Wat Bowon Niwet: the final resting place of King Rama IX

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Bowon Niwet
Ubosot of Wat Bowon Niwet. Photo by กสิณธร ราชโอรส [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wat Bowon Niwet Wihan Ratchaworawihan ( วัดบวรนิเวศวิหารราชวรวิหาร), Wat Bowon Niwet ( วัดบวรนิเวศ) for short, is one of Thailand’s most important temples as the ashes of many Thai Royal Family members and their relics are kept enshrined here, including those of King Vajiravudh, who reigned as King Rama VI ( พระรามที่ 6) and those of the late King Rama IX ( พระรามที่ 9), HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in 2016.

In addition to the obvious religious relevance, Wat Bowon Niwet has added sacredness as a result of its long-lasting links with the Thai royal court and also the temple has gained significance for being the place where Thai kings are ordained and as one of the main bases of Buddhism in Thailand. ⁣

Wat Bowon Niwet
Viharn at Wat Bowon Nivet. By ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้ายOwn work, CC BY 2.5, Link

The temple has also historical importance because it has housed four supreme patriarchs of Thailand and numerous kings and royals spent their monkhood there. ⁣

Located on Bangkok’s Rattanakosin Island ( เกาะรัตนโกสินทร์), just within the old city walls on Phra Sumen Road ( ถนนพระสุเมรุ), it was founded in 1826 by Prince Maha Sakdipolsep, a son of King Rama III ( พระรามที่ 3).

Its noble history dates back to the first abbot in 1836. This was none aside from Prince Bhikku Mongkut, who later acceded the throne end up being King Rama IV ( พระรามที่ 4). Before this, he employed 27 years in the priesthood as well as 14 years as the abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet, when he founded, within the temple premises, Mahamakut University ( มหาวิทยาลัยมหามกุฏ), Thailand’s second-largest Buddhist university.

Wat Bowon Niwet
Ordination ceremony at Ubosot of Wat Bowon Nivet. By Fb:ILovefullframe / CC BY-SA

King Rama VI, King Rama VII, and King Rama IX were also ordained here, making this temple a significant place of patronage for the Chakri Dynasty. Bhumibol’s mentor, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, at some point ended up being abbot of this holy place, and also later the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand ( สังฆราช).

The Wat Bowonniwet is a large temple comprising of an Ubosot, a Chedi, two Viharns (closed to the public), a scripture library, called Ho Trai, a Bodhi tree building, several royal residences, the living quarters of the monks (Kuti) and a bell tower.

Wat Bowon Niwet
Golden Chedi flanked by two small chedis. By Fb:ILovefullframe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The complex consists of elaborately carved doorway arches and windows in gilded stucco. The gable is enhanced with polished porcelains, suggesting solid Chinese architectural influences. There are numerous rare as well as much revered Buddha statues, a big chedi covered in gold tiles, surrounded by 4 small Khmer-style gold prangs and the murals inside featuring some unusual themes, such as horse racing in England and Dutch windmills.

The temple’s most noticeable structure is the 50-meter high golden chedi, that enshrines sacred relics and rests on a raised base with a lower and upper terrace. The lower terrace contains depictions of celestial creatures from Hindu mythology.

Wat Bowon Niwet
Buddha image in the Abhaya posture. By กสิณธร ราชโอรส – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

At each of the edges of the terrace is a Khmer style small prang consecrating an image of the Buddha in the Abhaya posture, which symbolizes dispelling of fear, protection, and reassurance. The gesture can be made with one of the hands or even with both of them. The hand is kept upwards, palm facing outward with the fingers together and the arm curved at the elbow.

The chedi is closed to the public, except on Khao Phansa day. Inside are five other small golden chedis that contain sacred relics. 

Phra Buddha Chinasi ( พระพุทธชินสีห์ ), represented in the Subduing Mara posture, is the principal Buddha image of Wat Bowon Niwet. It is located at the Ubosot of the temple and its origins are dated from the Sukhothai Kingdom ( อาณาจักรสุโขทัย) around the year 1357.

Wat Bowon Niwet
Phra Buddha Chinasi is the main Buddha image of Wat Bowon Niwet, located at the Ubosot of the temple. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

The image is flanked by two standing statues in a veneration posture. In the back of this Buddha image can be seen the statue of Phra Buddha Suwankaet and seated in front of the Phra Phuttha Chinasi are three small statues of previous abbots of the temple.

⁣Enshrined in the base of Phra Buddha Chinasi are the ashes of King Rama VI as well as King Rama IX.

The temple is very close to Khao San Road ( ถนนข้าวสาร), just a 5-minute walk. You won’t find almost as many foreign tourists here, however during Songkran ( สงกรานต์), the Thai New Year, this temple can be very busy.

Wat Bowon Niwet is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm and the entrance is free.

Wat Bowon Niwet is one of the two temples holding exceptional prerogatives because it is the emblematic temple of King Rama IX. The other, Wat Ratchabophit, houses the royal cemetery.⁣