Wat Suthat, Bangkok
Wat Suthat, adjacent to the Great Swing, is one of the oldest and most beautiful of Bangkok's Buddhist temples. Three kings had a hand in its construction: it was begun soon after his coronation in 1782 by Rama I, founder of the Chakri dynasty, continued by Rama II, and completed, ten years later by Rama III. Apart from its delightful architecture the temple boasts some exceptionally interesting wall paintings. The compound as a whole covers an area of 4.08 ha (10 acres). It is rectangular in plan (being roughly half as long again as it is wide) with a perimeter wall 949 m (3114 ft) in length. The area is divided between the temple complex itself and the monk's living quarters.
Opening hours: 9am-5pm
From an architectural point of view the wiharn of Wat Suthat is of considerably more interest than the bot, as well as having a finer interior. On each side of the almost square building, six pillars with gilded lotus-blossom capitals support the richly decorated gable roof; two of the sides are embellished with superb porches. The massive doorways through which the visitor enters are famous for their carvings, while the shutters of the windows include one carved by Rama III himself. Pillars divide the 30-m (98-ft) high interior into three aisles.The wiharn was built specially to house the 13th c. Phra Buddha Shakyamuni, which Rama I brought by river to Bangkok from Sukhothai. On its arrival in his new capital the king declared seven days of festivities, the bronze statue being paraded through the streets on the way to its chosen resting place. Rama himself walked barefoot in the procession, becoming so exhausted, it is said, that he staggered into the temple.The statue shows Buddha in the pose known as "pang mara vichaya" (victory over mara). The bronze torso is gold-plated and rests on an ornate stepped podium the lower part of which contains the ashes of Rama VIII (Ananda Mahidol), half-brother of the present King Bhumibol.Since it was first built, Wat Suthat has been known by several different names. Rama I originally christened it Wat Mahasuthavat; but it soon became popularly known as Wat Phra Yai (The Great Temple) on account of the imposing Buddha.The wiharn is surrounded by a balustrade adorned with 28 Chinese pagodas, as well as with superb bronze horses and Chinese warrior figures. As is the tradition, rows of gilded Buddhas line the gallery around the inner court.
The wall paintings underwent thorough and very costly restoration in the late 1980s. Bat droppings were found to have been the principal cause of deterioration. The murals, covering an area of 2565 sq. m (27,450 sq. ft), are perhaps the most extensive and important of their kind in Thailand. Almost 50 per cent were damaged, 10 per cent irreparably so.Most of the old Thai wall paintings still preserved portray the life of the Buddha Gautama. Those in the wiharn of Wat Suthat however are different, depicting instead the preceding 24 Buddhas and three contemporaries. This came about as a result of the slates used by the artists, which were in Pali script and designated the order of each individual section of the painting. The name of the artist is not known, nor is the exact date. Experts believe the murals derive from a transitional period, being markedly dissimilar in style to the work of classical Thai painters and showing an obvious Western influence. They are assumed to have been commissioned at least in part by Rama II (1809-24) but may have been completed under Rama III, towards the end of his reign (1824-51).
Statue of King Ananda
A factor in the West German government's decision to help finance the restoration of the paintings was Rama VIII's special association with Germany. His father Rama VII trained there as a naval officer and Ananda himself (Rama VIII) was born in Heidelberg. A statue unveiled in his memory on November 2nd 1974 stands in a corner near the main entrance.
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