Wat Benchamabophit

Wat Benchamabophit

Wat Benchamabophit Dusitwanaram | First Class Royal Temple | Presiding Buddha Image: Phra Buddha Jinaraja | Important Temple in the reign of King Rama V Phrabat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua

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Wat Benchamabophit Dusitwanaram (simply called Wat Benchamabophit) or “The Marble Temple” as known to foreigners is most satisfactory architecturally with its symmetry and lovely proportions. The Uposatha Hall (Bot or Ordination Hall) was constructed from Carrara marble from Italy and showing distinct European neo-classical influence. It was designed by H.R.H. Prince Narisranuvattivongse, half brother to King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, and has been reckoned for its architectural and decorative arts of finest Thai craftsmanship, say, second to none in the world. It attracts the interest of tourists throughout the world to come to visit with a large number each year.

Wat Benchamabophit is a royal monastry belonging to first class ranking of Rajavaravihara. It covers the area of about 12 acres, locating in Dusit District of central Bangkok with just a distance of five to ten minute-walking to H.M. the King’s Chitralada Palace in the northeast, Dusit Palace and the Parliament House in the north-west, and the Government House in the south. The four main roads passing nearby the temple are the Rama V Road in the east, Sri Ayudhya Road in the north, Rajadamnuennok Avenue in the west, and Phitsanulok Road in the South.

Wat Benchamabophit was founded by King Chulalongkorn, Rama V of the Chakri Dynastry on 1 March 1900 (counded as Thai 1899). The layout was very well-planned and demarcated by Buddha quarter (Buddhavas like the Uposatha Hall, etc.), monk living quarter (Sanghavas like the monk cells, schools, etc.), and lay helper living quarter outside the southern fence.

Historical Background
Wat Benchamabophit was built on the site of an old temple which was at different times called Wat Laem or Wat Saithong of which the origin was not known. In the reign of King Rama III, its name was firstly mentioned in Thai history that in 1826 Prince Anuvong of Vientiane, Kingdom of Laos at that time, revolted againts Thai Kingdom and moved his troops through northeastern Thailand until to Khorat plateau to attack Bangkok capital.

King Rama III had ordered to call up armies vigorously and sent three organized fighting forces to defeat Laotiane troops at the Khorat Plateau. At the same time, he appointed Prince Bibidh Bhogabhubendra, a son of King Rama II as chief commander to organize the army to defend Bangkok. The site of Wat Laem or Wat Saithong was the headquarters of chief commander of the central armies.

Within a few days, Anuvong's troops were defeated at the Khorat plateau before marching down to Bangkok. After the war, in gratitude to the temple, Prince Bibidh Bhogabhubendra together with his full four brothers and sisters had restored this temple and erected five pagodas (chedi) in row in front of the temple in 1827.

In the reign of King Mongkut, Rama IV, the King was pleased to rename the temple "Wat Benchabopitr" meaning the temple of the five princes and princesses.

In 1898, King Chulalongkorn had thought of the construction of a royal garden for his pleasure ground on weekends, thus he ordered to purchase the lands in the north of the Grand Palace between Samsen and Phadung Krungkasem canals which were the ricefields and fruitgardens of the private owners at reasonable prices and then started the improvement on 16 February 1899 continues until its completion in 1 March 1900, and the name given to this place by the King was "Dusit Garden".

Within the precints of Dusit Garden, formerly there located two old temples of the origin unknown, one was a deserted temple and the other one was Dusit or Dusitaram Temple which was decayed and only one monk lived. Nearby the Dusit Garden was Wat Benchabopitr, as stated above. King Chulalongkorn decided to restore is completely in order to compensate for the destruction of two old temples during the making of the nearby Dusit Garden. The name was then changed into "Wat Benchamabophit", meaning the temple of the Fifth King. (Please notice to their different names and meanings; Bencha = five, Benchama = the fifth, and bopitr (Pali - Pavitta) implies the king or prince).

At the first stage, the monks' cells had been constructed sufficiently to accommodate 33 monks and novices, the number equal to that of the years of King Chulalongkorn reigning. The layout was planned by H.R.H. Prince Narisranuvattivongse, the king's half brother, and all the construction was placed to Chao Phraya Voraphong Bibadhana. At the same time, the temporary Uposatha Hall, a small simple one made of wood, thatched with attaps, was built to serve necessary religious functions.

The King's objectives to have constructed this temple were:-
1) to declare his being a strict Buddhist and a strong patron of buddhism, and at the same time to compensate for the destruction of two old temples by making a new one with distinction, worthy to be a royal temple nearby Suan Dudit Garden.
2) to exhibit the Siamese architectural design and decoration arts of the Uposatha Hall, its cloister as well as the other buildings and their suroundings to the eyes of the world.
3) to act as a gallery for the images of the Buddha in different styles and periods for the approach of the public.
4) to provide ecclessiastic education for monks and novices higher to the college level and,
5) to be a memorial temple of his own name "Wat Benchamabophit" or "Temple of the Fifth King" wherewhich, after passing away, his ashes be interred under the pediment of the Main Buddha, Phra Buddhajinaraja, in the Uposatha Hall.

On 1 March 1900, the first day that King Chulalongkorn placed his dwelling upon Suan Dusit Garden Pavilion, he went to Wat Benchamabophit and declared a royal decree to grant the Sangha (the Order) for establishing the boundaries of the jurisdiction of a community of monks. A recitation in the royal decree reads:-

"...the Temple be named Wat Benchamabophit representing the sequence of the Reign of the Fifth King of the Chakri Dynasty..."

Thus came the foundation day of Wat Benchamabophit as on 1 March 1900 and comes the centenneum of its establishment on 1 March 2000.

In the reign of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, he ordered to continue further construction of the temple. There shifted up and attached the serrate and roof ridges to the gables of the Uposatha Hall. At the same time, when the last lot of the marble ordered from Italy had arrived, the king had ordered to decorate them to the unfinished parts of the Uposatha Hall and its cloister until it fished. The artists of the Fine Arts Department were ordered by the king to paint the wall of the Uposatha Hall with Oil colour. The figurative decoration is a deva (god) clasping hands in token of worship in yellow on the white wall.

The Uposatha Hall and its cloister, after its completion to the plan and design, become one of the most beautiful temple in Thailand and exhibits the splendid Thai architectural arts to the eyes of the world.

When the buildings in the monk living quarter had been completed, the king invited thirty three monks and novices from Wat Mahadhatu, marched in a great procession to reside at Wat Benchamabophit on 6 December 1900 and bestowed upon the title after the name of "Wat Benchamabophit" with "Dusitvanaram"

During this time, the king ordered H.R.H. Prince Narisranuvattivongse, the then Minister of Public Works, to design the Uposatha Hall and its cloister and then the construction had begun under the supervisorship of the king and the prince architect.

Phraya Rajasongkhram (Korn Hongsakul), one of the wellknown engineers at that time was assigned to construct the building. Unfortunately, as the construction had not completed to the plan, King Chulalongkorn passed away on 23 October 1910, left many things to be done behind him. Howerver, King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, his son, had furthered all the construction until it finished. Even since, supplimentation had been made to the temple by successive kings, princes, the nobel and other people.

The Uposatha Hall
The Uposatha Hall (bot or Ubosoth in Thai) of Wat Benchamabophit is one of the finest works of architectural arts of the Bangkok period. it is a structure of the four-gabled style. The east gable extends in an oblong shape. The north and the south gables were connected to its cloister with a four-tiered roof. The principal north and south gables are of five-tiered roof. Extended from both sides of the Uposatha Hall is its cloister, forming a square enclosure that takes in the rear part of the Uposatha Hall.

There are boundary walls (balustrades) in front of the Uposatha Hall. The marker stones (Sema or Bai Sema in Thai) are in the form of two posts with lotus bud tops placed at the two front corners of the boundary walls and two stone slabs inscribed with Dharmacakra or the Wheel of Law placed in the enclosed terrace at the back of the Uposatha Hall.

Within the boundary walls, there floored with light pink and grey granite slabs.

Supporting the east gable are four marble posts. Nearby a pair of marble lions guard the front entrance into the Uposatha Hall. Their model was moulded by Khun Sakol Pradith, a craftsman of the Department of Ten-Grouped Craftsmanship (later on Fine Arts Department) according to the design prescribed by H.R.H. Prince Narisranuvattivongse.

The outer walls of the Uposatha Hall are decorated with the white square marbles of three centimetres in thick.

Under the west (rear) gable, there are marble posts and a pair of marble lions as the same as the front gable. Here in the niche at the back of the Uposatha Hall, there enshrined the standing Buddha image in the attributes of royalty, in the attitude of forbidding his relatives to fight with one another, in the style of the Lopburi period. On his right palm, there inscribed a Dharmacakra or the Wheel of Law, that bears the name "Phra Dharmacakra" as given by King Chulalongkorn. It is probably the largest and best preserved bronze image of the Lopburi period in existence. It was brought here from Wat Devaraj Kunchorn, Bangkok. At the base there interred the ashes of H.R.H. Princess Sudaratana Rajaprayoon who was a nursemaid to King Chulalongkorn while he was so young.

All the finials of the roof of the Uposatha Hall are lacquered and gilded.

The roof itself is covered with yellow glazed tiles, the so-called Kabu tiles which are of the over-arched shape. The tiles of the last rows of the roof ends are made up of the celestial debanom (a figure of deva clasping hands in token of worship.)

The four gable-ends portray the four seals used in the reign of King Rama V, viz:-

1. The east (front) gable-end is woodcarving portraying the "Grudh Phah" seal, i.e. Vishnu on the garuda.
2. The west (rear) gable-end is wood carving portraying the "Maha Ongkarn" seal, i.e. the Maha Unalom on the throne.
3. The north gable-end is stucco motif portraying the "Iyaraphot" seal, i.e. the Eravan or the three-headed elephant.
4. The south gable-end is stucco motif portraying the "Chakraroth" seal, i.e. the Wheel of Law.

In making these portraits, H.R.H. Prince Narisranuvattivongse had assigned to Prince Voravadhana Subhakorn to design them with his approval.

The door panels have an embossed copper showing a celestial holding either a sword or a bow on the outward side. The same picture is shown as painted in gold over a red background on the inward side. Windows panels also have an embossed copper showing the demon bearers on the outward side and the same picture in gold paint over a red background on the inward side.

Over the window frames are the celestial debanom (a figure of a deva clasping hands in token of worship) and Thai traditional motifs in stained glass. This work was the contribution of Prince Chulakrapongse who commissioned Florentine artists to produce it to designs sent from Bangkok in 1954.

On the Uposatha Hall, there enshrined Phra Buddhajinaraja as the main Buddha centered at the backward of the hall. The Buddha sits on the throne high equal to the lower frame of the windows. In front of the Buddha, there is a balustrade made of Jade coloured marble.

Beneath the Buddha's throne, there interred the ashes of King Chulalongkorn by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, according to the will of his father king.

Truly speaking, the Uposatha Hall is not of great size. The designer prince explained that its size is proportional to the size of the main Buddha image enshrined. The ground of the hall is floored with different colour slabs of marble.

Inside of the hall, there are eight alcoves, each contains a painting of one of the great stupas in Thailand. The paintings were done in 1942 showing the following: Phra Pathom Chedi at Nakhon Pathom, Phra Maha Dhatu at Lavoh or Lopburi, Phra Dhatu Phanom at Nakhon Phanom, Phra Maha Dhatu Hariphunchai at Lamphoon, Phra Maha Dhatu at Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phra Maha Dhatu at Sukhothai, Phra Sri Ratana Dhatu at Sukhothai, and Phra Chedi Chaiyamongkol at Ayudhya.

Among subscribers for the paintings were King Ananda Mahidol, who financed the painting of Phra Pathom Chedi at Nakhon Pathom and his brother, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was responsible for the painting of Phra Maha Dhatu at Nakhon Si Thammarat. The others had been sponsored by other people.

Regarding the marbles used to decorate the Uposatha Hall and its cloister, the designs, the colours and the sizes had been specified by H.R.H. Prince Narisranuvattivongse with the assistance of an Italian architect, Signor Mario Tamagno, who had been working with the Department of Public Works at that time. At the same time, Signor Carlo Allegri, an Italian engineer, had assisted in advice and correspondence with the mable companies in Italy. The tender was opened and the Novi Guiseppe Company in Genova was contracted. The marbles are of the finest quality from Carrara in Italy. Signor L. Mosso, an architect of the Novi Guiseppe Company, had come to help in decoration of mable on royal expenses.

Phra Buddhajinaraja
The Principle Image in the Main Chapel

Phra Buddhajinaraja is the main Buddha of the Uposatha Hall. The image is a replica of Phra Buddhajinaraja at Wat Phra Sri Ratana Maha Dhatu, Phitsanulok province. The image is in bronze, seated with one leg above the other, in the attitude of subduing mara, the knee-span width is about 1.90 meter and the image required 2.5 tons of bronze. It is enshrined on the throne with a balustrade in front. The arched flame as appears today had been rebuilt by King Rama VII to have replaced the old one of which the workmanship was unsatisfactory.

In casting the image, King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, had ordered Phra Prasiddhi Patima gone to mould from the original model at Wat Phra Sri Ratana Maha Dhatu in Phitsanulok province. After his approval, the king had graciously presided over the casting ceremony on 20 October 1901 and the casting had been undertaken in separated pieces. The image was then transported by water to the foundry of the royal navy to be finished. After that the image had been shifted to the boat marching in procession to have it enshrined in the Uposatha Hall on 13 December 1901.

Having seen all the works from moulding, casting and finishing had been well done, the king was too pleased to put on a sash of diamonds worn by royalty to the Buddha image on 12 December 1901, a day before enshrining it in the Uposatha Hall.

Even after the enshrining, the king was also pleased to have taken off his sash of Decoration of the Highest Order of Nopharatana Rajavarabhorn to be presented to the Buddha image.

At the end of the year 1909, the king had ordered to employ Mr. Tsuruhara, a teacher of the School of Craftsmanship, Tokyo, to come to paint the image in gold. After finishing, the king ordered to have organized the Celebration of Phra Buddhajinaraja on 5 August 1910. That ended the period of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, as he passed away on 23 October 1910.

Dusit, Bangkok, Thailand.

Bus Nos. 5, 72, 503

Opening hours
The Temple is Open Daily from 06.00 A.M. - 06.00 P.M.

Credits: Wat Benchamabophit Book

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