Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Magnificent Temples of Ayutthaya

The ancient city of Ayutthaya in Thailand carries the legacy of Ayodhaya (India), the kingdom of Lord Rama, the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Ayutthaya is known for some of the most beautiful and evocative Buddhist temples in the world.


Ramayana in Thailand

Hindu epic Ramayana had a profound impact in East Asia, from Myanmar and Thailand to Indonesia and Vietnam. Even in China, the stories of Sun Wukong seem to be inspired by Hanuman in Ramayana.

The two Indic religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, travelled from India to ancient Siam (Thailand). The influence of Hinduism was earlier, leading to the popularity of Ramayana. Thus the kings of Siam took the name of Lord Rama, considered to be an Avatar of God Vishnu. Rama's kingdom was in Ayodhaya and thus, the capital of Siam kings was also named Ayotthaya.

Thailand shows the combined influence of Buddhism and Hinduism, where the two Indic religions have blurred boundaries. Many traces of this ancient Hindu influence are visible in the Buddhist temples of Ayotthaya today, like the statue of the God Ganesha at a small shrine in the Wat Phra Si Sanphet temple below.


Apart from the names of the capital city and the king, many traces of Ramayana continue to be strong, including the representation of Ramakien (Ramayana) in the different art forms of Thailand. The image below shows the statue of Garuda, another character from Ramayana, from the Wat Ratchaburana temple in Ayutthaya.


Brief History of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya, located in the valley of the river Chao Pharaya, was the old capital of Siam (Thailand) till about 150 years ago. The city was founded in 14th century on a river island. The Autthaya kingdom had different wars with the Burmese kingdom. After one such war in the 18th century, the city was destroyed.

Visiting Ayutthaya

I was in Thailand for work and had only a few hours free to be a tourist. I decided to visit Ayutthaya, even if I knew that I will have little time to visit it properly.

I took an early morning mini-bus from the North Bus Stand in Bangkok and the journey took around an hour and a half. I only had about 2 hours for my sight-seeing in Ayutthaya. I decided to focus on visiting a few Buddhist temples in the area along the Muang river as it goes and joins Chao Pharaya river.

I had got down from the mini-bus near Chao Phrom market. There were elephant-tours to visit the city but I didn't have the time for a leisurely elephant tour. So, from the market I walked to the Uthong road, near the Muang river, where I rented a bicycle.

With a map of the old town in my hand, I started on my bicycle towards Wat Maha That temple. "Wat" means a Buddhist temple. Wat architecture includes spires (Prangs), Stupas (Chedi) containing sacred relics, and statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

Suddenly on the right side of the road, I saw the ruins of an old Wat, which was not shown on the tourist map. It had a tall chedi and the broken head of big Buddha statue in front of it. I thought that it was very beautiful.


Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That is located to the east of the Grand Palace. At one time it was the royal temple. Buddha relics were enshrined in the main Chedi of this temple. The supreme patriarch of the Buddhist monks resided in this temple.


Its construction was started in the 14th century during the reign of king Phra Borommarachatthirat I but was completed 20 years later during the reign of Uthong king Ramesuan. Its main Pagoda had collapsed in early 17th century and was rebuilt some years later by king Prasat Thong.

The monastery and the temple were destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. Thus, almost all the Buddha and Bodhisattvas statues at Maha That temple are headless and broken in different parts.


Wat Thammikarat

After Maha That temple, I went towards Wat Thammikarat. This temple area includes different buildings, old ruins as well as, a working temple. Some parts of this temple pre-date the establishment of Ayutthaya city, when it was known as Wat Mukaraj.

One of the first buildings of this complex is a bell-shaped Chedi with an octagonal base. It has a row of 52 royal Singhas (lions) all around it.


Opposite the Chedi are the ruins of a Viharan (hall) called "Harn Song Dhamma" used by the monks for prayers. It has a Buddha statue and a shrine for prayers.


A distinct mark of this Viharan are statues of roosters, brought as offerings by the faithful. There is a legend of a cock-fight competition between a Burmese and a Thai prince associated with this Viharan. It seemed to be a very popular religious place for the Thai people, though I could not find someone who could speak English to explain its significance to me.


Finally behind the ruins is the still active Buddhist temple Wat Dhammikaraj which includes the golden statue of a monk. On one side of the Chedi, I saw a shrine with a blue coloured Buddha covered with yellow wrap, I thought that it was beautiful.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

This was the most important temple of ayutthaya before its destruction in the 18th century by the Burmese. However, it did not start as a temple, rather it started as the first royal palace when Ayutthaya had become the capital in 1351. After about a hundred years, the royal palace was shifted to another building and this place was converted into a temple.


It was a royal temple and no monks lived here.


A 16 metres high Buddha statue covered with gold was installed in the Viharan of Wat Phra Si Sanphet in 1499. Most of the temple, except for some bell-shaped Chedis, was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. Just across from Si Sanphet ruins, a new building hosts a new giant statue of Buddha today.


Conclusions

My visit to Ayutthaya was very brief. I could visit only a small part of the temple-ruins present in this beautiful town. The ruins of broken Buddha and Boddhisattva statues had a strong emotional impact on me.

The Burmese were also Buddhist, so why did they destroy the Buddhist temples of Ayutthaya? I don't know the answer to this question. Perhaps it was just for looting and not because they did not like the Thai religious ideas.

I wish one day to return to Ayutthaya and spend a few days there, going around the town, and soaking in its atmosphere of beauty coupled with destruction and timelessness.


If you like old ruins of Buddhist temples, visit Ayutthaya, it has wonderful atmosphere and the old ruins of the temples declared as world heritage by UNESCO are unforgettable.

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6 comments:

  1. This was the most important temple of ayutthaya before its destruction in the 18th century by the Burmese. However, it did not start as a temple, rather it started as the first royal palace when Ayutthaya had become the capital in 1351. After about a hundred years, the royal palace was shifted to another building and this place was converted into a temple.Very beautiful post . Aapki post leak se hatkar hoti hain .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Yogi for such nice praise! :)

      Delete
  2. Truly Amazing. Another awesome post.
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As always, thanks Rupam for your appreciation :)

      Delete

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