Good evening, everyone. How are you doing in the middle of Christmas Eve? In honor of the romantic evening, today I would like to introduce you to the ruins of Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya.
The last time I went to Thailand, I went to the beginning of the trip, but it took me a long time to corroborate the information (historical series basically take a long time), so the publication of the article was delayed.
Just because it’s a World Heritage Site doesn’t mean you should just follow the guide’s lead. You can enjoy it several times more if you know the background before you go, so I hope this article will help you understand Wat Mahathat better.
- History of Wat Mahathat
- Why is the Buddha's head entwined with the base of the tree?
- Places to visit at Wat Mahathat
- Tourist Etiquette at Wat Mahathat
- How to get to Wat Mahathat
- Opening hours and fees
- After the visit to Wat Mahathat
History of Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat is a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, central Thailand, located in the central part of the ancient Ayutthaya dynasty between Chikun Road and Naresuan Road in the northeast corner of Phra Alam Park.
According to the official history of Thailand, the history of Wat Mahathat dates back to 1374 when King Boromamalacha I built a temple (different name from Wat Mahathat) on this site, as recorded in the royal chronicle of Ayutthaya by Prince Damrong Rajanubhav, but there are many theories.
“In the year of the Tiger, 736 in the Burmese calendar, Somdet Phra Borongmalachathirat and Phra Mahathera Thammakanrayan built the jeweled reliquary (Phra Si Rattana Mahathat) on the east side of the palace (Royal Gable of Lions). It is 38 meters high with nine tips, each six meters high.
His nephew and successor, Rameshuan (1369-1370, 1388-1395), expanded the site in 1384 and built a great temple during his reign on the throne. That temple is now known by its present name, Wat Mahathat.
Reference：Wat Mahathat (Ayutthaya)
Wat Mahathat and World Heritage Site
In 1967, the central area of the Ayutthaya site was officially designated as a historical park by the Thai Department of Arts, and later, with the recommendation of the Department of Arts to UNESCO, the Ayutthaya Historical Park with the following sites, including Wat Mahathat, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site under Criterion III in 1991.
- Royal Palace
- Wat Phrasi Sanphet
- Wihan Phramongkorn Bophit
- Wat Woracheetharam
- Wat Lokayasthalam
- Wat Ratchaburana
- Wat Mahathat
- Wat Phra Ram
- Wat Ubosot
The inscribed area covers only 289 hectares in the central and southwestern parts of Ayutthaya Island, and as a result, only certain groups of historic sites have come under the protection of UNESCO. The sites that are not registered as World Heritage sites are those beyond Ayutthaya Island, such as Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Chai Watanaram, and Wat Phu Khao Thong.
Reference：Historic City of Ayutthaya
Why is the Buddha’s head entwined with the base of the tree?
What made Wat Mahathat so famous is the Buddha image, which is only visible from the neck up, near the roots of the tree. They are entangled in the roots and cannot be removed with a little effort. According to one theory, the head of the Buddha statue, which was cut off by the Burmese army and left there for a long time, became embedded in the roots of the tree and could not be removed without cutting the tree.
Name of the tree that holds the head of the Buddha.
There is no specific name for the tree that is entwined with the Buddha’s head, but it is commonly referred to as the Bodhi tree.
Bodhi tree is used as the name of a tree in the following 1., 2. and 3.
- Indian bodhiju, a tall evergreen tree of the genus fig in the mulberry family, native to India.
- Bengal bodhiju, an evergreen tree of the genus fig in the mulberry family native to India, closely related to 1.
- Tilia miqueliana, a species of linden tree in the linden family, native to China.
Reference：bodhi tree [JPN]
▽Articles on Bodhi Tree▽
How to get to the Buddha’s Head at the Root of the Tree
The location of the tree root Buddha head is in the southeast of the Wat Mahathat compound, surprisingly visible from the main road. If you enter the entrance and turn right, then straight ahead and turn left, you will easily find it because of the crowd of people.
Places to visit at Wat Mahathat
It is prohibited to fly drones, but there was a photo of the entire Wat Mahathat taken with a drone on Instagram, probably before the ban. The site is not that large, but there are many places to see, including the aforementioned tree root Buddha head.
Central reliquary (prang) and surrounding gallaries
The chedi complex of Wat Mahathat was built to symbolize the Hindu and Buddhist view of the universe.
To the east of the central reliquary is the main assembly hall, with the main chapel (Wiharn Luang) leading to the west corridor. Its main entrance was to the east, facing the rising sun. Two rows of columns supported the roof of the 40 meter long building. The main Buddha image was on a pedestal behind the viharn facing east. Today, the elevation and part of the wall with the false window remain.
- VIHARN：A large chapel at a Thai Buddhist temple.
The ordination hall
Opposite the central reliquary (prang) was the ubosot (main hall), and the ordination hall was for monks to be ordained as monks. It is smaller than Viharn Luang and is connected to the eastern corridor. The hall is surrounded by eight sema stones that mark the sacred area of Ubosot.
On either side of the main building of the temple, which is lined up from east to west, there are several smaller viharns and chedis built in different periods. The temple complex was surrounded by a wall with large entrances to the west and east.
Traces of destruction by the Burmese army.
There are areas of the site where stone rubble has been laid out, as shown in the photo. If you look closely, you can see that it is one part of a Buddha statue. I think they are probably lumping together all the Buddha images that were destroyed by the Burmese army.
This is a chedi (stupa) in the southeast. If you look closely, you can see that only the seat of the Buddha image is still fresh.
At first glance, it looks like an ordinary photo, but can you see that all the Buddha images except the one on the left are headless?
Tourist Etiquette at Wat Mahathat
As soon as you enter the entrance of Wat Mahathat, you will see a signboard about worship etiquette. Although it is not listed here, taking pictures from the top of the Buddha’s head is also considered bad (source unknown). Perhaps it is too obvious to be listed here.
- Don’t climb on top of a Buddha statue.
- Don’t climb on the chedi.
- Don’t take a picture of yourself with your face on a headless Buddha image.
- Don’t climb on the prang (chedi).
- Do not get on the platform of the Buddha image.
- Do not climb on walls.
Just as I was thinking the above, I saw a sign in front of the Bodhi Tree Buddha Head that said, “Please do not stand above the head of the Buddha image.”
Drones are also banned. It is forbidden to stand above the head of a Buddha statue, so it is only natural that drones flying far above the Buddha’s head are prohibited.
How to get to Wat Mahathat
When I went there, I had no plan and blasted off on my bike, so I drove down Naresuan Road, but I should have gone straight from Chikun Alley, the main street. There is a bicycle parking lot near the entrance, so you can park your bike there.
Pay the admission fee at the entrance to enter. Immediately after entering, a huge chedi appears, but it is leaning like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and you can see that it is about to collapse.
Opening hours and fees
- Opening hours: 8:00 – 18:00, light-up hours: 19:00 – 21:00
- Entrance fee: 50 baht
After the visit to Wat Mahathat
After visiting Wat Mahathat, take a look at the overall model, buy some souvenirs at the store, and head to the next temple.