WAT THAMMARAM





Wat Thammaram, or the Monastery of the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), is located off the city island in the western area of Ayutthaya, along the west bank of the Chao Phraya River in Thung Prachet and north of Wat Kasattrathirat.


In situ are monastic structures of recent times, although underneath are still the foundations of ancient monastic structures visible. Remains of the old outer wall and the lower part of the old gates still can be seen.


History


It is related in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya that on this spot during the siege of Ayutthaya in 1569 CE, Phraya Thamma had set up his stockade to defend the west side of the City of Ayutthaya against the Burmese, an important strategic position because it lies across from the Sop Sawan Monastery and nearly in front of the Rear Palace.


The King of Hongsawadi, Bayinnaung (reign 1550-81 CE), planned to launch a decisive attack to seize Ayutthaya. However, Prince Thammaracha of Phitsanulok feared that an attack on the city would cost dearly in soldiers. He decided to use a ruse. He summoned Phraya Chakri, one of the hostages sent to Burma with Prince Ramesuen after the second Burmese invasion in 1563 CE, to attend him alone. After having him swear an oath of allegiance, the Prince held a secret discussion and proposed Phraya Chakri to gain the favour of the Burmese King.


Prince Thammaracha informed the King of Hongsawadi of a stratagem, and the latter, as part of the plan, had Phraya Chakri sentenced and imprisoned. Thirty Burmese, Mon and Lao, were set on guard over him. After a few days, Prince Thammaracha sent men to release Phraya Chakri secretly. Phraya Thamma entered Phraya Thamma’s position in the middle of the night in all his fetters, pretending that he had escaped from confinement.


The following day, the King of Hongsawadi made a pretence of having a search made for Phraya Chakri throughout the army. As, of course, he was not found, the King had the thirty guards taken to be paraded around the army and then immediately executed and impaled in front of the stockade of Phraya Thamma.


Phraya Thamma escorted Phraya Chakri to an audience with King Mahin of Ayutthaya. The king, assuming that Phraya Chakri escaped, placed him in charge of the city's defence. Over the weeks, Phraya Chakri succeeded in reducing the strength of the Ayutthaya army where after he informed the Burmese King to launch his final attack. Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese for the first time on 30 August 1569 CE, a victim of the betrayal of one of her own sons. [1]





(View of Wat Thammaram from the main river - November 2008 CE)



This temple had, in the Ayutthaya period, a ferry landing crossing the old Lopburi River - at present, the Chao Phraya River (1) - to Chao Phraya Ponlathep's residence on the city island. (2) The ferry landing is mentioned in the epic story Khun Chang, Khun Phaen.


"At Wat Thamma, they stopped and dismounted from the elephant by the riverbank. Little Khun Chang and his father crossed the river and waited to enter the city." [2]


The 'Description of Ayutthaya', a document probably compiled early in the Bangkok era from the memories of people who had lived in Ayutthaya before 1767 CE, mentioned a land market at the Thamma ferry. The village in front of Wat Thamma made coffins from teak and ulok wood, along with various crematory articles for sale. [3]


Based on the Temple Registration System of the National Office of Buddhism (NOB), Wat Thammaram was established in 1357 CE in the early Ayutthaya period and received its Wisung Kham Sima in 1367 CE. It is thus an early Ayutthaya-era monastery. Where the NOB got this information from, I do not know.


Wat Thammaram is indicated on a 19th-century map and Phraya Boran Ratchathanin's map drafted in 1926 CE. On the oldest map, we find the presence of a chedi still in existence.


The monastery is in geographical coordinates: 14° 21' 15.29" N, 100° 32' 43.18" E.





(View of Wat Thammaram - May 2009 CE)



Footnotes:


(1) Not many people realise the Chao Phraya River was not running on the west side of the city island in the Ayutthaya period. At that time, it was the Lopburi River that flowed around Ayutthaya. Today's Chao Phraya River ran through the Bang Ban Canal to Si Kuk and from there to Bang Sai (historical site: Chedi Wat Sanam Chai), where the Lopburi River joined the Chao Phraya River. At the time, the Chao Phraya River was situated about ten kilometres west of the centre of Ayutthaya. The city was linked to the ancient Chao Phraya River in the northwest of Ayutthaya via the Khlong Maha Phram and in the southwest via the Khlong Nam Ya. Steve Van Beeck (1994), in 'The Chao Phya: River in Transition" (Oxford University Press - New York.), writes that "It was not until 1857 that an alternative path was created [for the Chao Phraya River]. A 5-kilometre channel was dug from the entrance of Wat Chulamani to Ban Mai. The river responded by following this new course and abandoning the old one, in effect making a secondary river of the stretch that ran from Ban Mai, and into the Chao Phya Noi. Half as wide as the river above and below it, the 1857 Ban Mai shunt funnels the Chao Phya down to Ayutthaya."

(2) In the late Ayutthaya period, there were twenty-two ferry routes. In the western area, the three other crossings were from Wat Chayaram to Ban Chi, from Tha Dan Lom to Wat Kasattra and from the Rear Palace to Wat Lot Chong.


References:


[1] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 72 /.

[2] The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen: Siam's Folk Epic of Love, War and Tragedy - Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit (2010) - Silkworm Books. Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 99, 2011 - page 77 (paragraph on KWPS).

[3] Pongsripian, Vinai, Dr. (2007). Phanna phumisathan Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya: Ekasan jak Ho Luang. Geographical description of Ayutthaya: Documents from the palace. Bangkok: Usakane.





(View of the ordination hall of Wat Thammaram - May 2009 CE)



A monk's mission to Lanka in the reign of King Borommakot


Wat Thammaram was the location where dhamma-versed monks appointed for a mission to Sri Lanka gathered before their departure.


In the reign of King Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha (1739-1747 CE) of the Kandy Nayak dynasty, two missions were sent out to obtain a chapter of Buddhist priests to restore the Sangha (Buddhist monastic order) in the country, which faded away through ignorance of the Buddhist precepts and where monks led scandalous lives by accumulating wealth, cultivating trade and turning the monkhood into family business.


The first embassy, on board a Dutch VOC ship, was sent off to Pegu in 1741 CE but perished off the Pegu coast. Only one survivor - Doranegama Rala - gained Pegu and returned home. During the second embassy (the Dutch placed a VOC ship at the disposal through Batavia), King Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha came to decease. The reconnaissance party reached Ayutthaya, but on return to Batavia and hearing the news of the death of their King (August 1747 CE), the mission was halted on the advice of the Dutch to ascertain the wishes of the new king. On return, the majority perished during the voyage.


The young King Kirti Sri Raja Sinha (reign 1747-1782 CE) succeeded the throne in 1751 CE and made away with all the abuses that crept into the Sangha, much supported by the monk Saranankara and his Minister Ehelapola. He sent an embassy consisting of five ambassadors and sixty-one attendants out to Ayutthaya to demand ordained priests to re-institute the Upasampadawa in Sri Lanka. The Lankan embassy left Trincomalee in August 1750 CE with a letter for the King of Siam. A storm damaged the ship, but it could reach Batavia, where adverse winds compelled the Lankan embassy to remain there for six months. The embassy reached Ayutthaya the following year (1751 CE) and was received with much pump by King Borommakot (reign 1733-1758 CE). King Borommakot was well inclined to the request of King Kirti Sri Raja Sinha and readied a Siamese religious embassy to accompany the Sinhalese Embassy home. Find here under an "Account of King Kirti Sri's embassy to Siam in Saka 1672", translated by P. E. Pieris and published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Ceylon Branch. Vol. XVIII. The account must have been written either by Ellepola Mohottala or Eittaliyadde Rala, two out of the five Sinhalese ambassadors.





(The central chedi of Wat Thammaram - May 2009 CE)



“On Monday, the fourth day of the solar month Vrishchika, two officers came and accompanied us in boats to the great vihara called Talarama, which is built on the bank of the river. Here we worshipped before the golden image of the Buddha and the dagabas, and made offerings of robes and the priestly necessaries to the priests who had been appointed to proceed to Ceylon. These were Upali Maha Nayaka Thero, Arya Muni Maha Nayaka Thero, the Anu Mala Thero, the Maha Thero who read the Kanumavacha and who prepare for ordination, and the Maha Theros Indrajocassa, Chandra Jo assa, Kotthita, Kiyavu, Bojuna, Thuluvan, Thonsuvannana, Janna, Prakyavuthan, Lokon, Da ut, Premak, Premi, Kruyakya, being twenty-one Theros and eight Samaneras. After this we were taken back to our halting-place.

On the morning of Thursday two officers came and took us to the palace. We halted for a short time at a mandape while our arrival was being announced, after which we were presented and received with great kindness by his majesty the king, the prince, and the subking we were informed that the presents destined for Ceylon would be ready to start in a short time and then were given permission to withdraw, when we returned again to the same mandape for a short interval. And this was the manner of our departure there from. From the palace gate and as far as the landing-place at the river bank the two sides of the street were decorated with cloths embroidered with gold, various scented flowers and fruits, and examples of the painter's skill. Next, heralded by the five kinds of music, came the royal message carried in a gold litter on either side of which were held gold-worked sesat and flags. A new golden image of Buddha came next borne in like fashion and accompanied by sesat, chamaras, gold-worked flags, and music.


The sacred books and various offerings followed, guarded on either aide by a band of warriors armed with the five kinds of weapons. Upali Maha Thero came next, carried in a palanquin curiously worked with gold, and followed by many offerings next was Arya Muni Maha Thero in similar state. These two were accompanied by the other Theros and Samaneras destined for Lanka, all of whom had been presented with various gifts a band of warriors followed them preceding the presents that were to be sent to Lanka which were conveyed in gilt chests. Three officers had been appointed to proceed to Lanka as ambassadors, and numerous honours had been conferred on them. Two of them came next in two litters shaped like beds and richly adorned with ornaments of solid gold. These were carried on the shoulders of men, while the third rode behind on a richly caparisoned horse. We who had been gazing at this rare sight with delight, were now directed to enter the horse carriages in which we joined the procession. The gorgeous decorations on either side of the road, the viharas and crowds of priests, the masses of men, women, and children gay in jewels and gold, who thronged to gaze at us, cannot be described in words.


We proceeded thus as far as the river, lost in admiration at the splendour of the crowded street. Here we found awaiting us the royal barges, decked with the heads of lions, bears, elephants, kinduras, makaras, crocodiles, serpents buffaloes, deer, peacocks, parrots, pigeons, dragons, and rakshas whilst in the intervals were carved trees, creepers, and plants, all gilt. On their decks were constructed booths of gold-worked cloths gaily adorned, and similar curtains were hung around, while various, flags and umbrellas were fixed at stem and stern. On board these barges were conveyed the image and books and royal message as well as the priests.

The king, the royal queens, the sub king, the princes, as well as the nobles with their wives, accompanied us in similar boats after them came a host of devotees of either sex and of citizens in boats in an unbroken stream, the boats being secured in rows by cables so as to move in line. In various boats dancing and singing were going on, while numerous drums kept up a continuous volume of sound. Thus we proceeded down the river till we reached the large new ship, which with its gilding within and without appeared like some ship of the gods. This was the vessel destined by his majesty for the use of the priests who were sailing for Lanka. So on Thursday, the first day of the increasing moon of the month II, about ten hours after dawn, the sub-king bore the golden image reverently on his own bead within the ship, and placed it on a throne surrounded by gold embroidered hangings of various colours the holy books and the king's message were similarly disposed of, and the presents and offerings were stowed away. The priests were then taken on board amidst cries of "Sadhu" and the firing of guns and the accompaniment of music, and were followed by the three Siamese ambassadors who were proceeding to Lanka accompanied by many presents. A message was also conveyed to us from the king, giving us permission to depart and also directing that Wilbagedara Muhandiram Rala alone, who was well known to the Thero and ambassadors - he had been to Siam on a previous occasion - should travel in the Siamese ship. The rest of us were also requested to go on board the ship, but as the number of the Siamese attendants and the quantity of their baggage was great, we were to continue our journey by the Hollander's ship. Three Siamese nobles were also ordered to accompany us as far as the seaport of Siam.”





(The remaining outer wall of Wat Thammaram - May 2009 CE)



King Borommakot had sent a royal letter, the sacred Buddhist texts, a golden Buddha image and various presents in gilt chests. According to Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer, one of these presents was a Buddha footprint made of silver, of which the chakka was in gold. [1] This Buddha footprint is apparently still kept at a vihara of the "Temple of the Tooth" in Kandy, Sri Lanka. A similar footprint of the Buddha was understood to exist in Thailand. King Borommakot's presents were shipped in gilt chests. One of these chests, decorated with Chinese prints (likely in mother-of-pearl), is kept at the National Library in Colombo.


The Sinhalese embassy returned with the Siamese embassy on two ships: a ship from Ayutthaya and a Dutch VOC vessel. All presents were loaded on the Siamese ship, which was attended by one of the Lankan ambassadors, Wilbagedara Muhandiram Rala and some servants. Wilbagedara is said to have been before Siam, so must have been a survivor of the second mission sent by King Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha. The two vessels left the "Harbour of Siam" (likely the custom house) after a stop at Bangkok and the "Pakhuis Amsterdam" at the beginning of December 1751 CE, the Siamese ship taking the lead. The next day the Siamese ship disappeared out of sight. The Dutch ship arrived in Malacca and awaited news from the Siamese ship. Finally, in May of the following year, news came that the Siamese ship had lost their mast and was towed back to Ayutthaya. (1)


A letter was sent to Ayutthaya, and in December, an answer arrived from Ambassador Wilhagedara that they could proceed to Lanka as the Siamese monks and ambassadors would start again from Mergui (Mirigija) and arrive the following year. The Lankan delegation left Malacca and arrived in Colombo in mid-January 1753 CE. Finally, the Dutch offered the VOC ship "Cecilia" at the service of the Siamese delegation to bring them to Batavia, where they were transferred to a larger vessel, the "Oscabel". The Siamese delegation arrived in Trincomalee in May of the same year. [2]


Within three years, Upali Maha Thero and his chapter ordained seven hundred priests, several thousand youths of good families entered the temples as novices, and a Sangha Racha was appointed to take charge of the religious establishment in Lanka. Finally, after re-establishing the Upasampada (higher ordination) and creating the Siam Nikaya order, the Siamese monks returned home, and the ambassadors received a model of the Tooth Relic as a present for King Borommakot. A new chapter of Siamese monks set out for Sri Lanka in October 1755 CE and brought with them numerous religious books and rich offerings for the Sacred Tooth. [3]


Footnotes:


(1) The Siamese ship leaked and ran on a bank near Nakhon Sri Thammarat. The Siamese ambassadors wrote a letter to King Borommakot explaining the situation, and the king ordered the ship repaired and taken back to Ayutthaya.


References:


[1] Mail of Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer - September 2012.

[2] Pieris, P.E. (1908). Religious Intercourse Between Ceylon and Siam in the Eighteenth Century. Bangkok Siam Observer Office. pp. 37-40.

[3] Pieris, P.E. (1918). Ceylon and the Hollanders (1658 -1796). American Ceylon Mission Press, Tellippalai. p. 71.