Wat Pho

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Wat Pho
Bangkok Wat Pho reclining Buddha.jpg
View of the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho is located in Bangkok
Wat Pho
Wat Pho
Location within Bangkok
13°44′47″N 100°29′37″E / 13.74639°N 100.49361°E / 13.74639; 100.49361
Denomination Theravada Buddhism
Founded 16th century
1788 A.D. (re-establishment)[1]
Founder(s) Unknown
King Rama I (re-establishment)
Country Thailand
Website www.watpho.com

Wat Pho (Thai: วัดโพธิ์, IPA: [wát pʰoː]), also spelt Wat Po, is a Buddhist temple complex in Phra Nakhon district, Bangkok, Thailand. It is located in the Rattanakosin district directly to the south of the Grand Palace.[2] Known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, its official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn[1] (Thai: วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลารามราชวรมหาวิหาร; rtgsWat Phra Chettuphon Wimonmangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan; IPA: [wát pʰráʔ tɕʰê:t.tù.pʰon wíʔ.mon.maŋ.kʰlaː.raːm râːt.tɕʰá.wɔː.ráʔ.má.hǎː.wíʔ.hǎːn]).[3] The more commonly known name, Wat Pho, is a contraction its older name Wat Photaram (Thai: วัดโพธาราม; rtgsWat Photharam).[4]

The temple is the first in the list of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first class Royal temples.[5][6] It is associated with King Rama I who rebuilt the temple complex on an earlier temple site, and became his main temple where some of his ashes are enshrined.[7] The temple was later expanded and extensively renovated by Rama III. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. The temple is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.[8]


Phra Maha Chedi Si Ratchakan

Wat Pho is one of Bangkok's oldest temples; 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 is derived.[4][9] The name refers the monastery of the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment.[6][10] The older temple is thought to have been built or expanded some time in the reign of King Phetracha (1688–1703) of the Ayuthaya period on an perhaps even earlier temple site, but its founder is unknown.[6][11] After the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese, King Taksin moved the capital to Thonburi where he located his palace beside Wat Arun on the opposite side of the river to Wat Pho, and the proximity of Wat Pho to this royal palace elevated it to the status of a wat luang (royal monastery).[6]

In 1782, King Rama I moved the capital from Thonburi across the river to Bangkok and built the Grand Palace adjacent to Wat Pho. In 1788, he ordered the construction and renovation at the old temple site of Wat Pho, which had by then become dilapidated.[1] The site which was marshy and uneven was drained and filled in before construction began. During its construction Rama I also initiated a project to remove Buddha images from abandoned temples in Ayutthaya, Sukhothai as well other sites in Thailand, and many of these Buddha images were kept in Wat Pho.[12] These include the remnants of an enormous Buddha image from Ayuthaya's Wat Phra Si Sanphet destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, and these were incorporated into a chedi in the complex.[13] The rebuilding took over 7 years to complete, and 12 years after work began, in 1801, the new temple complex was renamed Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklavas in reference to the vihara of Jetavana, and became the main temple for Rama I.[14][15]

The complex underwent significant changes in the next 260 years, particularly during the reign of Rama III (1824-1851 A.D.). In 1832, King Rama III began renovating and enlarging the temple complex, a process that took 16 years and 7 months to complete. The ground of the temple complex was expanded to 22 acres, and most of the structures in Wat Pho were either built or rebuilt in this period, including the chapel of the Reclining Buddha. He also turned the temple complex into a public center of learning by decorating the walls of the buildings with diagrams and inscriptions on various subjects.[9] These marble inscriptions have received recognition in the Memory of the World Programme launched by UNESCO on February 21, 2008.[16] 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 the temple remains a center for traditional medicine today where a private school for Thai medicine founded in 1957 still operates.[17][18]

The name of the complex was changed again to Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm during the reign of King Rama IV.[1] Apart from the construction of a fourth great chedi and minor modifications by Rama IV, there had been no significant changes to Wat Pho since. Repair work however is a continuing process, often funded by devotees of the temple. The temple was restored again in 1982 before the Bangkok Bicentennial Celebration.[19]

The Temple Complex[edit]

Phra Mondob of Wat Pho. Beside its entrances are statues of Yak Wat Pho.

Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok (with an area of 50 rai, 80,000 square metres),[20] and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha images at 150 feet (46 m) in length.[21] The Wat Pho complex consists of two walled compounds bisected by Chetuphon Road running in the east–west direction. The larger northern walled compound, the phutthawat, is the part opened to visitors and contains the finest buildings dedicated to the Buddha, including the bot with its four directional viharn, and the temple housing the reclining Buddha.[15] The southern compound, the sankhawat, contains the residential quarters of the monks and a school. The perimeter wall of the main temple complex has sixteen gates, two of which serve as entrances for the public (one on the Chetuphon Road, the other near the northwest corner).[10]

Chinese guardian figure at a gate in Wat Pho

The temple ground contain 91 small chedis (stupas or mounds), four great chedis, two belfries, a bot (central shrine), a number of viharas (halls) and other buildings such as pavilions, as well as gardens and a small temple museum. Architecturally the chedis and buildings in the complex are different in style and sizes.[17] A number of large Chinese statues, some of which depict Europeans, are also found within the complex guarding the gates of the perimeter walls as well as other gates within the compound; these stone statues were originally imported as ballast on ships trading with China.[17]

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 eight subject areas, namely history, medicine, health, custom, literature, proverbs, lexicography and the Buddhist religion.[18][22] These plaques, inscribed with texts and illustration on medicine, Thai traditional massage, and other subjects, are placed around the temple,[23] for example within the Sala Rai or satellite open pavilions. Dotted around the complex are 24 small rock gardens (Khao Mor) illustrating rock formations of Thailand, and one, called the Contorting Hermit Hill, contains some survive statues showing methods of massage and yoga positions.[17][22] There are also drawings of constellations on the wall of the library, inscriptions on local administration, as well as paintings of folk tales and animal husbandry.[18] These illustrations and inscriptions in Wat Pho have been registered by UNESCO in its Memory of the World Programme set up to promote, preserve and propagate the wisdom of the world heritage.[24]

Phra Ubosot[edit]

Interior of the ubosot of Wat Pho

Phra Ubosot (Phra Uposatha) or bot is the Ordination Hall, the main hall used for performing Buddhist rituals, and the most sacred building of the complex. It was constructed by King Rama I in the Ayuthaya style, and later enlarged and reconstructed in the Rattanakosin style by Rama III. The bot was dedicated in 1791, before the rebuilding of Wat Pho was completed.[25] This building is raised on a marble platform, and the ubosot lies in the center of courtyard enclosed by a double cloister (Phra Rabiang).

A view of Wat Pho with Phra Ubosot in the background and chedis outside the cloister.

Inside the ubosot is a gold and crystal three-tiered pedestal topped with a gilded Buddha made of a gold-copper alloy, and over the statue is a nine-tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand.[17] The Buddha image, known as Phra Buddha Theva Patimakorn and thought to be from the Ayutthaya period, was moved here by Rama I from Wat Sala Si Na (now called Wat Khuhasawa) in Thonburi.[26] Rama IV later placed some ashes of Rama I under the pedestal of the Buddha image so that the public may pay homage to both Rama I and the Buddha at the same time. There are also ten images of Buddha's disciples in the hall, Moggalana on its left and Sariputta on its right, and a further eight Arahants below.[1][27]

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.[10] The stone panels were recovered from a temple in Ayuthaya. The ubosot is enclosed by a low wall called kamphaeng kaew,[28] which is punctuated by gateways guarded by mythological lions, as well as eight structures that house the bai sema stone markers that delineate the sacred space of the bot.

A view of Phra Prang and part of the Phra Rabiang cloister
  • Phra Rabiang - This double cloister contains around 400 images of Buddha from northern Thailand selected out of the 1200 originally brought by King Rama I;[10] 150 of these Buddha images are on the inner side of the double cloister, another 244 images are located on the outer side.[27] These Buddhas figures, some standing and some seated, are evenly mounted on matching gilded pedestals. These images were from different periods, such as Chiangsaen, Sukhothai, U-Thong and Ayutthaya, but were renovated by Rama I and covered with stucco and gold leaves to make them look similar.[27]
Buddha images in the cloister :The cloister is intersected with four viharas or viharns, one on each direction, and the one on the west contains a small museum.[29]

The viharn in the east contains an 8-metre tall standing Buddha, the Buddha Lokanatha, originally from Ayutthaya. In its antechamber is Buddha Maravichai, sitting under a bodhi tree, originally from Sawankhalok of the late Sukhothai period. The one on the west has a seated Buddha sheltered by a naga, the Buddha Chinnasri, while the Buddha on the south, the Buddha Chinnaraja, has five disciples seated in front listening to his first sermon. Both Buddhas were brought over from Sukhothai by Rama I. The Buddha in the north viharn called Buddha Palilai was cast in the reign of Rama I.[27]

  • Phra Prang - There are four towers, or Phra Prang, at each corner of the courtyard around the bot. Each of the towers is tiled with marbles and contains four Khmer-style statues which are the Guardian Divinities of the Four Cardinal Points.[30]

Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn[edit]

This is a group of four large stupas, each 42 metres high. These four chedis are dedicated to first four Chakri kings.[8] The first, in green mosaic tiles, was constructed by Rama I to house the remnants of the great Buddha from Ayuthaya, which was scorched to remove its gold covering by the Burmese. 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.[31]

The Viharn containing the reclining Buddha. The tree on the right behind a pavilion is the Bodhi tree.

Viharn Phranorn[edit]

The viharn or wihan contains the Reclining Buddha (Phra Buddhasaiyas, Thai พระพุทธไสยาสน์) and was constructed in the reign of Rama III emulating the Ayutthaya style. The interior is decorated with panels of mural.[32]

Adjacent to this building is a small raised garden (Missakawan Park) with a Chinese style pavilion; the centrepiece of the garden is a bodhi tree which was propagated from the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka that is believed to have originally came from a tree in India where Buddha sat while awaiting enlightenment.[33]

Phra Mondob[edit]

Phra Mondob or the ho trai is the Scripture Hall containing a small library of Buddhist scriptures. The building is not generally opened to the public as the scriptures which are inscribed on palm leaves need to kept in a controlled environment for preservation.[34] The library was built by Rama III. Guarding its entrance are figures of giants called Yak Wat Pho placed in niches besides the gates. Around Phra Mondob are three pavilions with mural paintings about the beginning of Ramayana.

Other structures[edit]

Phra Chedi Rai which contain the ashes of members of the royal family
  • Phra Chedi Rai - Outside the Phra Rabiang cloisters are dotted many smaller chedis called Phra Chedi Rai. 71 of these small chedis were built by Rama III, each 5 metres in height. There are also 4 groups of 5 chedis that shared a single base built by Rama I, one on each corner outside the cloister.[35] The 71 chedis of smaller size contain the ashes of the royal family, and 20 slightly larger ones clustered in groups of five contain the relics of Buddha.[17]
Sala Karn Parien
  • Sala Karn Parien - This hall is located next to the Phra Mondob at the southwest corner of the compound, and is thought to date from the Ayutthaya period. It serves as a learning and meditation hall.[36] The building contains the original Buddha image from the bot which was moved to make way for the Buddha image currently in the bot.[25] Next to it is a garden called The Crocodile Pond.
  • Sala Rai - There are 16 satellite pavilions most of which are placed around the edge of the compound, and murals depicting the life of Buddha may be found in some of these. Two of these are the Medicine Pavilions located between Phra Maha Chedi Si Ratchakarn and the main chapel. The north medicine pavilion contains Thai traditional massage inscriptions with 32 drawings of massage positions on the walls while the one to the south has a collection of inscriptions on guardian angel that protects the new born babies.[37]
  • Phra Viharn Kod - This is the gallery which consists of four viharas, one on each corner outside the Phra Rabiang.[38][39]
  • Tamnak Wasukri - Also called the poet's house, this is the former residence of Prince Patriarch Paramanujita Jinorasa, a Thai poet.[40] This building is located in the living quarters of the monks in the southern compound and is open once a year on his birthday.

Reclining Buddha[edit]

Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho
Feet with auspicious symbols of Buddha
108 bronze bowls

The chapel and the reclining Buddha were built by Rama III in 1832.[41] The image of the reclining Buddha represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations.[2] The posture of the image is referred to as sihasaiyas, the posture of a sleeping or reclining lion. The figure is 15 m high and 46 m long, and it is one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand.[1] The right arm of the Buddha supports the head with tight curls, which rests on two box-pillows richly encrusted with glass mosaics.[10] The figure has a brick core, which was modeled and shaped with plaster then gilded with gold leaves.[42]

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 each divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified, such as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories.[10] At the center of each foot is a circle representing the Chakra or energy point. There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Visitors may drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and it also helps the monks to maintain the wat.[8]

Although the reclining Buddha is not a pilgrimage centre, it remains an object of popular piety.[17] An annual celebration for the Reclining Buddha is held around the time of the Siamese Songkran or New Year in April which also helps raise funds for the upkeep of Wat Pho.[43]

Thai Massage[edit]

Medicine pavilion
Illustrations in the medicine pavilion

The temple is considered the first public university of Thailand, teaching students in the fields of religion, science and literature through murals and sculptures.[8] A school for traditional medicine and massage was established at the temple in 1955, and now offers 4 courses in Thai Medicine - Thai Pharmacy, Thai medical practice, Thai Midwife Nurse and Thai Massage.[44] This, the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, is the first school of Thai medicine approved by the Thai Ministry of Education, and one of the earliest massage schools. It remains the national headquarters and the center of education of traditional Thai medicine and massage to this day. Courses on Thai massage are held in Wat Pho, and these may last a few weeks to a year.[17] Two pavilions located at the eastern edge within the Wat Pho compound are used as classrooms for practising Thai traditional massage and herbal massage, and visitors can received massage treatment here for a fee.[45][46]

There are many medical inscriptions and illustration are placed in various buildings around the temple complex, some of which serve as instructions for Thai massage therapists, particularly those in the north medicine pavilion.[47] Among these are 60 inscribed plaques, 30 each for the front and back of human body, showing pressure points used in traditional Thai massage. These therapeutic points and energy pathways, known as sen, are engraved on the human figures, with explanations given on the walls next to the plaques.[48] They are based on the principle of energy flow similar to that of Chinese acupuncture. The understanding so far is that the figures represent relationships between anatomical locations and effects produced by massage treatment at those locations, but full research on the diagrams has yet to be completed.[49]

Site plan[edit]

Plan of the northern enclosure of Wat Pho
  1. Phra Ubosot
  2. Kamphaeng kaew
  3. East Viharnn
  4. South Viharn
  5. West Viharn
  6. North Viharn
  7. Phra Prang
  8. 5 Chedis with a single base
  9. Phra Chedi Rai
  10. Phra Rabiang
  11. Phra Viharn Kod
  12. Khao Mor (rock gardens)
  13. Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn
  14. Phra Mondob
  15. Pavilions

16. Viharn Phranorn
(Chapel of the Reclining Buddha)
17. Sala Karn Parien
18. Missakawan Park
19. The Crocodile Pond
20. Belfry
21. Gates
22. Massage service
23. Sala Rai

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "History of Wat Pho". Wat Pho official site. 
  2. ^ a b Liedtke, Marcel (2011). Thailand- The East (English Edition). Norderstedt: Books on Demand GmbH. p. 56. ISBN 978-3-8423-7029-6. 
  3. ^ "พระนอนวัดโพธิ์" [The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho]. Royal Institute of Thailand. 2012-12-27. Retrieved 2013-01-13. วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลาราม (อ่านว่า พฺระ-เชด-ตุ-พน-วิ-มน-มัง-คฺลา-ราม) ["วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลาราม (pronounced: wat-phra-chet-tu-phon-wi-mon-mang-khla-ram)"] 
  4. ^ a b Gregory Byrne Bracken (December 1, 2010). A Walking Tour Bangkok: Sketches of the city’s architectural treasures. Marshall Cavendish Corp. ISBN 978-9814302227. 
  5. ^ "About the Royal Buddhist Temples". Thaiways Magazine 25 (8). 25 Jul 2008. 
  6. ^ a b c d Kathleen I. Matics (1979). A History of Wat Phra Chetuphon and Its Buddha Images. Siam Society. pp. 1–2. 
  7. ^ "The Ashes of the Thai Kings". Buddhism in Thailand. 
  8. ^ a b c d Emmons, Ron (2010). Frommer's Thailand. NJ: Wiley Publishing Inc. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-470-53766-4. 
  9. ^ a b Paul Gray, Lucy Ridout (2012). The Rough Guide to Thailand. Rough Guide. p. 90. ISBN 978-1405390101. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f O'Neil 2008, pp. 116-118
  11. ^ "Thailand celebrates Wat Pho as UNESCO Memory of the World". UNESCO. 5 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "Wat Pho: The temple of the Reclining Buddha". Renown Travel. 
  13. ^ Beek, Steve Van; Luca Invernizzi (2001). The arts of Thailand. p. 26. 
  14. ^ "Stone Inscription: Documentary Heritage". Wat Pho official site. 
  15. ^ a b Kathleen I. Matics (1979). A History of Wat Phra Chetuphon and Its Buddha Images. Siam Society. p. 3. 
  16. ^ "Global Recognition of Wat Pho in Thailand as a "Memory of the World"". Thailand's Government Public Relations Department. Archived from the original on 13 April 2008. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Brockman, Norbert C. (2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC. pp. 302–304. ISBN 978-1-59884-655-3. 
  18. ^ a b c Committee for the Rattanakosin Bicentennial Celebration (1982). The Sights of Rattanakosin. p. 145. 
  19. ^ "Wat Pho, Sanam Chai Road, Bangkok, Thailand". Thailand Delights. 
  20. ^ Emmons, Ron (2008). Top 10 Bangkok. New York: DK. p. 58. ISBN 9780756688509. 
  21. ^ Norwich, John Julius (2001). Great architecture of the world. USA: De Capo Press Inc. p. 266. ISBN 0-306-81042-5. 
  22. ^ a b O'Neil 2008, pp. 119-120
  23. ^ Ridout, Lucy; Paul Gray (2009). The Rough Guide to Thailand's Beaches & Islands. India: Rough Guides. ISBN 9781405380096. 
  24. ^ "Introduction". Jarukwatpho.com. 
  25. ^ a b Kathleen I. Matics (1979). A History of Wat Phra Chetuphon and Its Buddha Images. Siam Society. pp. 4–6. 
  26. ^ "Phra Buddha Theva Patimakorn". Wat Pho. 
  27. ^ a b c d Committee for the Rattanakosin Bicentennial Celebration (1982). The Sights of Rattanakosin. p. 146. 
  28. ^ "Kampaengkaew, Wat Chetuphon". Encyclopediathai. 
  29. ^ "Temple Museum Exhibiting Artifacts from Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  30. ^ "Phra Maha Sthupa or Phra Prang, Wat Phra Chetuphon". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  31. ^ "Wat Pho Temple, Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn , Bangkok". Thailand Delights. 
  32. ^ "Phra Vihara of the Reclining Buddha". Wat Pho official site. 
  33. ^ "Missakawan Park, Wat Phra Chetuphon". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  34. ^ "Wat Pho". Bangkok for Visitors. 
  35. ^ "Single-Based Chedi, Wat Phra Chetuphon or Wat Pho". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  36. ^ "Sala Karn Parien". Encycopediathai.org. 
  37. ^ "Sala Rai". Encyclopedia Thai. 
  38. ^ "Phra Viharn Kod or The Gallery". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  39. ^ "Sala Rai". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  40. ^ "Wasukri Residence, Wat Phra Chetuphon". Encyclopedia Thai. 
  41. ^ "Wat Pho". Time Out. 
  42. ^ "Wat Pho". Lonely Planet. 
  43. ^ Kathleen I. Matics (1979). A History of Wat Phra Chetuphon and Its Buddha Images. Siam Society. p. 51. 
  44. ^ "Thai Traditional Medical School". Wat Pho. 
  45. ^ "Sala Rai". Encyclopediathai.org. 
  46. ^ Roy Cavanagh (July 9, 2013). "Getting a Thai Massage at Wat Pho, Bangkok". Thaizer. 
  47. ^ Ron Emmons (2012). "Top 10 Bangkok". Dorling Kindersley. p. 15. ISBN 978-1405370547. 
  48. ^ Apfelbaum 2004, p. 30
  49. ^ Apfelbaum 2004, p. 38

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]