LOCATED on Atsadang Road |near the picturesque Grand Palace and the famous Wat Pho in the capital, Wat Ratchabophit Sathitmahasimaram is a hidden gem of the old city area’s Rattanakosin Island.
Two of the monastery’s abbots became Supreme Patriarch, the country’s chief Buddhist monk, in 1921 and 1973. Somdet Kromma Luang Jinavorn Sirivaddhana and Somdet Phra Ariyavongsagatayana, the second and the fourth abbots from Wat Ratchabophit, were the 11th and the 18th Supreme Patriarch.
Somdet Phra Maha Muneewong, the 20th and latest Supreme Patriarch, is the third abbot from the temple to be appointed as head of the Kingdom’s Buddhist community.
Shortly to be called Wat Ratchabophit, the temple was built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1869 following the royal tradition that each monarch would have a temple marking his reign. The name of the temple means the temple that the king built and was where gigantic sema – boundary stones used to designate the sacred area – were housed.
The historical temple is classified as a royal temple first class of the ratchaworawihan type. It is also treated as a temple marking the reign of King Prajadhipok.
Following the traditional temple architecture like Wat Ratchapradit Sathitmahasimaram, the main chedi (stupa) is the centre of the temple ground. Featuring a unique layout, a gilded chedi stands at the centre of a circular courtyard joining Phra Wiharn, the shrine hall, and Phra Ubosot, the ordination hall.
On top of the main chedi is a golden ball containing a sacred relic of the Buddha. From the outside, both Phra Wiharn and Phra Ubosot appear to have been built in the Thai temple architecture style but their interiors were influenced by European architecture, mostly the Gothic style.
Another remarkable treasure of the temple is the doors and windows of Phra Ubosot, which were decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl representing various royal insignia decorations. The doors and windows at Phra Wiharn also represent various royal insignia decorations but they were crafted with wood and not with inlaid mother-of-pearl.
Most temples in Thailand put eight small sema stones to designate the sacred area for Phra Ubosot. But Wat Ratchabophit has eight huge sema stones as part of the wall around the temple, making the whole monastery a consecrated |area so monks can perform religious services, such as an ordination ceremony, outside Phra Ubosot.
The principal Buddha image in Phra Ubosot is Buddha Ankiros, which means aura from the |body. Buddha Ankiros was cast |by King Rama IV and King Chulalongkorn in the late period |of King Rama IV’s reign. King Rama IV wished to establish it at Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom province. After his predecessor died, King Chulalongkorn finished the Buddha image, offering gold ornaments that he used when he was young to gild the Buddha image and established it as the principal Buddha image in Phra Ubosot.
The stone base of the Buddha image is made from Italian marble. Over Buddha Ankiros is the royal nine-tiered umbrella, or Nopphapadon Mahasawettachat, which was presented over King Chulalongkorn’s funeral urn. There is a record that the base of Buddha Ankiros also contains ashes of King Chulalongkorn and various kings of the Chakri Dynasty.
The principal Buddha image in Phra Wiharn is Buddha Pratheep-warothai in maravijaya mudra. Over Buddha Pratheepwarothai is the seven-tiered white umbrella, or Saptapadon Sawettachat, which was presented over HRH Princess Mother Sri Nagarindra’s funeral urn. Behind the Buddha image are Tipitaka cabinets containing valuable Tipitaka scriptures written on palm leaves in many languages.
Unlike other Buddhist temples, Wat Ratchabophit doesn’t have Ho Trai, or a scriptures depository to house the sacred Tipitaka scriptures. The Tipitaka cabinets were built when Somdet Kromma Luang Jinavorn Sirivaddhana, the 11th Supreme Patriarch, was an abbot at Wat Ratchabophit.
Buddhist temples in Thailand normally consist of two main parts: the bhuddhawas, the area which is dedicated to Buddha where clusters of beautiful buildings are located, and the sangkhawas, the living quarters of the monks which lies within the wall surrounding the whole temple compound. Wat Ratchabophit consists of three quarters: the bhuddhawas, the sangkhawas and the royal cemetery.
The royal cemetery at the west of the temple contains monuments of members of the Royal Family, particularly those in the immediate family of King Chulalongkorn.
Four prominent monuments are dedicated to King Chulalongkorn’s four principal wives: Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, Queen Savang Vadhana, Queen Saovabha Phongsri and Queen Sukhumala Marasri.
Other monuments come in a variety of styles and sizes. Every monument, marked with name and number, contains the ashes of King Chulalongkorn’s queens and consorts, their descendants and those most closely related to King Chulalongkorn.
Many monuments are influenced by European architecture. The Chao Chom Manda Sae Monument is a Gothic-style masonry with marble floor and stairs. The Chao Khun Phra Prayurawongse Monument, dubbed “Little Temple”, is a single-storey house in a European style with wooden doors and windows featuring stained glass panels.
The ancestral ashes of the Mahidol clan, the line of the current King of Thailand, is also in the royal cemetery.