Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Phra Pathom Chedi & Phra Ruang
On 17.01.2008 I visited Phra Pathom Chedi 大佛塔 in Nakhon Pathom, which is the temple with the biggest Chedi in Thailand and the world. Towering 120m over the provincial town of Nakhon Pathom, the Chedi with its glazed bright orange tiles shines like a golden sphere in the sky. Visible for miles, it is indeed the world's tallest Buddhist monument. Above is the northern entrance to the Chedi.
A view of the Chedi up close. Located in the center of Nakhon Pathom, approximately 56km west of Bangkok, Phra Pathom Chedi attracts Buddhist devotees from around the world. For visitors coming towards the city, the first glimpse of the majestic Phra Pathom Chedi - which means "The First Stupa'' leaves a long lasting impression.
It takes almost 5 mins to walk round the Chedi, large as it is. The origins of this great Chedi date back 2,000 yrs to King Asoka's reign in the 3rd century B.C. During that time he sent out missionaries in all directions from India to faraway lands to spread the Buddhist teachings. One such land was Suwarnaphum, in present-day Thailand. From Phra Pathom Chedi and other archaeological findings discovered in the city area, it is believed that the city was a center of civilization during that era and is thus one of Thailand's most ancient cities.
In this Vihara we see a painting of the Chedi's internal structure. The original chedi with its unique stupa design in the shape of an upside-down bowl was 39m high, similar in style to that of the Sanchi Stupa in India. The original monument is still there, but has been restored over the years. In 1853, Thailand's King Mongkut (Rama IV) commanded the construction of a new huge chedi covering the original one (a replica of the original stands south of the present day one) and took nearly 17 yrs to complete. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the Chedi being completed. The height from the ground to its top spire is a towering 120.45m high & its total diameter at the base is 233.5m!
The view from within the Vihara. Phra Pathom Chedi does not only have great significance for Thai Buddhists; throughout Thailand's history it has also been a very special chedi for its rulers. To be sure, it has always been a royal tradition for the reigning King to offer candles and joss sticks whenever passing Phra Pathom Chedi.
A Dvaravati style seated stone Buddha on the other side of the Chedi.
The Phra Non (Reclining Buddha) in the western Vihara of the Chedi.
This is the 8m tall gold-plated Phra Ruang 大塔佛 image in northern Vihara of the Chedi. It is a magnificent Sukhothai style standing Buddha in the posture of "preventing calamities" or "stopping the relatives from fighting". Thus it is believed to have the power to bring peace and protection from disasters. The original image was first discovered in 1909 by Crown Prince Vajiravuth (who later became King Rama VI) damaged and buried in the ground at Sukhothai. He had it dug up, and upon inspection, found that its head, hands and feet still in good condition. The Prince immediately took a liking to the image's beauty, and thus ordered its restoration. Upon its completion, he gave it the title of "Phra Ruang Rojanarit". The image was moved from Sukhothai and installed at its present location in 1915, and in accordance with his wishes, King Rama VI's ashes were buried at the base of Phra Ruang after he passed away. Since then the sacred image has become an icon synonymous with Phra Pathom Chedi. This is evident in the way their Chinese names are arranged, which are "Buddha of the Great Pagoda" and "The Great Buddha Pagoda" respectively.