Wat Pho, or the Temple of Reclining Buddha
2 Sanamchai Rd, Grand Palace, Pranakorn
Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is situated in Bangkok’s downtown area on the Rattanakosin Island, not far from the Grand Palace. It is thought to be among the most famous and frequently visited temple complexes in the capital. Built in the 12th century, it is the oldest temple in Thailand and in addition to this, Wat Pho has a noble title of the country’s largest cluster of temples: seventeen gates lead to its territory, which spans eight hectares.
According to local legend, in 1782, the General Chakri passed through one of the temple’s gates after his triumphant war campaign in Cambodia. He proclaimed himself as King Rama I and announced the foundation of a new monarchal dynasty on the age-old complex’s territory. It is worth noting that since then, the gates through which the future ruler of Siam (modern Thailand) arrived, have been opened only on the more auspicious holidays.
The newly proclaimed king ordered the enlargement of the temple complex and a 40-meter-high stupa, covered with green mosaic and depicting Buddha, was erected on his orders in a very short period of time. As time passed by, Rama’s I descendants built another three majestic stupas on Wat Pho’s territory, which were white, yellow and blue. In total, there are about a hundred stupas at the complex, as well as four halls for meetings and a gallery, where 400 statues of Buddha are exhibited.
The walls of the main temple are covered with pictures, which depict scenes of Buddha and the lives of his seven most famous followers lives. The building ornamental balustrade is adorned with marble bas-reliefs with scenes from the old Indian epos. A Brahman temple, symbolizing masculinity, is situated in Wat Pho’s western part and young couples who wish to have children go there.
The temple has become famous thanks to its 43-meter-long and 15-meter-high statue of a Reclining Buddha, which gave the temple its second name. This huge plaster cast was gilded by skillful masters; its feet covered by mother-of-pearl ornaments consisting of 108 symbols, by which Buddha can be identified. In total, 108 different bronze vessels are installed along the passage that leads to Wat Pho’s main relict. It is believed that if you walk round the statue and throw a coin in each of the vessels, then luck will be on your side. in Wat Pho’s inner chapels there are depictions of the places where Buddha’s footprints have been found. Two of these were in Thailand.
A beautiful garden with a waterfall is laid out in the complex’s grounds. In addition to this there are sculptures of bearded creatures in hats, which were brought to Bangkok from China more than a hundred years ago. These curious figures are considered to be Wat Pho’s protectors. The oldest library in Thailand is also situated near to the Temple of Reclining Buddha and keeps age-old manuscripts that are recognized as parts of Thailand’s cultural heritage.
Wat Pho is also famous as the place where the art of Thai massage was born. Even today, monks in orange cassocks are happy to make a massage of neck, back or shoulders, in exchange for a small donation.