Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)

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Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)

Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan (Thai: วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลารามราชวรมห าวิหาร), or formerly known as Wat Pho (Thai: วัดโพธิ์), also known as Lay Buddha Temple, is a Buddhist temple in Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok, Thailand, located in the Rattanakosin district directly adjacent to the King's Palace. This temple has the official name Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn (Thai: วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลาราม ราชวร มหาวิหาร). Wat Pho is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai Massage.


Wat Pho is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. This temple existed before Bangkok was designated as the capital by King Rama I. Initially it was called Wat Photaram or Podharam, which is where the name Wat Pho comes from. The name refers to the Bodhi tree monastery in Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. The date of construction of the old temple and its founder is unknown, but it is thought to have been built or expanded during the reign of King Phetracha (1688–1703). The southern part of Wat Pho was once occupied by part of the French Star fort which was destroyed by King Phetracha after the 1688 Siege of Bangkok.

After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, King Taksin moved the capital to Thonburi where he placed his palace next to Wat Arun across the Chao Phraya River from Wat Pho. Wat Pho's proximity to the royal palace elevated its status to that of wat malang ('royal monastery').

In 1782, King Rama I moved the capital from Thonburi across the river to Bangkok and built the Grand Palace adjacent to Wat Pho. In 1788, he ordered the construction and renovation of the old temple site of Wat Pho, which by then had become dilapidated. The site, which was swampy and uneven, was drained and filled before construction began. During its construction, Rama I also began a project to remove Buddha statues from abandoned temples in Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and various other sites in Thailand, and many of these removed Buddha statues were later stored at Wat Pho. These include the remains of a giant Buddha statue from Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayuthaya which was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, and this was included in the chedi in the complex. The rebuilding took over seven years to complete. In 1801, twelve years after work began, the new temple complex was renamed Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklavas in reference to the Jetavana monastery, and became the main temple of Rama I.

This complex underwent significant changes over the next two centuries, especially during the reign of Rama III (1824-1851). In 1832, King Rama III began renovating and enlarging the temple complex, a process that took 16 years and seven months to complete. The area of the temple complex was expanded to 56 rai (9.0 ha; 22 acres), and most of the buildings present at Wat Pho were built or rebuilt during this period, including the Chapel of the Reclining Buddha. He also transformed the temple complex into a center of public learning by decorating the walls of the building with diagrams and inscriptions on various subjects.: 90  The inscriptions were written by about 50 people from the court of Rama III and learned monks led by the Supreme Patriarch Prince Paramanuchitchinorot (1790-1853), abbot of Wat Pho, a Buddhist scholar, historian and poet. On February 21, 2008, these marble illustrations and inscriptions were registered in the Memory of the World Program launched by UNESCO to promote, preserve and disseminate world heritage wisdom. Wat Pho is considered to be Thailand's first university and a center for traditional Thai massage. The temple served as a medical teaching center in the mid-19th century before the advent of modern medicine, and it remains a center for traditional medicine today where a private school for Thai medicine founded in 1957 still operates.

The name of the complex was changed again to Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm during the reign of King Rama IV. Apart from the construction of the fourth large chedi and minor modifications by Rama IV, there have been no significant changes to Wat Pho since then. However, repair work is an ongoing process and is often funded by temple devotees. The temple was restored in 1982 before Bangkok's Bicentennial Celebrations.

Temple complex

Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok with an area of 50 rai or 80,000 square meters. It is home to over a thousand Buddha statues, as well as one of the largest Buddha statues at 46 meters (151 ft) long. The Wat Pho complex consists of two walled complexes bisected by Chetuphon Street which runs east-west. The larger northern walled compound, the phutthawat, is open to visitors and contains the finest buildings dedicated to the Buddha, including the bot with its four directional viharn, and the temple housing the reclining Buddha. The southern compound, the sankhawat, contains the residential quarters of the monks and a school. The perimeter wall of the main temple complex has sixteen gates, two of which serve as entrances for the public (one on Chetuphon Road, the other near the northwest corner).

The temple grounds contain four great chedis, 91 small chedis, two belfries, a bot (central shrine), a number of viharas (halls) and various buildings such as pavilions, as well as gardens and a small temple museum. Architecturally the chedis and buildings in the complex are different in style and size. A number of large Chinese statues, some of which depict Europeans, are also found in the complex guarding the gates of the perimeter walls as well as other gates in the compound. These stone statues were originally imported as ballast on ships trading with China.

Wat Pho was also intended to serve as a place of education for the general public. To this end a pictorial encyclopedia was engraved on granite slabs covering eight subject areas: history, medicine, health, custom, literature, proverbs, lexicography, and the Buddhist religion. These plaques, inscribed with texts and illustrations on medicine, Thai traditional massage, and other subjects, are placed around the temple, for example, within the Sala Rai or satellite open pavilions. Dotted around the complex are 24 small rock gardens (khao mor) illustrating rock formations of Thailand, and one, called the Contorting Hermit Hill, contains several statues showing methods of massage and yoga positions. There are also drawings of constellations on the wall of the library, inscriptions on local administration, as well as paintings of folk tales and animal husbandry.

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