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Monastery of the Great Relic: Wat Maha That, Ayutthaya

By Devik Balami at
Wat MahaThat Ayutthaya

Wat Maha That is located on the city island in the central part of old Ayutthaya, between Chi Kun Road and Naresuan Road in Tha Wasukri sub-district. Wat Maha That is also called the Monastery of the Great Relic. In the ancient times, the temple was surrounded by canals and moats which now only remains ruins and remains, due to decline and conflict with Burma.

Buddha statues in Wat Maha That

Before the collapse, Wat Maha That housed a Buddha image of greenstone believed to be made in the Mon style dating from 707-757 CE. Later during the reign of King Rama III, a Buddha statue moved to Wat Ne Vhra Men. The Buddha statue still resides in a Vihara next to ubosot.

During the attack by the Burmese, many heads of the Buddha statues were chopped off. They were then buried in the grounds to make further humiliation to the Thais. One of the Buddha head that was buried in the premises of Wat Maha That made to the earth's surface due to the roots of the growing tree. This Buddha head has made everyone astonished since the roots entwined the head of the statue.

Another fact about the Buddhist arts in the Wat Maha That is that the arts were prone to severe looting and damage. Due to this, parts of Buddha statue were cut off and were smuggled to the west, both- parts and the full body statue. Their behavior continued until the site was restored by Fine Arts Department. Therefore, we can observe Buddha statues without the head, and empty foundation at the premises.

Architecture of Wat Maha That

This Buddhist monastery was built with the concept of Khmer style. The Khmer style was constructed according to a series of magical and religious beliefs. The basic design of this style is to make pilgrims traveled from the mundane to a spiritual world by walking along one of the four cardinal directions. These directions have different astrological values in it. It is believed that the East direction is auspicious since it is the direction of the rising sun and thus represents life. Therefore, most of the Khmer temples were built with the entrance to the east. Another auspicious direction is north, while the south direction is considered to be neutral. West direction is believed to be inauspicious and represents death, impurity, and the setting sun. The Khmers respect Hindu belief that a temple must be built correctly according to a Vastu Sastra.

Basically the design of Wat Maha That consists of large central prang surrounded by four subsidiary prangs at the four cardinal directions. Wat Maha That was surrounded by a canals, moats, a courtyard and a roofed gallery with a row of Buddha images.

The base of the main prang of Wat Maha That was constructed with the use of laterite. The top part of the stupa was constructed with brick and mortar. It can be clearly seen that prang had porches in the cardinal directions. These porches could be reached by a staircase. Historian believes that these porches were not built by Khmers instead they were added during the renovation of the temple in King Prasat Thong's reign in 17th century CE. Inside these prangs, the beautiful mural paintings of Buddha were painted over the walls. At the beginning of the 20th century, the bricks of prang fall apart and collapsed since there was no preservation done. Later during the excavations, a crypt containing relics of the Buddha was found inside the stupa.

The Royal Assembly Hall of Wat Maha That was built in the east direction of the prang. This hall contains mural paintings showcased Vessantara Jataka. In the east side of the hall, there is a front porch which could be reached by tree staircase.

The west of the main prang consists of the ubosot or ordination hall. The hall has a two entry and two exists. Outside and around the ubosot, there are eight boundary stone or marker slabs at the eight cardinal points in order to demarcate the sacred is of the sangha.

The northwestern prang of the temple consists of the few structures that still contains Buddhist arts painted on the walls from the early Ayutthaya period. The wall opposite of the entrance has an ancient Buddha statue, which is missing.

This historic heritage complex was renovated by the Fine Arts Department and now is part of the Ayutthaya World Heritage Historical Park.