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Wat Phra Si Sanphet (built 15th century onward)

The form of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the "Temple of the Buddha Si Sanphet", is a unique compound that cannot be understood apart from its history. In the following paragraphs, diagrams of the central portion of the temple show the state of construction in each phase. (Diagrams by Timothy M. Ciccone).

According to tradition, the temple was founded on the site of three earlier prasats built in the mid 14th century by King U-Thong, the sovereign who made Ayutthaya his capital. In 1448 the prasats were converted into phutthawat, transforming them into sacred territory. From then onward, the temple was used exclusively by the Ayutthayan kings (i.e., no monks resided in the temple). The temple's tangible history began around 1491, when King Rama Thibodi II built two chedi (the black circles on the site plan) for close family members. The east chedi was for the ashes of his father, King Borom Trailokanath (r. 1448-1488). The chedi to the west was for his older brother, King Borom Rachaithirat III (r. 1488-1491).

Wat Phra Si Sanphet timeline 1

Seven years later King Rama Thibodi II added a viharn (assembly hall--shown in black) to house a standing image of the Buddha called 'Phra Si Sanphet'. After the Buddha was unveiled, the fame of the temple spread and the entire temple was given the name of the Buddha statue.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet timeline 2

The final chedi was constructed during the reign of King Borom Rachathirat IV (r. 1529-1533) to house a relic of King Rama Thibodi II.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet timeline 3

During the reign of King Narai, the cross-shaped viharn at the west side of the temple was added. It is not clear if the square mondop structures adjacent to the chedi were built around this time or later.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet timeline 4

The temple reached the peak of its glory by 1767. On the eve of the Burmese invasion, the central portion of the temple included three gilded chedis, three gilded mondops (square buildings adjacent to the chedis that held objects of worship), and two enormous viharns. All but the chedis were completely destroyed in the sack of 1767.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet timeline 5

The present form of the temple includes all of the buildings that survived the sack of 1767. In the early twentieth century only the easternmost chedi was still standing. The rest were restored, but the two viharns have not been rebuilt. Their remains are visible even now. The famed Phra Si Sanphet Buddha statue that was once in the east viharn was probably looted in the 1767 sack. Of the mondaps, little remains but portions of the base.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet timeline 6


All images copyright 2003 by Professor Robert D. Fiala of Concordia University, NE

Aasen, Clarence. Architecture of Siam: A Cultural History and Interpretation.
  Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford

Cummings, Joe. Thailand.
  Lonely Planet Publications, 1990. Singapore

Dorling Kindersley Travel Guides. Thailand.
  Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1999. London

Rutherford, Scott. Insight Guide: Thailand.
  APA Publications, 1999. Singapore

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