WAT SUWANDARARAM





Wat Suwandararam is an active temple located on Ayutthaya’s city island in the Pratu Chai Sub-district. The monastery stands near the harbour area earlier called Hua Sarapha and north of the Diamond Fortress (Pom Phet). There are two entrances along U Thong Road leading to this active monastery. A side canal of Khlong Makham Riang led to the monastery.


During the Ayutthaya period, this area had a thriving community of Chinese traders. The leading Chinese commercial settlement was in the southeast, behind the harbour, where the main thoroughfare was called Chinese Street and the city gate called Chinese Gate. The market stretches over half a kilometre along Chinese Street, lined with Chinese brick shops on both sides. All kinds of goods from China, including food and fruit, were sold here. This market has also expanded to the east and merged with the Three Horses Market behind Pom Phet, thus near the area of Wat Thong. [1]


Wat Suwandararam was built by the grandfather of King Yodfa (Rama I) of the Chakri dynasty. The temple was known as Wat Thong (Golden Temple) in the late Ayutthaya period. As a result, Wat Suwandararam became one of the first monasteries in Ayutthaya to receive royal patronage after the city's fall in 1767 CE.


King Yotfa Chulalok Maharat, or Rama I (reign 1782-1809 CE), renamed the monastery Wat Suwandararam after ascending the throne. ‘Suwan’ (สุวรรณ) has the same meaning as Thong (ทอง) in the Thai language standing for ‘gold’. The king ordered the canal situated on the west side of Wat Suwandararam, which had a junction with Khlong Pratu Nai Kai and the Nai Kai Gate, extended. The new canal ran from the north of the temple towards the east and joined the Pa Sak River just opposite the mouth of Khlong Khao San. In this way, the monastery was more accessible via the water.


After King Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai, or Rama II, ascended the throne (1809-1824 CE), he renovated the entire temple. The uparat, Maha Senanurak, also took part in the work of renovation and had the upper walls around the ordination hall painted with the episode of an assembly of deities, similar to those painted on the walls of the Phutthaisawan Hall in Bangkok, and also the lower walls painted with the episodes from the morality stories of the former lives of the Buddha (Jataka tales) of Vesantara, Temiya and Suwanasam. The events of the Buddha subduing Mara with the Queen of the Earth, standing and twisting her bunch of hair, were painted on the walls at the front doors.


These wall paintings were renovated once during the reign of King Nangklao, or Rama III (1824-1851 CE). King Nangklao completed the construction of the sermon hall that Rama II began. King Nangklao and his two successors also added a chedi and the vihara.


King Rama IV (reign 1851-1868 CE) wanted to have a palace in Ayutthaya as his residence when on visits. He initially thought to build it at the back of Pom Phet and use Wat Suwan as the temple of his palace. Finally, he decided to make his palace on the location of the old Front Palace, the Chan Bavorn Palace, as the area was high ground and less prone to inundation in the rainy season. [3]


King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V (reign 1868-1910 CE), also renovated the ordination hall and the cells or kutis of the monks. King Vajiravudh, or Rama VI, (reign 1910-1925 CE) added glazed tiles to the roofs.


King Prajadhipok, or Rama VII (reign 1925-1935 CE), ordered Phraya Anusat Chitrakorn, a famous artist, to paint essential scenes from the history of Thailand on the walls of the vihara. The work was completed in 1931 CE. Thus, this temple is one that almost all the kings of the Chakri Dynasty have successively enlarged or renovated. [2]





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WAT SUWANDARARAM





Architecture


The ordination hall is in early Rattanakosin architectural style, visible at the three entrance doors. This building stands on a slightly curved foundation in the middle of the longer side in the style of a Chinese junk, as is typical of the late Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin periods. The Buddha image in the attitude of subduing Mara is enshrined inside the building. It is 2 meters tall with a width of lap span of 1.5 meters. To the back of the Buddha image is the mural painting portraying the Buddhist cosmology and on the front wall showing the Buddha subduing Mara. Above the windows along the wall is the mural painting of deities. The walls between each window have mural paintings from Jatakas, tales about the Buddha’s last ten lives before enlightenment. All the mural paintings were probably painted in the reign of King Rama I and were repainted continuously. The ordination hall has double plate boundary stones.


The principal stupa is bell-shaped, located on a triple torus moulding, surrounded by elaborated recessed stupas, emulating the style of the Ayutthaya stupa. The stupa is on a platform with a balustrade, which is typical of the art style in the reign of King Rama IV.


The vihara was likely constructed in the reign of King Rama IV because the royal crown (Mongkut), the emblem of King Rama IV, appeared in the architecture at that time. The monastic building is similar to the ordination hall, except it has a straight-line foundation instead of a slight curve in the middle of the longer side as in the style of a Chinese junk. Inside there are the mural paintings of King Naresuan’s biography painted by Phraya Anusat Chitrakorn (Chan Chittakon) in the renovated hall in the reign of King Rama VII.


Behind the vihara is a sizeable bell-shaped chedi in the Ayutthaya style sitting on an upraised platform with a staircase on the west side. Ten small chedis, painted white, surround the main stupa.


On the southeast corner of the monastery is a renovated bell tower with multiple entrances at its base. The outer monastery walls have an entry in each cardinal direction except on the east side, where there are two entries.


Wat Suwandararam on the maps


I believe Wat Thong, the later Wat Suwandararam, shows on the Iudea painting and the "Afbeldinge Der Stadt Iudiad Hooft Des Choonnicrick Siam" drawing of the Dutch cartographer and watercolourist Johannes Vingboons (1616-1670 CE). He based his watercolour paintings and maps on reports and sketches made by sailors and merchants on their travels under the orders of the Dutch East India Company. These paintings would be the earliest depiction of the monastery. In both paintings, the temple is shown with a monastic building and a chedi, surrounded by an outer wall. These drawings date back to 1665 CE. The case being, it is unlikely that the grandfather of Rama I ordered the construction of this temple as this temple appears already on drawings made around 1665 and based on earlier information. There is also a possibility that the location could match with the ‘Chinese Pagodas’ of Bellin’s map, but I do not know of anything excavated in the Chumchon Pom Phet School area.


Engelbert Kaempfer also shows Wat Thong on his sketch and draft map. Kaempfer (1651-1716 CE) was a medical doctor working for the Dutch VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) who surveyed Ayutthaya in June 1690 CE. Wat Thong is marked with a double stupa on the west side of a plain path leading north from the harbour to Pa Thon Road.


Bellin's map shows a slightly different landscape. Wat Thong stands here at the confluence of the side canal of Khlong Nai Kai (Makham Riang Canal) and a canal leading from the temple to another canal running parallel with Pa Thon Road through a rural area. Kaempfer has a path through a rural area, while Bellin has a small waterway, maybe a ditch north of the temple. South of the temple is a path leading from the harbour to the temple, identical to Kaempfer's sketch. Bellin's location of Wat Thong corresponds to the site still surrounded by water, east of present Wat Suwandaram. Bellin’s map ‘Plan De La Ville De Siam’. Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772 CE) was one of the most important cartographers of the 18th century. He was a hydrographer and 'ingénieur hydrographe' at the French 'Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine'. The map ‘Plan De La Ville De Siam’ of the French cartographer Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772 CE), based on a Jesuit survey in 1687 CE and published as plate No. 4 in volume 9 of the 1752 CE French edition of Abbé Antoine François Prévost's l'Histoire Générale des Voyages.


A 19th-century map of an unknown drafter shows Wat Suwan north of Pom Phet and surrounded by water linking Khlong Makham Riang via the side canal to the Front City Canal (later Pa Sak River). The monastery is not indicated with a stupa.


Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map of 1926 CE shows Wat Suwan, but not anymore surrounded by water. The canal linking the side canal of Khlong Makham Riang to the Pa Sak River is still visible. Today this canal has been filled in. Phraya Boran (1871-1936 CE) was the Superintendent Commissioner of Monthon Ayutthaya from 1925 till 1929 CE.


Wat Suwandararam was one of the three religious schools in Ayutthaya where Dhamma courses were taught at a primary or secondary level (Nak Tham and Barian), the other two being Wat Senasanaram and Wat Phanan Choeng. King Mongkut believed that better education would contribute to his reform movements, so monastery schools were set up across the provinces and monks were encouraged to learn modern pedagogical methods. [4]


Wat Suwandararam is classified as the second grade of a second-class royal temple with the suffix 'Ratchaworawihan' in its name.


The monastery is in geographical coordinates: 14° 20' 55.11" N, 100° 34' 42.28" E.





References:


[1] Baker, Chris (2011). Before Ayutthaya Fell: Economic Life in an Industrious Society. Markets and Production in the City of Ayutthaya before 1767: Translation and Analysis of Part of the Description of Ayutthaya. Journal of the Siam Society. Vol. 99.

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

[3] Hengpujaroen, Nantana (2003). The study of Chantharakasem Palace for developing the Management Plan. Bangkok: Silpakorn Fine Arts University.

[4] Tantinipankul, Worrasit (2007). Modernisation and urban monastic space in Rattanakosin city: Comparative study of three royal wats. Cornell University.