanka by the monks who returned in 1756 CE to Ayutthaya as part of the famous Siamese mission sent in 1751 CE to restore the failing Theravada.


Despite these contradictions, Queen Suriyothai comes to the fore as a representation of national identity, a player among others in an arena where Thai-ness is being re-constructed and defended. She can be interpreted as both a royal conceptualisation of nationalist ideology and a defender of Thai-ness, representing a ‘female’ nationalist depiction of a Thai woman sacrificing her life for the country. A famous movie, ‘The Legend of Suriyothai’, was released in August 2001, portraying the story of Queen Suriyothai. It was Thailand's most ambitious, most expensive film and the highest-grossing. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit sponsored the production, apparently with the hope of helping Thais to learn more about their own history and enhance the country’s reputation overseas. Francis Ford Coppola re-edited the film for the international version. [13}





Maps


Engelbert Kaempfer’s sketch and his draft map indicate a monastery next to the Rear Palace separated by a canal. The monastery stood on a location we identify today as Wat Sop Sawan. Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716 CE) was a medical doctor working for the Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) who surveyed the city of Ayutthaya in June 1690 CE.


Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772 CE) indicates two monasteries near the Rear Palace separated by a canal on his map named ‘Plan De La Ville De Siam’. A survey of the city was done in 1687 CE in the reign of King Narai (1656-1688 CE). Obviously, these are Wat Sop Sawan and Wat Sanam Luang. If Dr. Piriya Krairiksh dates the Suriyothai chedi to the rule of King Borommakot, then the initial chedi must have been renovated in that period.


A mid-19th century map by an unknown surveyor, as Phraya Boran Rachathanin’s [PBR] 1926 CE map, shows two monasteries separated by a waterway indicated as Wat Sop Sawan and Wat Suan Luang. The mid-19th century map shows a vihara north of the Suriyothai chedi indicated with a crucifix base, contrary to the excavations of 1990 CE.


On the premises of Suan Luang next to Chedi Suriyothai, there is also a shrine and a small museum. A visit to the small museum is worthwhile, but there are unfortunately only a few signs in English. It is a restful place and a good spot to recover from the heat outside.


Suan Luang is in geographical coordinates: 14° 21' 10.48" N, 100° 32' 51.56" E.


Footnotes:


(1) The Khlong Chang Maha Chai or the Canal of the Maha Chai Granary Canal was filled up in the mid-20th century and is now a minor road. The canal is still found on PBR’s map of 1926 CE and partly on the 1957 CE FAD map.

(2) Queen Suriyothai was killed by the Viceroy of Prome when helping her husband, King Chakkraphat, the latter being in a dangerous battle situation. Prince Ramesuan and Prince Mahin forced their elephants in but came too late to intervene in their mother's battle with the Burmese leader. The Viceroy of Prome deadly wounded Queen Suriyothai. The two brothers retreated and were able to protect the entrance of the corpse of their mother into the Capital. Also, the daughter of King Chakkraphat and Queen Suriyothai, Princess Boromdilok, died in the battle. The existence of the historical figure of Queen Suriyothai is disputed. Piriya Krairiksh suggested that it is a 19th-century production intended to make history old, to generate patriotism, and to found the idea of the sacrifice of the individual to the State. (Krairiksh, 2003) No foreign source of the Ayutthaya era such as Jeremias Van Vliet (ca.1602-1663 CE) or Fernão Mendes Pinto (c.1509-1583 CE) ever mentioned the story of Chakkraphat’s chief queen. Myanmar's chronicles do not record the death of Queen Suriyothai in the battle. The Luang Prasoet Chronicle, written in the reign of King Narai around 1680 CE and considered the most chronologically accurate of all the Ayutthaya chronicles, mentions that the chief queen and daughter fought with the enemy until they lost their lives. Still, it does not give the queen’s name. The queen’s name ‘Suriyothai’ was first mentioned in the Phan Canthanumat Chronicle, written in 1795 CE, by Chao Phraya Phiphitphichai on the order of Rama I. The chronicle says that Suriyothai dressed as the Uparat, joined her husband in the battle, and died fighting with the King of Prae. Sunait Chutintaranond, a prominent Thai historian, pointed out that “the name undoubtedly derived from the story compiled or perhaps written by early Bangkok chroniclers", indicating that the historical figure of Suriyothai could not be found in earlier Thai chronicles. [14]





References:


[1] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. p 34 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - War With Hongsawadi, 1563-1564.

[2] Ibid. p. 40. Siamese Post-Mortem.

[3] Provincial Administration Organization [APAO]. Ayutthaya: World Heritage Reflections of the Past.

[4] Rajanubhab, Damrong (Prince) (1917). Our Wars with the Burmese. White Lotus, Bangkok (2000).

[5] Amatyakul, Tri (1957). Guide to Ayudhya and Bang-Pa-In. Bangkok: Prachandra Press.

[6] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. p.51 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - King Mahin Ascends The Throne.

[7]

[8] Information board at the Suriyothai information hall (2008).

[9] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. pp. 482-3 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat - The Burmese Besiege the Capital.

[10] Kasetsiri, Charnvit & Wright, Michael (2007). Discovering Ayutthaya. Toyota Thailand Foundation.

[11] Provincial Administration Organization [APAO]. Ayutthaya: World Heritage Reflections of the Past.

[12] Krairiksh, Piriya (2003). The Chedi Sri Suriyothai Reconsidered. Dedications to Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajangarindra on her 80th birthday. The Siam Society. [13] Jirattikorn, Amporn (2003). Suriyothai: Hybridizing Thai National Identity through Film. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. Volume 4, Number 2. [14] Ganesan, N (2015). Bilateral Legacies in East and Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.