Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ayutthaya: What remained from
a City of enormous Wealth

See the temple locations on Treasures of Ayutthaya Google Map

Picture Chokma
Wat Chai Wattanaram at sunset, seen from Chao Phraya River

Ayutthaya - this is the story of a kingdom, that existed from 1350 until 1767, and whose name means “undefeatable” in Sanskrit. It counted 33 kings of five dynasties - until a Burmese army destroyed most of the treasures in 1767.

The city was founded 1350 by the later King Ramathibodi I สมเด็จพระรามาธิบดีที่ 1 (also named U-Thong) at the confluence of three rivers: Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pasak. The kings of Ayutthaya extended their power in the fourteenth and fifteenths centuries, conqueering former Khmer strongholds until they sacked their capital Angkor in 1431. During this process Khmer customs and architecture were assimilated into the style of Ayutthaya. The city developped into a bustling metropolis of international reputation. First Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese and Persian visitors arrived. In the early sixteenth century Ayutthaya was discovered by European visitors, who had started circumnavigating the world. First came the Portuguese (1511), then the Dutch (1605), the English (1612), the Danes (1621) and the French (1662). Most visitors were merchants, some also engineers and military advisers. Ayutthaya became a hub for trade and the population in its best days was over a million - more than that of London at the same time. And the visitors brought home stories about palaces of gold, elegant teak homes and enormous wealth in the kingdom of Siam.

But Ayutthaya's ever threatening enemy was the army of Burma, which over the centuries tried many attacks, until it managed to occupy the Siamese capital in 1549 and finally sacked and burned Ayutthaya in 1767. The Grand Palace with its golden halls and pavilions was destroyed, many temples were burned, the great standing Buddha of Phra Si Sanphet was melted down. The Burmese carried away its more than 170 kilos of gold.

Only few Ubosots and Viharns (temples) survived the Burmese attack in 1767. One of those is Wat Na Phra Men. The other remains of the former glory are ruins, today known as Ayutthaya Historical Park, listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Some temples are floodlit at night: Wat Phraram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Mahathat and Wat Chaiwattanaram (the most fantastic look in the night).

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Buddha head in tree roots at Wat Mahathat

The history of Ayutthaya knows three main periods: The Early Ayutthaya Period, the Middle Period and the Late Ayutthaya Period. During the first period, the Prang (a tower adapted from Khmer architecture) was the most prominent structure within the temple compound. During the middle period, the chedi (or stupa), often in Sri Lankan (rounded) style became the most visible monument. During the later Ayutthaya period, the Ubosoth or Coronation Hall, where the Buddha images were housed, became larger and larger and the prangs and chedis were less prominent. thaiwebsites.com notes: "Please bear in mind, that quite a few of the older temples have been restored. Therefore elements of newer architecture may be seen in the older temple compounds".

Even if Ayutthayas splendour has vanished, it's legacy remained: After the Burmese sacking King Taksin regrouped the Thai army and finally could expel the Burmese. He founded the new capital in Thonburi, some 70 kilometres down the Chao Phraya River. And today visitors of Bangkok see here the replicas of the old monuments in Ayutthaya: The Grand Palace, Wat Arun and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha are copies of the old Grand Palace, Wat Chaiwattanaram and Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

Early Ayutthaya Period:

Wat Phra Ram วัดพระราม:
Wat Phra Ram (the temple of Rama), Ayutthaya’s oldest temple. Built in the 1300s by King Ramesuan and his successors, the wat was done in Khmer style with a prang and many Chedis. Read more on thaiwebsites.com and orientalarchitecture.com

Picture Wunkai
Frontside of Wat Phra Ram

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Birds in Phra Ram Park

Wat Mahathat วัดมหาธาตุ พระนครศรีอยุธยา: This temple is supposed to have been constructed from 1374 onwards by King Borom Rachathirat I and got its current name during the reign of King Ramesuan (1388-1395). Today you discover a mass of bricks instead of the central tower (prang). According to orientalarchitecture.com it first collapsed during the reign of King Song Tham (1610-1628), was repaired during the reign of King Prasat Thong (1629-1656). It resisted during the Burmese invasion of 1767. But in the 20th century it collapsed 1911 during the reign of King Rama VI. "The prang was an important monument in Khmer and Ayutthaya architecture", you learn through thaiwebsites.com. Prangs represent Mount Meru. In Thailand Buddha relics were often housed inside, while prangs built by Khmer housed Hindu deities. Ayutthaya prangs were mostly built with bricks, then covered with stucco. See Plan of Wat Mahathat.

Picture Danny Fay
The ruins of the prang

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Picture Napatsron

Wat Phutthai Sawan วัดพุทไธศวรรย์: The "Monastery of of Lord Buddha of the Heavens". At Chao Phraya River, opposite the old town of Ayutthaya. With a prang as domination structure. It is non clear, who was the founder of this temple. Was it Phra Chao U Thong, the later King Ramathibodi, who let it construct by enslaved Khmer people forcibly removed from Angkor to Ayutthaya at that time? Or was it King Naresuan (1590–1605) or was it King Songtham (1611–1628)? Different historians have different ideas. Professor Krairiksh discovered the temple on a city plan from 1687. Nicolas Gervaise, who lived in Ayutthaya from 1683 till 1687 noted, that the monastery was built to honour the queen, who had died. From this it can be deducted, that König Narai let build it. In 1868 - druing the reign of King Rama V - the prang was renovated. The prang is surrounded by a square cloister, the inner walls are housing rows of Buddha images on decorated bases. The Ubosot contains three large Buddha images, the main one being Luang Pho Dam. Read more here. See this video.

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Wat Ratchaburana วัดราชบุรณะ พระนครศรีอยุธยา: Built in 1424 and restored. At the towers (rounded Khmer-style prangs and Sukhothai-style pointed chedis) you can see Nagass and Garudas, parts of the original stucco. Gold and crystal Buddha images, jewelry an crafted swords have been found in 1958 in the two crypts (today in the Chao Sam Phraya Museum). You can climb the prang and go inside. A stair leads down to original paintings on the walls.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkol วัดใหญ่ชัยมงคล (also Mongkon): Lies at the banks of Pa Sak River. King Ramathibodi I. ordered to build the temple in 1357. Thai historian Damrong Rajanubhab thinks, that King Naresuan in 1592 let erect the 80 meters tall chedi to remember his successful fight with the prince of Birma. But according to historian Piriya Krairiksh the chedi was constructed by King Narai betwen 1665 and 1666. In Viharn Phra Buddha Saiyas you find a lying Buddha image.

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Picture by marhas

Middle Ayutthaya Period:

Wat Nang Pluem วัดแม่นางปลื้ม: Near the confluence of Khlong Hua Ro, Khlong Mueang and the junction canal of the old eastern city moat, all being the river bed of old Lopburi River in the Ayutthaya era. Wat Nam Pluem monastery has been existing since 1377. The temple bears the name of a certain Lady Plum, an old woman being visited by King Naresuan during one night, following a local legend (read the story). In the ordination hall a white Buddha image called Phra Phor Khao can be seen. The chedi of the monastery is surrounded with decorative stucco lions, which - with exception of Wat Thammikarat - nowhere else can be seen in Ayutthaya. The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya indicate that King Borommaracha II (1424-1448) brought images of lions and other creatures from Angkor. See video by Earth Magic Tours and see picture on flickr.com.

Picture by Napatsron
White Buddha

Wat Phanan Choeng วัดพนัญเชิงวรวิหาร: At the south-eastern side of the confluence of the Chao Phraya and Pa Sak rivers, built in 1324. At this time there was an old station for ship commerce, named Bang Ka-cha (บางกะจะ)), where Chinese junks docked. The large wihan houses a gilded 19 meter high seated Buddha in subduing mara posure from 1334, made of brick and mortar and covered with stucco and called Luang Pho Tho (หลวงพ่อโต) by Thais and Sam Pao Kong (ซำเปากง) by Thai-Chinese. This is one of the biggest old buddha statues in Thailand and regarded as a guardian for mariners and for bringing good look and progress to businesses. It is said that prior to the destruction of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767 tears flowed from the sacred eyes to the sacred navel. The statue has been restored several times in history, unter king Naresuan (1590–1605), under König Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851–1868) and in 1929.
According to legend the temple has been founded by King Sai Namphoeng (พระเจ้าสายน้ำผึ้ง) on the site, where the Chinese princess Soi Dok Mak (พระนางสร้อยดอกหมาก) has been burnt after she had died. She came to Ayutthaya to marry King Sai Namphoeng. When he refused, she strangled herself. A shrine was built to remember her. At the east entrance you find a statue of Kuan Yin.

Picture by Zervas

Picture by Qsimple

Picture by Matthew L. Stevens
Novices at prayer in the south viharn with three Budda statues in Sukhothai style, one from gold (พระทอง), one from Nak (พระนาก), a mix of gold and copper, one from gypsum.

Picture by swifant

Picture by Qsimple
Shrine of princess Soi Dok Mak

Picture by tsaiid

Wat Phra Si Sanphet วัดพระศรีสรรเพชญ: Built in 1448 as the king's private chapel. The 17m standing Buddha is a replica, the original image was destroyed by a fire, caused by the Burmese. The three chedis are Sri Lankan in style, domumenting the religious links between the two kingdoms. They were built during the 15th century to enshrine the ashes of three Ayutthaya kings. Read more about the layout of the temple on thailandsworld.com

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Picture Willy_G91

Late Ayutthaya period

Wat Chai Wattanaram วัดไชยวัฒนาราม: Standing right on the river, Wat Chai Wattanaram was built in 1629 by King Prasat Tong. The prang sits on an elevated terrace in the middle of a courtyard. "Chapels at each of the four corners of the courtyard and at the mid-points of each side are topped by smaller prangs", notes thailandforvisitors. Along the inner wall of the courtyard you find lines of Buddha images. In some of the corner chapels you can still see signs of fire at the coffered ceiling. The main prayer hall (wiharn) was on a terrace the same height as the terrace supporting the prang. Today only its base and a couple of Buddha images are left. The temple is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.

Picture Napatsron

Picture Napatsron

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Wat Na Phra Men วัดหน้าพระเมรุราชิการาม: Also:
Wat Na Phra Meru Rachikaram. This means: “The temple in front of the royal pyre.” Royal prisoners (after being executed) were cremated here. Wat Na Phra Men has been built in 1503. "The ubosoth, though restored during the reign of King Rama III, gives a good impression of how Ayutthaya temples and ubosoths of the late Ayutthaya period must have looked like", notes thaiwebsites.com. The principal Buddha image is seated in the 'subduing Mara' pose. Read more on thailandsworld.com

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Phra Puttha Nimit Wichitmara Moli Sri Sanphet Boromatrailokanat พระพุทธนิมิตร วิชิตมารโมลี ศรีสรรเพชญ์ บรมไตรโลกนาถ, Buddha image in Ayutthaya style at Wat Na Phra Men

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Phra Khan Thavarat พระคันธารราฐ, Wat Na Phra Men

How to move around in Ayutthaya:
Ferries connecting the town and the temples on Ayutthaya Ferry Google Map

Charter a longtail boat: In front of Chanthara Kasem National Museum, at Pom Phet Pier and at Wat Phananchoeng Pier.

Walking Tour on Ko Loi: Walking on Ko Loi Google Map

Sunset in Ayutthaya: We recommend Wat Chai Wattanaram, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet and Wat Phra Ram. These temples are lighted from sunset till 9 pm.

Discover more:
Your Guide to Ayutthaya

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