Opposite the Dusit Palace complex in Bangkok is Wat Benchamabophit Dusitwanaram Ratchaworawiharn. It is an old temple, dating back to the Ayutthaya Period, previously known as Wat Laem or Wat Saithong. In 1827 it was the site of a defense by Prince Phiphit Phokha Phuben (son of Rama II) against the Laotian army led by Prince Anuwong. Research leads me to believe this was part of a series of battles comprising the Chao Anu Rebellion of 1826-8 where the King of Vientiane unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the suzerainty of the Siamese Rattanakosin King.
Having suffered damage in the battle, the temple was restored and an additional five Pagodas added during the reign of Rama IV. The name – Benchamabophit – reflects the salutation to the five Princes. In 1899 the building of the Dusit Palace opposite led to the name changing once more to Benchamabo Phit Dusit Wanaram – The temple of the Fifth King and Dusit Palace. The Temple’s ubosot (Ordination Hall) was built of marble imported form Italy, hence its moniker – The Marble Temple.
History done, I was up here because of my previous wet bike ride to the Dusit region. It had intrigued me enough to decide to come again in the sun and a 20 minute zip through the Bangkok traffic had fetched me up at the entrance to this Wat where a lot of policemen were jostling for the scant umbra against the rising Thai sun, settling for penumbra where they could under the fractal patterns cast by scorched trees.
I locked up my bike and wandered the perimeter seeking a route in. Having found one it quickly became apparent this Wat was one of those which had a lot of care. Several buildings were evident, aside from the Marble Wat: an Abbot Residency, a Monk Village, the Temple Office, the Cloister, the Somdej S P Sanctuary, Mattayom Wat Benjamaborpit School, the Bophit Tree (Phra Sri Mahabodhi), and Dhamachinnarachapunjabopitr Hall.
Oh and three tourists finding something very interesting in the waterway by the Wat. See for yourselves…
I wandered into the main courtyard. It is surrounded by the cloister which extends from both sides of the Uposatha Hall to form a square to its rear. Designed by Prince Navisrahuvaltivongese to mirror the uniformity of the Hall, the grounds of the cloister are light yellow with marble slabs in contrast to the light pink and grey granite flooring of the Hall. In the cloister are 52 statues including a cross-legged fasting Buddha cast in the style of Gandhara sculpture. The original is in Lahore, India. There is also Sukhothai styled Walking Buddha, considered a masterpiece of Thai sculpture.
Also outside is the Song Dharm Hall – a brick-worked two storey building with a roof of red glazed tiles and four gilded ridges. Built in 1902 by Queen Sawang Vaddhana, it was intended for use by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), becoming now a place for the lying-in-state for members of the royal family or high officials. To see the hall I had to cross the small waterway which bisects the site, separating the temple complex from the working buildings of the Wat. Removing my shoes in customary fashion I entered the Wat through its side entrance. Inside a group of farang tourists were getting a lesson on the Temple in English so I had half an ear on it as I moved around taking some photos. Whilst entrance is free you can pay a fee for a guided tour. Here are some photos of the Wat:
Did you spot time flying? No? Look again…
The glistening white marble facade that has earned this Wat its sobriquet is evident in the photos; yet I found a polar display of what a Wat can look like when well tended compared to one that is in need of care. If you glance left and right you’ll see what I mean…
I left the Wat and crossed one of four bridges to the “Monk’s Village”. This is the first Wat I have visited where the working abode of the Buddhist monks is actively set up as a tourist venue. Signs abound: I found that street names on grey slate markers fixed high on the walls of street charmingly quaint, almost old-world European. This is matched by the welcome of the people, always smiling at you then opening what look like locked gates to usher you in for a peek. The “village” is split into two tenements/arrondissements/blocks – call it what you will. Each is two storey, each appears to have twenty or so “houses”, each is liberally adorned with green paint and the bright orange of freshly washed robes hanging out to dry. I was the only tourist there, able to cautiously stroll up the street with its broad flagstones; picking out single noises that were precise, clear, as though each had paid for its own space, respectfully waiting in a queue for a turn. It is a type of sonorous ambiance that is particular to these Wat. Here, you allow someone who is speaking to finish before moving onto a reply. Interruptions are a forgotten irritation in the calm world of these monks. It has the result that you somehow hear everything more clearly, realise how much of our world has a constant drone of noise that mutes our audible perceptions. It is akin to looking at the night skies away from the urban fog of light pollution – utterly splendid, almost an epiphany.
As I wandered around the rear of the Village I came across the Abbot’s residence. A fine building, not accessible other than in the courtyard which was a veritable garden, next to it being Dhamachinnarachapunjabopitr Hall. There were a few Buddhist ceremonial musical items – a drum and a gong which you can see below. Wandering through one person alleys threw up some interesting objects, like the golden cone sheathed in tiny leaves of orange, pink, and silver. The Abbot’s front room had a chair with a white fur cover, an orange cloth draped over it. The school stood out as particularly fine pink facade of American-style brickwork. Then, at the end, I saw both a huge Bodhi tree (planted Aug 2 1900) and a chapel given over to Nine Great Kings:
King Taksin the Great – Motto: Having strong encouragement and being able to pass through all obstacles in your life. Wat Intharam
King Rama 1 – Motto: Having an excellence in administration, progressing in carriers which relate to governmental service, and having stable family. Wat Rakhang
King Rama II – Motto: Having aesthetic life and progressing in carriers which relate to all kinds of arts. Wat Arun
King Rama III – Motto: Having brilliance in business and commerce. King Jessadabodindra statue in front of Wat Ratchanaddaram Worawihan
King Rama IV – Motto: Having progress and achievement in careers which relate to science and technologies. Wat Rachathiwat
King Rama V – Motto: Having brilliance life and being admired person by a lot of people. Wat Benchamabophit
King Rama VI – Motto: Having knowledge and intelligence in arts and sciences as well as literatures. Vajiravudha statue in front of Limphini Park, Saladaeng intersection
King Rama VII – Motto: Having wide vision in democracy and devoting for the public. King Prajadhipok museum located near Panfa Leelas Bridge
King Rama VIII – Motto: Having mercy and kindness to everyone and being an intelligent youth. Wat Suthatthepwararam
That was it…barring the strange sight that all the plaques in the Wat seemed to be sponsored by Pepsi (I’ve added one to the slide show below to show you). Here’s the rest of the photos:
It was time to head of to the Dusit Palace complex. But that’s a story for another blog….
Is this what diplomacy is all about?