One of Ayutthaya’s most impressive temples, the Khmer style Wat Chaiwatthanaram is a Royal temple that was used by the King and other members of the Royal family.
The monastery is located opposite the South West corner of the historical island on the other side of the Chao Phraya river. A boat trip around the historical island provides for very nice views of this large, well preserved temple.
History of the Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Wat Chaiwatthanaram was constructed in 1630 by King Prasat Thong. It was one of the grandest monuments of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
The King built the temple as a means to gain Buddhist merit and as a memorial to his mother. Her ashes are enshrined in two square chedis flanking the ubosot on the East side of the temple.
As canon balls and canons were dug up during excavations, historians believe the temple may have been used as a fortress during the last war with Burma. The monastery was looted and largely destroyed by the Burmese armies in 1767 after which it was deserted. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Wat Chaiwatthanaram was restored by the Fine Arts Department.
Architecture of the Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Wat Chaiwatthanaram was built following the concepts of the Khmer mountain temples of Angkor to symbolize the universe in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.
The monastery was surrounded by a 1 meter wide wall with arched gateways. The main entrance is East towards the Chao Phraya river. The King used to arrive by boat on the river and used a boat landing to access the monastery.
The Khmer style central prang
At the center of the Wat Chaiwatthanaram is a 35 meter tall Khmer style prang (a corncob shaped tower) standing on a raised brick platform. At each of its corners stands a much smaller tower. The prang represents Mount Meru, a mountain in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology which is the center of the universe surrounded by oceans.
At each of the four cardinal directions a steep stairway leads up to the prang, the East one leading to an inner chamber, the cella or crypt where relics and precious artifacts were enshrined.
Galleries surrounding the main prang
The main platform supporting the central prang is surrounded by eight smaller chedis connected by covered galleries that enclose a courtyard. The 25 meter tall slender towers diminish in size towards the top. In their interior are niches, that each enshrined an image of the Buddha seated on a pedestal.
The eight chedis were adorned with reliefs depicting the Jataka tales, the stories that tell the previous lives of the Buddha. As in those days people could not read, the teachings of the Buddha were taught using pictures.
Lining the gallery were over 100 gilded and black lacquered images of the Buddha in subduing Mara mudra. Much of its walls with false windows are still standing, its wooden roof has long gone.
East of the main prang towards the river is the ubosot, the hall were novices get ordained into monkhood. Only the base with the main altar holding two seated images of the Buddha remains. On each side of the ubosot stands a chedi in which the ashes of King Prasat Thong’s mother are enshrined. The probably wooden kuti where the monks lived have completely disappeared.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram opens daily from 8 am until 5 pm.
Entrance fee is 50 Thai Baht per person.