View of the Reclining Buddha
|Founded||1788 A.D. (re-establishment)|
|Founder(s)||King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke
Wat Pho (Thai: วัดโพธิ์, IPA: [wát pʰoː]), also spelt Wat Po, is a Buddhist temple in Phra Nakhon district, Bangkok, Thailand. It is located in the Rattanakosin district directly adjacent to the Grand Palace. Known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, its official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn (Thai: วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลารามราชวรมหาวิหาร; IPA: [wát pʰráʔ tɕʰêttupʰon wíʔmon maŋkʰlaːraːm râːttɕʰawɔːráʔmahǎːwíʔhǎːn]). The more commonly-known name, Wat Pho, is a contraction its older name Wat Photaram.
The temple is one of the six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first class Royal temples. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. It is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage.
Wat Pho is thought to be Bangkok's oldest temple and it existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I. It was originally named Wat Photaram or Podharam from which the name Wat Pho was derived. The older temple is thought to have been built or expanded in the reign of King Phetracha of the Ayuthaya period on perhaps an even earlier temple site. Wat Pho is named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived. After Rama I had moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok and built the Grand Palace, he ordered the construction and extension at the old temple site beginning in 1788. Most of the Buddha images in Wat Pho were brought over from abandoned temples in Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and other places in Thailand, which include fragments of an enormous Buddha image from Ayuthaya's Wat Phra Si Sanphet destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 that were incorporated into a chedi in the complex. The rebuilding took over 7 years to complete, and in 1891, the new temple complex was renamed Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklavas, which became the temple of Rama I.
The complex underwent many changes in the next 260 years. In 1832, King Rama III (1824-1851 A.D.) began renovating and enlarging the temple complex, a process which took 16 years and 7 months to complete. Most of the structures in Wat Pho were built in this period. He built the chapel of the Reclining Buddha, and turned the temple complex into a public center of learning by decorating the walls of the buildings with diagrams and inscriptions on various subjects. The marble inscriptions received recognition in the Memory of the World Programme launched by UNESCO on February 21, 2008.  Wat Pho is regarded as Thailand’s first university and a center for traditional Thai massage. It served as a medical teaching center in the mid-19th century before the advent of modern medicine, and it remains a center for traditional medicine today. The name of the complex was changed to Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm during the reign of King Rama IV. The temple was restored again in 1982 before the Bangkok Bicentennial Celebration.
The Temple Complex
Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok (with an area of 50 rai, 80,000 square metres), and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha images of 150 feet (46 m) in length. The Wat Pho complex consists of two walled compounds bisected by Soi Chetuphon running in the east–west direction. The northern walled compound is where the reclining Buddha and massage school are found. The southern walled compound, Tukgawee, is a working Buddhist monastery with monks in residence and a school. The perimeter wall of the temple complex has sixteen gates, two of which are used as entrance for the public. A number of large Chinese statues carved out of rocks are found within the complex guarding the gates; these statues were originally imported as ballast on ship trading with China.
The temple ground contain 91 chedis (stupas or mounds), a belfry, a bot (central shrine), a number of viharas (halls) and other buildings. Architecturally the chedis and buildings in the complex are varied in style and of different sizes. 71 chedis of smaller size contains the ashes of the royal family, and 20 large ones contain the ashes of Buddha.
Wat Pho was also intended to serve as a place of education for the general public. To this end a pictorial encyclopedia was engraved on granite slabs covering a wide range of subjects, such as history, geography, astrology, botany and poetry. Plaques inscribed with medical texts were also placed around the temple, and dotted around the complex are knolls illustrating rock formations of Thailand, and a few statues still survive showing methods of massage and yoga positions.
Some of the more significant structures in the complex are:
- Viharn Phranorn - This building contains the Reclining Buddha (Phra Buddhasaiyas, Thai พระพุทธไสยาสน์) and was constructed in the reign of Rama III. The interior is decorated with panels of mural. Adjacent to this building is a small raised garden, the centrepiece being a bodhi tree which is believed to have been propagated from the original tree in India where Buddha sat while awaiting enlightenment.
- Phra Uposatha - This is the ubosot or bot, the main hall used for performing Buddhist rituals, constructed by King Rama I in the Ayuthaya style. It was then reconstructed and enlarged by Rama III. This building is raised on marble platform punctuated by mythological lions in the gateways. Inside the ubosot is a gold and crystal three-tiered pedestal topped a gilded Buddha, and over the statue is a nine-tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand. Some ashes of King Rama I were also kept under the pedestal.
- The exterior balustrade surrounding the main hall has around 150 depictions in stone of the epic, Ramakien, the ultimate message of which is transcendence from secular to spiritual dimensions. The stones panels were recovered from a temple in Ayuthaya. The ubosot lies in the center of a cloister (Phra Rabiang), which contains 400 images of Buddha selected out of the 1200 originally brought from all over Thailand by King Rama I. These Buddhas figures, some standing and some seated, are evenly mounted on matching gilded pedestals. The are four spires, or Phra Prang, at each corner of the surrounding courtyard.
- Phra Mondob - Phra Mondob is the Scripture Hall containing a small library of Buddhist scriptures. The building is not generally opened to the public, and the scriptures which are inscribed on palm leaves are kept in a controlled environment for preservation. The libary was built by Rama III.
- Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn - This is a group of four large stupas, each 42 meters high. These four chedis are dedicated to first four Chakri kings. The first, in green mosaic tiles, was constructed by Rama I to house the fragments of the ruined great Buddha from Ayuthaya. Two more were built by Rama III, one in a white tiles to hold the ashes of his father Rama II, another in yellow for himself. A fourth in blue was built by Rama IV who then enclosed the four chedis leaving no space for more to be built.
The image of the reclining Buddha represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations. The figure is 15 m high and 46 m long with his right arm supporting the head with tight curls on two box-pillows of blue, richly encrusted with glass mosaics. The figure has a brick core, which was modeled and shaped with plaster then gilded with gold leaves. The chapel and the reclining Buddha were built by Rama III in 1832.
The soles of the feet of the Buddha are 3 m high and 4.5 m long, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. They are divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified like flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories. There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor indicating the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the wat. Though the reclining Buddha is not a pilgrimage centre, it remains an object of popular piety.
The temple is considered the first public university of Thailand, teaching students in the fields of religion, science and literature through murals and sculptures. In 1962 a school for traditional medicine and massage was established. The temple is home to one of the earliest Thai massage schools. Traditional Thai massage and medicine is taught at the Traditional Medical Practitioners Association Center, an open air hall outside the temple. Courses on Thai massage, which is based on principles of energy flow similar to Chinese acupuncture, may last a few weeks to a year.
The medical inscriptions inside the temple serve as instructions for for Thai massage therapists. There are 60 plaques inscribed, 30 each for the front and back of human body. Therapeutic points and energy pathways known as sen were engraved and the explanations were carved on the walls next to the plaques. Full research on the diagrams is still not completed - the derivation so far is that the figures represent relationships between anatomical locations and effects produced by treatment at those locations.
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วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลาราม (อ่านว่า พฺระ-เชด-ตุ-พน-วิ-มน-มัง-คฺลา-ราม) ["วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลาราม (pronounced: wat-phra-chet-tu-phon-wi-mon-mang-khla-ram)"]
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