Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
Nakhon Si Thammarat Province
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Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan is the main Buddhist temple of Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, the largest province in Southern Thailand. It is located on the main sand bar of Nakhon Si Thammarat on which the ancient town and the present town of Nakhon Si Thammarat were built. The ancient town of Nakhon Si Thammarat developed from the early state of Thailand called Tambralinga and the name of which is mentioned in the Pali canon of the Buddhism as one of the prosperous port towns of the Eastern world, and thereby archaeological evidence found at many sites in Nakhon Si Thammarat supports the literary evidence. Tambralinga became a flourishing port town and was ruled independently since the 5th century CE. and continued onwards. At some points of times it joined a union with Sri Vijaya, the Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, which was famous for the world maritime trade networks during the 8th to the 12th century CE.
According to the Nakhon Si Thammarat’s chronicle, the main stupa of the temple, called Phra Borommathat Chedi, literally, the Great Noble Relics Stupa, was built prior to other religious architectural buildings in the temple by King Sri Dhammasokaraja in approximately the early 13th century CE. in order to establish the Theravada Buddhist symbol on the land and to serve the belief of his people on the presence of the Buddha’s relics in situ which should be housed by the stupa. Other literary sources provide a reasonable assumption that after the misery of an epidemic which was sweeping through the town, people scattered and the town was almost deserted. The king’s project of building the stupa for housing the relics was created as a mean of encouraging greater participation by his subjects. Thus the stupa caused the coming back to rebuild and develop the town community which was united in its support for constructing and maintaining the stupa and the temple as the main spiritual centre for the people. Other religious architectural buildings in the compound had been built from the early 13th century to the 18th century CE. including Wihan Bodhi-Lanka, the roofed cloister round the Bodhi Tree which is believed to be a sprout of the Bodh Gaya’ s Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha reached Enlightenment.
The Thai name for the temple, Phramahathat woramahawihan comes from Pali, vara maha dhatu vara maha vihara, literally meaning ‘the Great Noble Temple of the Great Noble Relics Stupa.’ The stupa, regarded as the most important building of the temple, is the gigantic-bell-shaped stupa which was directly inspired by Sri Lankan Buddhist art reflecting the belief on the transmission of King Asokan tradition of stupa from India to Sri Lanka and on the preservation of the Buddhism by following King Asoka’s footstep. In this connection, it is evident that the ruler of Nakhon Si Thammarat who initially built the stupa and the successive ones who restored and refurbished the stupa and the temple, are called Sri Dhammasokaraja, which was named after the epithet of King Asoka the Great; i.e., Sri Dhammaasoka- raja or Asoka-dhammaraja. The name of the town ‘Nakhon Si Thammarat’ from Pali, Nagara Sri Dhammaraja, literally meaning ‘town of Dhammaraja,’ denotes the adoption of two simultaneous concepts; i.e., the Buddha as the Dhammaraja, the spiritually righteous king of the Buddhists and the Dhammaraja of King Asoka the Great, the secularly righteous king. After establishing the main stupa and its religious edifices of the temple, it is known that during that time Nakhon Si Thammarat was the centre of the Theravada Buddhism both intellectual and artistic practices. According to the first Inscription of the Sukhothai Kingdom, Nakhon Si Thammarat had a powerful influence on the strength of the Theravada belief and practice in the Sukhothai Kingdom, including the architectural tradition of the stupa’s building.
There are ten big times of restoration of the stupa and its religious edifices; i.e., first 100 years after establishing the stupa, after that in 1612-1616, 1647, 1732-1758, 1769, 1895-1898, 1914, 1972-1974, 1987, and the last in 1994-1995, which are considered the great events in social history and history of conservation, due to the fact that each time was undertaken under the patronage of a Dhammaraja, the righteous king, who was the Theravada Buddhist, and always incorporated with a large number of people of variety, without religious discrimination. It is recorded that the non-Buddhist like the Muslims donated money and materials to restore the stupa and the religious buildings of the temple. Moreover, their belief to respect the original form of the buildings tends to preserve the authenticity of the stupa and the temple. The restorations of Wat Phramahathat woramahawihan such as these are archetypal practices in restoration of the living monument that people mostly participated. They are a truly communal activity on preservation of the monument. Additionally, as the sacred site, the worship of the stupa and the temple has been daily practiced. People who visited the sacred place have performed their merit-making by donating their valuable objects to the stupa which symbolizes the Buddha and to the temple which symbolizes the Sangha (the Buddhist monks) and the Dhamma (the Buddha’s teachings). As time goes on, these offerings increased, and consequently, the museum of the temple was built to serve the collections and they are on display. The museum as an educational part of the temple reflects the artistic appreciation and the faith of people from the remote past until today.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan became the principal temple of Nakhon Si Thammarat, the capital of Tambralinga, the sovereign state in Southern Peninsula of Thailand in the early 13th to mid-14th century CE. The principal stupa, Phra Borommathat Chedi, was built in the early 13th century. This gigantic-bell-shaped stupa, is the outstanding structure at the temple. Since it is claimed that the Buddha’s Relics is contained inside, and thereby it become a sacred place for the Buddhists and marks out the site as one of the most important seats of the Theravada Buddhism. After the state was under control of Ayutthaya, the Kingdom of Thailand, flourished during 1350-1767, the temple remains the religious centre of Buddhism and sacred site for millions of believers.
The temple, built on a rectangular plan and enclosed by brick walls of its rectangular enclosure and the four gates which afford access to the temple, covers 5.14 hectares. The temple is divided into two parts, according to the traditional zoning of the Buddhist temple; Buddha-avasa, the sacred area for doing religious activities, and Sanghaavasa, the residential area of the Buddhist monks. The Buddha-avasa is considered the monumental zone in which Phra Borommathat Chedi, the Great Noble Relics Stupa, stands at the heart of the temple. The 22 sculpted standing elephants covered in stucco surround the base of the stupa. The base is square with a low brick wall that provided a space for clockwise ambulation by worshippers that access to by a stairway on the north. On the base the four small bell-shaped stupas, one in each corner, surround the main stupa. This remarkable stupa has the large bell-shaped body, a square platform and an umbrella-like spire formed with 52 rings. The square platform above the top of the bell-shaped body is separated from the spire by a row of walking Buddha images in relief. The 10.89 metre-high spire is covered with gold leaf weighing around 600 kilograms and studded with precious stone. The principal stupa stands in an immense cloister covered with coloured tiles and surrounding it is a gallery lined with numerous Buddha images. The oldest one is a standing Sukhothai-style Budha image, dated to the 13th -14th century CE. Between the principal stupa and the cloister, there are: 158 minor chedis housing ashes and bones of the Buddhist devotees; the chapel (Wihan Khian and Wihan Phra Ma) with two remarkable stucco reliefs depicting a scene from the life of the Buddha on its inner walls; the Bodhi Tree enclosed by a small roofed cloister. Outside the cloister is the main assembly hall called Wihan Luang, with columns that lean inward in the Ayutthaya style, dated to the 15th - 16th century CE., and a richly decorated ceiling. Apart from this, there are the chapel enshrined the image of Kaccayana, the eminent monk in the Buddhist history, the temple museum building filled with historical objects, especially images of Buddha, auspicious objects and offerings.
The well planning of the temple has helped all buildings to continue function properly. However, the temple has functioned not only as religious institution but also as centre of learning which has preserved and promote the concept of the ideal society of the Lord Buddha that is worthy of a universal value.
The principal stupa was built according to the Buddhist tradition of the Theravada. It preserves not only its traditional form, but also the Buddhist philosophy. For instance,the 22 number of the elephants surround the base of the main stupa signifies the Twenty-twofold Spiritual Faculties (Pali: indriya); the 52 number of the rings signifies the Fifty-twofold Mental Factors (Pali: cetasika); and the 8 number of the walking Buddha denotes the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering (Pali: ariya-atthangika-magga) which is the highest doctrine of the Buddha.
Nowadays the stupa and the temple is still a centre of the Buddhist traditional practice because of the continuity of the specific worship, the long procession of carrying Phra Bot, the Buddhist painted robe, to wrap around the bellshaped body of the stupa, the unique living religious activity of the world.
Criterion (i): Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan represents the Buddhism’s system of belief through its architectural design and planning. There was divided to be two parts by functional according to the traditional zoning of Buddhist temple. The great stupa is the principle in the temple. The buildings and their elements are plenty of meaning in Buddhist philosophy and the life of Buddha scene. It presents to the human creative genius in conceptual design. Phra Borommathat chedi, the main stupa, not only be a masterpiece of the bellshape stupa in the regional but also a symbol of Theravada Buddhist that the bell-shaped stupa was established in the further land. As a result, the architectural design of the main stupa of this temple presents a masterpiece of the creative genius of the artisans.
Criterion (ii): The principal stupa of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan preserved with total integrity its original late 13th century CE. architectural structure. Its shape was inspired by Sri Lankan art that followed the Asokan concept of Buddhist art. However, the round section was reduced, resulting in slender. Thus, the bell-shaped stupa, Phra Borommathat Chedi, represents the typical style, differs from that of Sri Lanka, reflecting the successful integration between the local trend and the original Buddhist tradition. Moreover, the relative size of its height and width as 2:1 (H. 28 wa, W. 14 wa; 1 wa = 2 metre) logically implies its complete integrity of corporeal and spiritual aspects; that is to say, according the Buddhist philosophy, there are 28 corporeality and 14 functions of consciousness, so that the height of the stupa is supposed to represent the first and the width of the stupa is the latter. In the ancient time, the bell-shaped stupa was considered exemplary model. Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan’s role as intermediary for the spread of Theravada Buddhist cultures and their arts throughout the territory of Southern Peninsula, and later in other parts of Thailand; i.e., the Sukhothai and the Ayutthaya Kingdoms, was confirmed by the prevailing style of the stupa.
Criterion (vi): The Phra Borommathat Chedi is regarded as the oldest bell-shaped stupa housing the Buddha Relics in Thailand. The temple is directly and tangibly associated with the history of the spread of Buddhism, one of the major religion in the world. The people’s belief in the sacred of Buddha Relics which is one of the most important of Buddhism, has given rise to the merit-making traditions in various forms, literary works, songs, and performance art. All these have lead inexorably to performing of various ceremonies connected with the religious traditions. The merit-making ceremony which is regarded as the grand event of all is Hae Pha Khuen That, literally, carrying robe to wrap around the stupa. Every year on the Buddhist holidays, Magha-puja and Visakha-puja, Buddhists from local areas, other parts of the country and the world pay homage the stupa by organizing a long procession bearing a painted robe joined in a single piece with unlimited length to wrap around the bell-shaped body of the stupa. The large number of Buddhists come every year evidently shows the faith of people in the Lord Buddha and his teachings which has been transmitted over time.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Integrity: The wall of the temple marks the boundary of the sacred site. The principal stupa in the centre, surrounded by the well-planned buildings inside the wall, has its distinctive shape and size, which is prominent feature of the sacred area. All these give the temple to be a site of unimpeachable integrity. It is an outstanding example of the well planning and of the complete buildings of the Theravada Buddhist temple of the early 13th century CE that its intactness to function effectively as a living monument is not in question. The living tradition of merit-making by performing ceremonies occurring every month brings people together, including visitors. The unity of the Buddhists’ faith is illustrated by the religious practices at the temple during the ceremonies. The principal stupa of the temple is regarded as a mark of people’s esteem. The tradition of wrapping the stupa by the long painted robe made by numberless devotees, solemnly carried by tremendous number of people together, signifies spiritual integrity of the Buddhists.
Authenticity: The temple has conserved its initial appearance, and in particular its historic feature. Though the temple was partially restored traditionally at some points of times, the people’s belief to respect the original form of the buildings tends to preserve the authenticity of the stupa and the religious buildings of the temple. The scientific restoration undertaken in the 1994-1995 had been carefully carried out. This living monument has been protected by the Act of Ancient Monuments, Antiquities, Objects of Art and National Museums of 1961 amended in 1992. The municipality’s building code and regulations also are adopted to protect the temple setting and surroundings. The temple is regularly maintained and occasionally repaired by the Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture. Its provincial and local municipality and its temple and communities deem to be of public interest and are granted protection. As a result the temple is intact as the original planning, architectural design, materials and settings as well as the continuing living religious activities. The outstanding example is the unceasing ceremony of the procession of carrying the Buddhist painted robe to wrap around the stupa. This intangible cultural trait is certainly unique in the world.
Comparison with other similar properties
Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura. It bears witness to several civilizations, notably that of the conquering Cholas, disciples of Brahmanism, and that of the Sinhalese sovereigns during the 12th and 13th centuries CE. Monuments were constructed to their religions both Brahmanism and Buddhism. Most important Buddhist sanctuaries found in Polonnaruwa include the Atadage, the original Tooth Temple where the relic of the Buddha’s tooth was kept during ancient times, the Lankatilaka, an enormous brick structure which has preserved a colossal image of Buddha, the Gal Vihara, with its gigantic rock sculptures which may be placed among the chefs-d'oeuvre of Sinhalese art and the Tivanka Pilimage, where wall paintings of the 13th century CE illustrate the jataka (narratives of the previous lives of Buddha), etc.
One of the most important stupa in Polonnaruwa is Kiri Vehera. It was built by a queen “Subadra” of king Parakramabahu (1153 - 1186). The original name of this has been “Rupavathi Stupa”. This too is a part of Ãlahana and stands 80 feet in height today. This is also the second biggest stupa in Polonnaruwa today. Also it is the only stupa to survive the 900 years of forces of nature and still is in the original condition. The stupa has the bell-shaped body. The shape is comparable with that of Phra Borommathat Chedi, Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Sacred City of Anuradhapura
This sacred city was established around a cutting from the sacred Bodhi Tree of Bodhgaya 'tree of enlightenment, under which Siddharta attained spiritual enlightenment and supreme wisdom, the Bodhi tree spreads out over the centre of the site from a sanctuary near the Brazen Palace. Bodhi tree brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitta, daughter of Ashoka and the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns.
Anuradhapura attests in a unique and specific way to the Sinhalese civilization. On numerous occasions the city was submitted to the assaults of invaders from southern India. It stands as a permanent manifesto of the culture of Sri Lanka, impervious to outside influences. Remarkable monuments include particularly the Dagaba Thuparama of colossal size, placed on circular foundations and surrounded by a ring of monolithic columns. It was built to house the clavicle of Buddha.
The worship of the Bodhi Tree which was the Buddhist tradition practiced by King Asoka the Great was transmitted to the Theravada Buddhist countries, like Sri Lanka and Nakhon Si Thammarat. The Bodhi Tree at Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat, bears witness to the tradition.
Sacred City of Kandy
This sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings whose patronage enabled the Dinahala culture to flourish for more than 2,500 years until the occupation of Sri Lanka by the British in 1815. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site. It is actually the southern tip of Sri Lanka's 'Cultural Triangle'.
The monumental ensemble of Kandy is an outstanding example of a traditional type of construction in which the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth of Buddha are juxtaposed. The Temple of the Tooth, the palatial complex, and the sacred city of Kandy are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the spread of Buddhism. Built to house the relic of the tooth of Buddha, which had come from Kalinga (Orissa State, India), the Temple of Kandy bears witness to an ever flourishing cult. The ceremonial high point each year is the splendid ritual of the great processions on the feast of Esala Perahera.
Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth) is the grand festival of Esala held in Sri Lanka. It is very grand with elegant costumes. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it has become a unique symbol of Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and nicely decorated elephants. There are fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances. The elephants are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional 'diya-kepeema'.
The grand festival has been compared to those of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. The similarity of the two sacred sites as the centre of the Buddhist faith is indisputably.
Historic City of Ayutthaya
Found in 1350, became the capital of Thailand after Sukhothai and one of the most vibrant international entrepots in Asia, as reflected in its richly decorated gigantic palaces and temples. As the center of the maritime trade in Southeast Asia, Ayutthaya absorbed the influences of the Chinese from the East (in the Chinese junks to engage in trade) and the Portuguese and French from the West (in engineering of roads, canals, forts and rampart). It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century CE. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendor. The bell-shaped stupas prevailling in the city suggest that Ayutthaya acknowledged being the sacred Buddhist site of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns
Sukhothai, from the 13th century CE., represents the first Thai Theravada Buddhist kingdom. It outstanding artistic creativity is exemplified in the freestanding sculpture of the walking Buddha and lotus-bud stupa, outstanding creative achievements not to be seen elsewhere, and in the Thai alphabet invent by King Ramkhamhaeng the great. A political, commercial, cultural and religious capital that flourished and passed on to old Ayutthaya and Bangkok today, Sukhothai maintained a good relationship with other ancient cities namely Si Satchanalai, Kamphaeng Phet and Nakhon Si Thammarat in the South.
The great civilization which evolved in the Kingdom of Sukhothai absorbed numerous influences based on Buddhism spread from Sri Lanka through Nakhon Si Thammarat in the fields of philosophy, science and Buddhist art as appears in the first stone inscription (designated UNESCO Memory of the World) and the gigantic-bell-shaped stupa including Buddhist architecture, with Phra Borommathat Chedi, the Great Noble Relics Stupa, Nakhon Si Thammarat, as its prototype.