Ruined Temples in Ayutthaya, Thailand

high-definition creative commons photographs of a number of ruined temples in Ayutthaya, Thailand, including Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratcha Burana, Wat Yai Chaimongkhon and others, together with further information.

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Wat Phra Si Sanphet (12)

Wat Phra Si Sanphet was a large temple inside the palace built by King Ramathibodi I (r. 1351-1369). It was established during King Trailok's time (r. 1448-1463), and contains three main cedis containing the ashes of three Kings: Trailok, Boromratchathirat (1463-1488) and Ramathibodi II (r. 1491-1429). There are many other cedis found on the site, presumably housing Buddha relics and other royal ashes. Monastics didn't reside in this temple, but would be invited in for ceremonies. I thought this group was the most impressive of the many ruined temples in Ayutthaya.

Si Sanphet Model
Model of Central Cedis of Si Sanphet before their Destruction

Wat Mahathat (20)

There is contradictory evidence on the construction of Wat Mahathat in the records. According to one source, King Ramesuan (1369-1370) built it after returning victorious from a campaign in the north. The prang at the centre of the temple has collapsed twice, the last time being in 1904. It has not been reconstructed since then. In the 1950s the Department of Fine Arts did some excavations and found many artifacts which are now housed in the museums in Ayutthaya.

Wat Ratcha Burana (8)

Wat Ratcha Burana was built opposite Wat Mahathat by King Boromaratchathirat II (1424-1448) on the spot where his elder brothers had fought and died over the right of succession. The central prang of this temple was looted in the 1950s, but the thieves were caught, and it was found that there was over 100,000 votive tablets inside the prang, as well as golden jewellery and other artifacts, some of which is now housed in museums in Ayutthaya. The murals that were in the central vaults are now largely faded.

Wat Yai Chaimongkhon (12)

At present it is believed this temple was built by King Naresuan after he defeated the Burmese, hence the name Chaimongkhol, Great Victory. The huge central chedi displaced the water underground, and then started to sink into the ground itself as can be seen today.

Wat Phra Lokayasutha (4)

Nothing much remains of what must have been quite a large Wat at one time. At the front and in the open now is a very fine Reclining Buddha statue, representing his overcoming of Rahu.

Wat Phra Ram (4)

Ancient records relating to this temple state that it was built by King Ramesuan at the place his Father King Ramathibodi was cremated. There is a lake in front of the temple, and a building where King Ramathibodi's spirit is presumed to reside.

Wat Maheyong (4)

I have no historical information about this temple, but it appears to be from the late Ayutthaya period. I was told that the ruined Ubosot, which is open to the elements is still used for the Ubosot, presumably when weather permits.

Wat Dhammikarat (4)

I have no historical information about this small temple, which is quite dilapidated, but still in use.

In the Historical Park Area (8)

The Historical Park marks off the heart of the ancient city, and there are statues and ruins, as well as canal, ponds and wildlife around.

The Last Years of the Ayutthaya Kingdom

After a period of bloody dynastic struggle at the beginning of the 18th century, Ayutthaya entered into what has been called the golden age, a relatively peaceful episode in the second quarter of the eighteenth century when art, literature, and learning flourished, but it was simply the calm before the storm.

There were foreign wars even then, and Ayutthaya fought with the Vietnamese for control of Cambodia starting around 1715. But a greater threat came from Burma, where the new Alaungpaya dynasty had subdued the Shan states.

The last fifty years of the kingdom witnessed a bloody struggle among the Thai princes. The throne was their prime target, and purges of court officials and able generals followed. The last monarch, Ekathat, originally known as Prince Anurakmontree, forced the king, who was his younger brother, to step down and took the throne himself.

The Burmese invaded more than once. The first war being fought in 1759–1760 when 40,000 Burmese troops led by Alaungpaya and his son Hsinbyushin invaded down the Tenasserim coast from Martaban. Their battle plan was to go around the heavily defended Siamese positions along shorter, more direct invasion routes. The invasion force overran relatively thin Siamese defenses in the coast, crossed the Tenasserim Hills to the shore of the Gulf of Siam, and turned north towards Ayutthaya.

Taken by surprise, the Siamese scrambled to meet the Burmese in the south, and put up spirited defensive stands en route to Ayutthaya. But battle-hardened Burmese forces overcame numerically superior Siamese defenses and reached the outskirts of Siamese capital on 11 April 1760. But only five days into the siege, the Burmese king suddenly fell ill and the Burmese command decided to withdraw.

In 1765, a combined 40,000-strong force of Burmese armies led by King Hsinbyushin invaded the territories of Ayutthaya from the north and west. Major outlying towns quickly capitulated, and after a 14 months' siege, the city of Ayutthaya capitulated and was sacked in April 1767. Ayutthaya's art treasures, the libraries containing its literature, and the archives housing its historic records were almost totally destroyed, and the Burmese brought the city of Ayutthaya to almost complete ruin.

The utter destruction that was wrought on this once flourishing city is evident even today, when one walks round the ruins and tries to imagine what they must have looked like in their heyday. A great many treasures would surely have passed down to mankind if only this destruction had been avoided, but which are now lost forever.

When it was at its height in the mid 17th century Ayutthaya was probably the largest city in the world, having around 1,000,000 inhabitants (as a comparison, London at that time, in Shakespear's period, had around 50,000), and had embassies and envoys from all over the known world, and even whole villages had been set up to accommodate them.

For all that the Burmese rule lasted a mere few months. The Burmese, who had also been fighting a simultaneous war with the Chinese since 1765, were forced to withdraw in early 1768 when the Chinese forces threatened their own capital. With most Burmese forces having withdrawn, the country was reduced to chaos.

One general, Phraya Taksin, former governor of Taak, began the reunification effort. He gathered forces and began striking back at the Burmese. He finally established a capital at Thonburi, across the Chao Phraya from the present capital, Bangkok, and Taksin ascended the throne.

The ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya and associated historic towns in the Ayutthaya historical park have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The modern city of Ayutthaya was refounded near the old city, and is now capital of the Ayutthaya province.

Text partially adapted from Wikipedia (retrieved, December 7th 2012)

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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