Wat Mahathat, “the temple of the Great Relic” was one of the most important temples in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Located on the historical island the large monastery features a huge central prang, a very large principal viharn and ubosot and a great number of subsidiary chedis and viharns. The upper part of its once massive central prang has collapsed. Today only the base remains.
One of the temple’s most photographed objects is the head of a stone Buddha image entwined in the roots of a tree.
One of Ayutthaya’s most important temples
Wat Mahathat was one of Ayutthaya’s most important temples. It enshrined Buddha relics and was the seat of the Supreme Patriarch of Buddhism and thus the center of Buddhism in the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Wat Mahathat was a Royal monastery located close to the palace. The King performed important ceremonies here, such as the Royal Kathin ceremony.
History of the Wat Mahathat
The temple was constructed in 1374 by King Boromma Rachathirat I. A large prang was built to enshrine Buddha relics. The prang collapsed in the early 17th century, after which it was restored and enlarged. A large number of viharns (assembly halls) and chedis have been added during the reign of later Kings.
When the Burmese invaded and largely destroyed Ayutthaya in 1767, the Wat Mahathat was set on fire. The central prang collapsed again in the early 20th century and has not been restored.
During excavation works in the temple in 1956 by the Fine Arts Department the crypt in the central prang was discovered. Inside was a large hollow stone container in which relics and precious objects as votive tablets, gold ornaments, ancient images of the Buddha and other precious items were contained. Artifacts discovered in the crypt are on display in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
Architecture of the Wat Mahathat
The design of the Wat Mahathat follows the concepts of the ancient Khmer mountain temples of Angkor in Cambodia.
Central prang and surrounding galleries
Those temples were built to symbolize the Hindu and Buddhist view of the universe.
The central prang standing on an elevated platform at the center of the temple represents Mount Meru, the center of the universe surrounded by oceans. Only the large base remains, the brick upper part of the prang has collapsed.
The central prang is surrounded by four smaller ones at the corners of the platform, in turn surrounded by galleries enclosing a courtyard. Countless images of the Buddha line the gallery, which was at the time covered with a wooden roof.
East of the central prang stands the main assembly hall, the Viharn Luang connecting to the gallery in the West. Its main entrance was East towards the rising sun. Two rows of pillars supported the roof of the 40 meter long building. The principal Buddha image sat on a pedestal in the back of the viharn facing East. Today its elevated base and some sections of the walls with false windows remain.
The ordination hall
On the other side of the central prang stands the ubosot, the hall were novices were ordained into monkhood. Smaller than the Viharn Luang, it connects to the gallery in the East. The hall is surrounded by eight sema stones that mark the sacred area of the ubosot.
On either side of the temple’s main buildings that are lined up East to West are several smaller viharns and chedis built over different time periods. The temple complex was surrounded by a wall with large entrance gates to the West and East.
Wat Mahathat opens daily from 8 am until 5 pm.
Entrance fee is 50 Thai Baht.