Anurak Thailand Tourism The tourist website about Thailand by Thaiways magazine, the most comprehensive guide to Thailand.
 
Contents : Hotels, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hua Hin, Krabi, Pattaya, Phang-nga, Phuket, Samui, Maps
 Cover story: 25 July
 Vol. 25 No.8

About the
ROYAL BUDDHIST TEMPLES

By Ubasika


Upon a visit to Thailand, you will notice that in every community almost everywhere there are many golden spires and orange-green roofs of Buddhist temples. The temples, or "wats" in Thai, are of great interest to visitors because of their religious, artistic and cultural significance in Thai society. Gaining some general information on the temples will help make temple visits more meaningful. Most beautiful temples in Thailand are royal ones. So, Thaiways has gathered some data about royal temples to be introduced to you.


The majestic Wat Phra Kaeo
(the Temple of the Emerald Buddha)


CLASSIFICATION OF TEMPLES


Since ancient times, Thai kings have supported Buddhism and also built many temples. That's why this country has such a great number of them. They are classified into two categories which are royal temples and common temples.

Royal temples are built or renovated by a king or built by a member of royalty or the nobility and dedicated to the king, or even built by any well-to-do person who then requested to dedicate the temple to the king and it was accepted as such. They are divided into first, second and third class temples in a descending order of significance. The temples in each class are graded by a further ranking order which precisely identifies their position in the hierarchical system.


The Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho

The following are the suffixes of the names of the three grades of the first class royal temples.
1.Ratchavoramahavihan
2.Ratchavoravihan
3.Voramahavihan

The four grades of second class royal temples have the following suffixes in their names:
1.Ratchavoramahavihan
2.Ratchavoravihan
3.Voramahavihan
4.Voravihan


The famous prang of Wat Arun
(the Temple of Dawn)
as is mostly appeared in
photographs of Thailand.


The third class royal temples consist of three grades but with only two suffixes, which are Ratchavoravihan and Voravihan. The third grade of this class has no suffix.


Wat Suthat

This ranking system for royal temples was initiated in 1913. There are only six temples in the highest grade of the first class royal temples. Four are in Bangkok: Wat Phra Chetuphon (popularly known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Maha That, Wat Suthat and Wat Arun (also known as the Temple of Dawn). Two are in other provinces: Wat Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom province, and Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi province.


Wat Phra Pathom Chedi

Two distinguished temples that are not classified into any group are Wat Phra Kaeo (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Phra Ram Kao Kanchanaphisek. The world-renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha only serves religious functions and has no residential quarters for monks while Wat Phra Ram Kao Kanchanaphisek is dedicated to the reigning King Rama IX.

At present (2008), there are a total of 35,271 temples in whole Thailand. Among these, 281 are royal temples.

Wat Phra Phutthabat

Mostly, the royal temples of the first grade were built in the early Rattanakosin period from King Rama I to Rama V (1782-1910). This is because the successive kings followed the objective of King Rama I who desired to create Bangkok to be as glorious with many majestic temples as the fallen Ayutthaya (1350-1767 A.D.). The royal temples of each reign are listed below.

Wat Phra Chetuphon - King Rama I
Wat Arun - King Rama II
Wat Ratcha-orot - King Rama III
Wat Ratchapradit - King Rama IV
Wat Benchamabophit - King Rama V
Wat Bowonniwet - King Rama VI
Wat Ratchabophit -King Rama VII
Wat Suthat - King Rama VIII


Wat Benchamabophit
(the Marble Temple)


In former times, a king erected a temple to propagate Buddhism or to commemorate some important event in his life, such as the commemoration of his birthplace or his victory. The practice of designating a temple to each king was initiated in the reign of King Rama IV who placed some of the ashes of Kings Rama I, II and III under the bases of the principal Buddha images of Wat Phra Chetuphon, Wat Arun and Wat Ratcha-orot respectively. This became a royal tradition by which when a king passed away, part of his ashes would be enshrined at a royal temple which had been erected by or related to him and thus entitled to be his temple.


However, officially, this tradition was abolished in the reign of King Rama VI who reckoned that Bangkok had enough royal temples and that one purpose of establishing a temple was to be an educational centre. Therefore, the king founded the Royal Page School* instead of building a temple and regarded it as the temple of his reign. However, after he passed away, the Thais considered Wat Bowonniwet as such instead.

*The Royal Page School is now named Vajiravudh College, which is a boarding school for boys.


Wat Bowonniwet

The setting of royal temples for King Rama VI, VII and VIII was for the arrangement of a merit-making ceremony for them during the Songkran Festival.

Regarding the royal temple of King Rama V, there is a common misunderstanding about it. To elaborate, King Rama V, right after his accession to the throne, founded Wat Ratchabophit as the royal temple of his reign. Later, around the end of his reign, he restored Wat Benchamabophit and had an order to place his ashes here. As a result, people hold that Wat Benchamabophit is the temple of his reign.

Wat Ratcha Pradit

King Rama VII followed the initiated concept of King Rama VI by not building a temple. Instead, he undertook the restoration of Wat Ratchabophit. So, after he passed away, some of his ashes were enshrined under the base of the principal Buddha image of Wat Ratchabophit and people regard it as the temple of his reign.


The royal temples are a proof of the great faith that the Thai kings had towards Buddhism which is an excellent model for the public to follow.

To visit the temples mentioned here, you are recommended to contact Bangkok Tourism Division on tel: 0 2225 7612 to 4 or contact a travel agency to arrange a trip for you. Please dress properly and take your shoes off before entering the worshipping halls.


For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.





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