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Thai Temples (Wats) In Thailand

  • Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country with the exception of the Muslim communities in the south of Thailand near the border with Malaysia. Accordingly to understand the functions, architecture and art of the many temples (Wats) referred to in Thailandsworld.com one needs to understand Thai Buddhist traditions, the influences of Hinduism in Thailand and the regional ethnic styles of expressing the architecture and art work.
  • These variations in ethnic influences include those of the Mon, the Khmer, the various Tai groups and the Burmese.
  • The architecture of the layout and shapes of buildings is intended to embody the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of cosmology, and the sculptures and mural paintings are not just art and animation but the motives of the numerous celestial beings, gods, and guardians of the mythology of these religions, but in a Thai (or Khmer) style of artistic expression.



Celestial beings support a Thailand temple


Thai Buddhist Versions of Mount Meru & Its Celestial Creatures, Guardians, Gods and Other Mythological Beings

  • In both Buddhist and Hindu mythologies the many levels of Mount Meru are the abodes of terrestial, celestial and subterranean beings. These creatures are understood in religious folklore and the Thai depiction of each is in Thai style and these are depicted as decorative works of art in every Thai temple.
  • The more prevalent include, the Yaksha, or demon guardians which guard and act as sentinels at the gates to Temples, and the Naga, the mythical serpents who guard the waters and subterranean riches.
  • Nagas can be seen on all Thai temple balustrades and gables and are always there coming down the stair ways. Nagas can be one headed, three headed or five headed. The lower levels or subterranean portions of Mount Meru do not have the concept of hell below and the Naga is portrayed as a benefactor not an emblem of fear.
  • Additionally there is an astrological explanation for the Naga in Khmer cosmology explained here.
  • At the cardinal levels of Mount Meru other mythological beings reside and these are the Garuda, half man half bird creatures. Garuda was the mount of Vishnu and this is depicted often on gable boards of Royal temples and other royal buildings such as halls and pavilions. A gable board is the triangular shaped highly decorative area facing the front of the temple above the entrance and filling the space between the two slopping roof edges.
  • Other mythical creatures include, the Kinnare and its male equivalent, Kinnara, half human and halk bird creatures, Singh the mythical lion, Norasingh, the half lion and half female human creature. At the peak of Mount Meru is the Hindu God, Indra.
  • In Thailand Indra is often depicted riding Erawan, the three headed elephant.


The Designs of Thai Buddhist Temples

  • Thai Buddhist Temples are called wats, which means enclosures. An enclosing wall within a temple separates it from the secular world.

Architecture of Wat

  • In Thailand wat architecture has undergone several changes during history. Even though there are a number of differences in style and layout, all of them follow the same rules.
  • With few exceptions, a Thai temple has 2 parts: the Phutthawat and the Sangkhawat.


Phutthawat

  • The Phutthawat area is dedicated to Buddha. Generally it houses many buildings:
  1. Chedi   – also called stupa is mostly in the shape of a bell-shaped tower, often covered with gold leaf and accessible, has a relic chamber.
  2. Prang   – the Thai form of Khmer shrine towers, typically seen in shrines from the Ayutthaya and the Sukhothai period.
  3. Ubosot  or  Bot – the ceremony hall and most revered area of a temple. Eight Sema stones denote the sacred area.
  4. Wihan   – in Thai shrines this describes a temple hall which houses the main Buddha images. It is the meeting hall where laypeople and monks assemble.
  5. Mondop   - A mondop is a precise cruciform or square based shrine or building, within a Thai Buddhist temple. It’s a traditional structural shape which can be applied to many different types of buildings. It may contain sacred scriptures, relics or act as a temple. Unlike Indian temple or the mandapa of Khmer, which are part of a bigger building, the Thai mondop is a free-standing unit.
  6. Ho trai   – the scriptures collection or temple library contains the revered Tipiṭaka scriptures. Sometimes they are constructed in the shape of a mondop, a cubical-shaped building.
  7. Sala   – an open building providing a place and shade to relax.
  8. Sala kan parian   – a big, open hall in which worshippers can receive religious education or hear sermons.
  9. Ho rakhang   – the bell tower is used to announce the evening and morning ceremonies and for waking the monks.
  10. Phra rabiang   – a series of columns surrounding a building is sometimes constructed around the holy inner area as a monastery.
  • Other buildings are also within the Phuttawat area, depending on local requirements.
  • In shrines of the Rattanakosin period, such as Wat Ratchabophit and Wat Pho, the ubosot can be within inner wall known as Kamphaeng Kaeo.