Wat Mahathat: the temple of the Great Relic

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Buddha statue of Pra Sri Sakayamunee in Phra Wiharn of Wat Mahathat. By Supanut Arunoprayote / CC BY

Bangkok is packed with rich and natural cultural heritage. Spiritual richness resides in the heart of the capital city. An old yet famous name out of the many is Wat Mahathat Yuwarat Rangsarit ( วัดมหาธาตุยุวราชรังสฤษฎิ์).

It’s also known as Wat Mahathat ( วัดมหาธาตุ) that it’s the short common name of other significant Buddhist temples in Thailand, which name stands for the Temple of Great Relic due to the fact that the temple enshrines relics of the Buddha.

Wat Mahathat Yuwarat Rangsarit is a first-class royal temple.

Location

Wat Mahathat is situated to the north of the majestic Grand Palace in the old Rattanakosin district of Bangkok. It stands on Na Phra Road ( ถนนหน้าพระ) across the Sanam Luang Park ( สวนสาธารณะสนามหลวง) on the eastern bank of Chao Phraya River ( แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา). 

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Aerial photograph of Bangkok showing the Phra Nakhon district and old city area at the center. By Paul_012 / CC BY-SA

History

Wat Mahathat dates back the Ayutthaya period and was brought up with the name of Wat Salak ( วัดสลัก) at the time of its construction. It stood exactly where Bangkok was established as the capital city later in 1782. Eventually, two new palaces came up on both sides of the temple, the Grand Palace and the Front Palace. Being strategically located then, the temple became a hub for royal ceremonies and funerals.

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Phra Ubosot of Wat Mahathat with Phra Mondop (the library) on the right. By Supanut Arunoprayote / CC BY

In 1803 was renamed Wat Mahathat of Bangkok and later the temple went through numerous renovations during the past two centuries, mostly by young Prince Mongkut. Home to the world-famous Vipassana Meditation, the temple got its current name, Wat Mahathat Yuwarat Rangsarit ( วัดมหาธาตุยุวราชรังสฤษดิ์), in 1996.

Today it is the headquarters of the biggest monastic order in Thailand, the Mahanikai School of Buddhism ( โรงเรียนพุทธมหานิกาย).

Architecture

The temple ground houses quite a number of buildings. The galleries are arranged with tall Buddha images that are placed upon decorated pedestals encircling the temple courtyard.

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Buddha images at the galleries of Wat Mahathat. By กสิณธร ราชโอรส / CC BY-SA

The Ubosot of the temple is one of the largest in Thailand. A gold-plated principal image of the Buddha is seated here.

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Buddha statue of Phra Sri Sanphet in Ubosot of Wat Mahathat. By Supanut Arunoprayote / CC BY

The site is lined with numerous Khmer style prangs enshrined with Buddha images. Viharns of all sizes, a Mandapa, and living quarters for the monks are few other structures that share the temple space.

University

Established inside the temple grounds stands the oldest higher education center for Buddhists in Thailand, the Maha Chulalongkorn Raja Vidyalaya University ( มหาวิทยาลัยมหาจุฬาลงกรณราชวิทยาลัย), where hundreds of monks come here to study the Buddha teachings.

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Maha Chulalongkorn Raja Vidyalaya University at Wat Mahathat. By User:Tevaprapas ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้าย / CC BY

Primarily structured into four departments, human sciences, social sciences, international studies, and a graduate college, the university is of paramount importance to Thailand. After more than 100 years since its inception in 1889, it was declared public university in 1997.

In and around

The Vipassana meditation center is located in Section 5 of the campus. Daily classes of one of the world’s most popular meditation techniques, Vipassana or the insight meditation is held in both Thai and English language here.

Wat Mahathat Bangkok
Various amulets on sale in amulet market at Maharat Road. By @superstickyrice via Twenty20.

Bangkok’s largest amulet market thrives on the other side of Maharat Road ( ถนนมหาราช) adjacent to the temple every Sunday. Buzzing with numerous stalls, the market offers a wide range of amulets available in all price ranges.

Getting here

Chao Phraya riverboat service is the best way to get here. Experience the charming river ride before deboarding on Tha Chang Pier ( ท่าเรือท่าช้าง). By road, you can hop on a metered taxi or a tuk-tuk if you are already in the Rattanakosin area.

Temple opens daily from 7 am until 5 pm. Admission is free while a generous donation is appreciated.

Soak yourself in the historical significance and the insightful meditativeness that this place imparts. Wat Mahathat won’t let you leave without an invigorating experience.