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Wat Benchamabopitr

May 23, 2008
Looking for shade on a hot summer's day that is not in the shape of a department store, public park, amusement park or restaurant? Many waste no time to think of places of worship, like temples, as they offer more than respite and peace. At temples, one can experience that welcoming sense of serenity. And all this happens in utter absence of an air-conditioner!

Among temples familiar to Buddhists or even foreign tour?ists who seek a haven to fight off heat, both physically and spiritually, Wat Benchamabopitr seems uppermost in most people's minds. While it is ideally located a distance from down?town Bangkok, it has the advantage of satisfying peace-seekers with ample space, free from crowds, which also enables them to mingle with genuine Buddhist devotees.

Wat Benchamaborpitr Dusitvanaram is located at the junc?ture of Rama V Road, Sri Ayudhya Road, Rajdamnoennok Road and Phitsanulok Road. Popularly known amongst tour?ists the world over as "the marble temple" because of the best imported Italian marble used to pave the chapel and cloister floors, it boasts intricate a ncient arch itectu re that attracts droves of local and foreign visitors every day.

Formerly an ancient temple known by the name of Wat Laem or Wat Sai thong, there is no historical evidence attesting to its origins. It was not until 1826, during the reign of King Rama III, that its presence emerged in the history of Siam at the time when Prince Anuvong, the ruler of Vientiane, then Siam's occupied state, launched an attack against ancient Siam.

King Rama III thus sent HRH Prince Krom Phra Bibidh Bhogabhubendra (HRH Prince Panomwan who was born to King Rama II and Chao Chom Sila, founder of the Panomwan family with connection to the crown) as commander of the army to protect the capital. The compound of "Wat Laem" or "wat Sai Thong" then served-as his command.

After the insurgency, the commander-prince, along with his four siblings of the same maternal parent, jointly restored the temple from 1827 to 1828. Five pagodas al igned in front of the temple entrance in commemoration of the dedication of the five siblings were added to the compound during the resto?ration of the temple.

According to the royal almanac, it was renamed "wat Benchamabopitr" during the reign of King Rama IV, which lit?erally means the temple of the five members of the royal fam?ily or the temple 'the five had restored.

In the succeeding reign, the temple was elevated with ar-chitectural "retouch". Now assuming ancient Thai aesthetic architecture, with clearly assigned areas for ceremonial, mo?nastic residential purposes, and that for relatives of the reli?gious they ordained, the compounds dedicated to ceremonial and monastic, residential purposes are pleasantly shaded with green lawns and trees. The monks' abodes are laid out orderly to present a clutter-free look. The temple therefore is among those with the best layout.

The west wing of the chapel is where Phra Buddhajinaraja is installed over a marble and nine-gem-studded stand. Sitting under an ornate frame, it is a meditating Buddha image in the Subduing Mara pose from Sukhothai period.

King Rama V entrusted Phra Prasitthipatima (M.R. Moh Duangchakara, then Luang Prasitthipatima), his right-hand molder, then one of the country's best molders, with, the task of casting a replica after the original Phra Buddhajinaraja Bud?dha image at Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahathat in Phitsanulok Province. King Rama V presided over the ceremony to mold the Buddha image, gilded section by section, on October 20, 1901. The Buddha image eventually sailed downstream to the Royal Navy. Department in Bangkok where the decorative as?pects under Phraya Cholayudhyothin were completed. Once the decoration was done, a roofed boat took it to Wat Benjamabopitr where it has since presided as the principal Buddha image in its chapel.

The side of the gem-studded stand for Phra Buddhajinaraja is as high as the lower frame of the temple window while the temple floor is paved with multi-colored marble.

King Rama VI had the ashes of King Rama IV, the founder of the temple, housed in the gem-studded stand.

Peach and gray marble lines the courtyard behind the chapel, while cream and white marble was used for the clois?ter floor.

The cloister ceiling is ornate with gilded roadnam designs against a red background with 610 decorative stars. Along the cloister wall are 52 bronzed Buddha images that are either enlarged or reduced in size based on ancient Buddha images of traditional styles. HRH Prince Damrong Rajanubhab was entrusted with the task of gathering those designs from temples throughout Bangkok, the provinces and overseas including India, Japan, Burma and Sri Lanka.

Another feature worth noting is the external canal, dug at royal command at the time when the status of the temple was elevated. With the canal excavated, the religious ground was completely,separated from the ceremonial ground. Meanwhile, the excavated soil was reused to raise the low-lying temple ground and adjoining land through donations as it once served as a fertile green belt for orchards and rice fields. The new, man-made water channel is connected with that from Suan Dusit, Khlong Premprachakorn and Khlong Padung Krung-kasem to facilitate better water flow.

On both sides of the canal, trees were grown, columns with lotus heads were installed and wrought irons form the floral fence. At the bottom of the bridge, twelve Chinese dolls are found.

But most significant of all is the presence of the Phra Sri Mahabodhi; the important tree according to Buddhism for it was under this tree that the Buddha attained his enlighten?ment. Standing majestically right in the middle of the lawn behind the chapel, the tree is over a century old, brought into Siam by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab in 1891 upon his return from a duty tour in India. On that visit, he made pilgrimages to different religious sites, among which was Buddha Gaya where Creason, then governor of Buddha Gaya, offered him three saplings of the tree.

Back in Siam, he presented the gifts to King Rama IV at Sichang Islet in Chonburi Province; the king then had one planted at Wat Assadangkanimit while the remaining two were left to grow in the palatial compound in Sichang Islet.

In 1899, while Wat Benchamabopitr was under construc?tion, King Rama IV again paid a visit to Sichang Islet and having seen the thriving trees decided to move them to the temple in Bangkok although they were parked first at Suan Dusit.

On August 2, 1900, King Rama IV presided over the ceremony where the two mature Sri Mahabodhi trees were replanted in land behind the chapel of Wat Benchamabopitr where they continue to thrive until the present day ... Iike the serene beauty of the temple where people worship and leave the temple ground with peace in their hearts.
About the Author
Sin Nana is the professional freelance writer. He's also the webmaster of Traveltripworld.com
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