Monday, January 11, 2016

Wat Pho: The Oldest Buddhist Temple in Bangkok

Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, home to more than 1,000 Buddha images — more than any other temple in the country. Located just south of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I. Originally named Wat Photaram or Podharam, from which the name Wat Pho is derived, the name refers to the monastery of the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. 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 war luang, or royal monastery. Rama III enlarged the temple in 1832 and turned the temple into a centre of learning, making it Thailand's first university and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It's also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple. The 20-acre Wat Pho temple complex consists of two walled parts: the north end closest to the Grand Palace contains the main structures like the 'Ubosot' or Ordination Hall, the 'Viharns', the Reclining Buddha and almost 100 chedis  the south end contains the monks private living quarters and a school with entrances guarded by huge Chinese warrior statues. The four largest chedis are dedicated to the first four Kings of the Chakri dynasty and contain some of the ashes of King Rama I through to King Rama IV.

Soaring columned exterior of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

The Reclining Buddha, at 150-feet long is the largest Buddha statue in Thailand

Covered in gold leaf and decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay on his eyes and the soles of his feet, the Buddha rests on two box-pillows richly encrusted with glass mosaics

Closeup of the Reclining Buddha's tight curls and "pillow"

Richly coloured mosaic detail of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha interior wall

The soles of the Buddha's feet inlaid with mother-of-pearl display the 108 auspicious signs 
which distinguish a true Buddha

Behind the Reclining Buddha are 108 bowls for those wishing to donate to the temple

Gold leaf detail on the doors of the temple with image from Thailand's popular national epic Ramekin  — "Glory of Rama" — which is derived from the Hindu epic

Exterior carved and mirrored exterior detail

Missakawan Park is a small raised garden beside the Temple of the Reclining Buddha with a Chinese style pavilion with its famous Bodhi Tree

A Bodhi Tree is the centrepiece of the garden, 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

Reclining at Wat Pho, apart from the enormous Buddha, are a number of well fed cats

The Phra Ubosot is the Ordination Hall, the main hall used for performing Buddhist rituals, and the most sacred building of the Wat Pho 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. Inside the ubosot is a gold and crystal three-tiered pedestal topped with a gilded Buddha topped with a nine-tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand. 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. 

Ornate gold leaf and coloured mosaic doorframe of Ordination Hall's Gold Buddha

The Buddha in the ordination hall is the "Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn" in a seated posture on a three tiered pedestal under which are some ashes of King Rama I

Hand carved gold leaf and lavishly coloured pediment above each of the windows of the Ubosot

Detail of the exterior

A bronze mythological lion guards the Ubosot

Surrounding the Ubosot is the Phra Rabiang cloister with almost 400 Buddhas

One of a small group of Thai schoolchildren painting images of the Buddha

The ubosot is enclosed by a low wall called 'kamphaeng kaew' meaning 'jewelled walls', 
which is punctuated by gateways guarded by mythological lions

Ornate entrance and pediment to Phra Rabiang Cloisters

Gorgeous pediment with coloured mirror and carved gold leaf detailing

These stone lion statues were originally imported as ballast on ships trading with China

Three of 71 small chedis called Phra Chedi Rai, built by Rama III

The small Phra Chedi Rai dotted around the cloisters

Small chedis in front of cloisters with gable of large Viharn 

Buddha with protective Naga in one of four Viharns marking the 4 cardinal points, 
each housing a unique Buddha

The 'Phra Mondop' or the Scripture Hall

Entrance to 'Phra Mondop' or the Scripture Hall which contains a small library of Buddhist scriptures inscribed on palm leaves, and are kept in a controlled environment for their preservation

Scripture Hall

Closeup of the ceramic detailing

Next to the Reclining Buddha Wiharn is an enclosure holding the four largest of the temple's 95 pagodas. All of these chedis at Wat Po are square, rather than the round bell shape generally preferred at the time, and are decorated with ceramic tiles and three dimensional ceramic pieces which form intricate floral patterns. The centre of the three chedi is the oldest, having been built by Rama I to hold the Phra Si Sanphet Buddha image bought from Ayutthaya; later, Rama III built the north chedi to hold the ashes of Rama II; and the south to hold his own remains; the fourth chedi was built by Rama IV for unknown purposes.

Two of the four main Royal Chedis which were dedicated to first four Chakra kings

Detail of the blue Royal Chedi

One of the four great Chedi decorated with colour-glazed tiles 
and end in a tall spire decorated with colourful mosaics

View of the Wat Pho complex with small Phra Chedi Rai which contain ashes of the royal family and slightly larger Royal Chedi clustered in groups of five contain the relics of Buddha

The inner walls of the portico depict scenes from the Ramayana, flanked by sheltered gates guarded on both sides by Chinese-style giants 

Other stone giants depict the English identified by the top hat!

Bearded with a big nose and top hat, the sculptors were poking fun at the "farang", 
a generic Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from

Small open-air pavilion adjacent to the Scripture Hall

The dazzling ceramic encrusted spire of the Phra Mondop, or Scripture Hall

View of the Scripture Hall complex