215 years celebrated in an evening at Wat Suthat
Foreigners are often introduced to Wat Suthat Thepwararam as the Temple of the Giant Swing but to Thais, and especially culture enthusiasts, the temple is a living museum that evokes memories of Thailand’s early Rattanakosin era.
The temple’s 215-year history is being celebrated in a special event from December 26, 2022 to January 1, 2023 that offers a great opportunity to look back at the temple’s story and to discover the precious gems hidden inside.
The best way to learn about Wat Suthat is to join the temple tour guided by historians and Buddhist monks.
Built in 1807, after King Rama I established Bangkok as the new capital city of Siam, as Thailand was known, he ordered the relocation of a big sacred Buddha image, later called Phra Sri Sakayamuni, from Sukhothai to this temple as a blessing for the new capital city. The king passed away before the temple was completed.
Construction finally finished in the reign of King Rama III. Most of the buildings were completed during this reign and pay testament to the popular art and culture style of that period. For example, the buildings were constructed in the early Rattanakosin architectural style and this is clearly seen on the gables. Visitors will also notice many stone Chinese statues. At that time, Siam regularly exported goods to China and the ships were loaded with these stone statues to serve as ballast on the return journey.
The ubosot is one of the main buildings and a must-see. Known as the longest ubosot in Thailand, the building houses the main Buddha image in the overcoming mara posture. Another highlight is the original mural paintings created by the masters of two centuries ago. These paintings are still in good condition and visitors will marvel at the delicacy of the artwork.
Rare daily necessities can be seen in the middle of the ubosot lobby and against the walls. They include old Buddhist monk bags and fans, which were made by royal artists and presented to the monks by the kings, queens, and royal families and clearly showcase the embroidery skills of the craftsmen. Some pieces were designed by Prince Naris, the Father of Thai art, and speak of both their rich history and the occasions for which they were made.
Phra Maha Sornnarit Yatitharee, a Buddhist monk who explained to this visitor the importance of the displayed objects, said that these rare art pieces were kept in the temple for centuries. Wat Suthat started to record all the objects more than five years ago.
“It was quite hard work,” he said. “Most of the objects are very old. Specialists from the Department of Fine Arts had to gently clean them, take photos, and then undertake in-depth research as to when each piece was made and on what occasion. This is the first time that we are displaying them publicly, to celebrate the 215th anniversary of this temple.”
Wat Suthat will soon complete a museum where these rare objects will be housed. Slated to open in 2023, the museum will be open for public viewing, allowing the general public to see and appreciate these precious treasures that have been kept under wraps for two centuries.
This celebratory event also features plenty of activities in every corner. For those who wish to make merit, many religious activities like “Sangkathan” or offering food and necessities to monks, donations to support Buddhist monk education, paying homage to the different Buddha image of a different day in a week, and lighting candles for blessings, are on the programme.
In the space near the vihara, different cultural dance and musical performances are staged every afternoon.
For shoppers, arts and crafts as well as some street food are available near the ubosot. Enjoying some food in the cool breeze as the sun sinks lower in the sky makes for a very pleasant early evening.
On New Year’s Eve, people can join the prayers which begin at 17.30 hrs., an activity that has become more popular in the past several years. For Buddhists who are looking to celebrate the past year and welcome 2023 in a memorable way, joining this prayer event is a great way of being blessed for the year to come in the setting of one of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok and a city landmark.
By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Kanokchan Pattanapichai