So I am sure many people have heard of Wats, be it Thailand (the land of many Wats), or Cambodia, Burma, Laos or any other Buddhist worshipping countries.
Actually “Wat” is the word for a Buddhist temple (= a place of worship) or monastery (= a building in which monks live and worship).
Having spent a few years here in Thailand, and also having photographed many hundreds of Wats, I thought it would be interesting to share what I have found out about them and show you examples of the buildings inside the Wat complex.
We will explore structures such as Stupas, Viharns,Ubosot, and Sala’s. I hope to give them a bit more enlightenment to their names and uses and maybe a little bit of history.
To be clear not all Wats will have everything in this buildings list, and some will be different shapes and sizes; for example the Tortoise shaped Ho Trai in Northern Thailand.
It very much depends on the amount of community support they receive as merit (offerings of money), usually a wealthy benefactor can contribute enough to build a whole new building. Some older Wats have built their Wat facilities up over many years and some more rural ones include schools for the children in the community. On the other hand some are so new, or do not have enough Merit offerings that they only have a gate, or just an Ubosot.
Bot or Ubosot, the ordination hall. This building sometimes referred to as the Phra Ubosot is the main prayer room and one of the most important buildings in the Wat. This is also where the monks get ordained, and it also hosts other important Temple rituals.
The Bot is rectangular shaped with the main entrance facing East. In front of the main entrance sits a gilded Buddha on a highly decorated and sometimes high pedestal. Inside you will find the walls decorated with murals of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana, telling the stories of the previous life of Buddha.
A bot is surrounded by eight boundary stones called sima or sema, that are placed outside the bot in a rectangular shape.
A viharn or wiharn will often look like the ubosot, except that it is not surrounded by sema stones. In the viharn several Buddhist ceremonies take place with both monks and lay people. Inside the viharn Buddha images are kept. People from outside the Wat come to the viharn to prey. There can be more than one viharn in a Wat. Some viharns are surrounded by a gallery containing a great number of Buddha images. In the early days of Buddhism viharns were built to provide shelter for travelling monks during the rainy season.
We’ve all seen these, they are also called stupa or sometimes pagoda is the most important and sacred structure of the Wat. Originally, a chedi contained relics of the Buddha, later on they were also used to enshrine the remains of Kings or a very important monk.
Chedis are found in various shapes and variations, though typically they have a conical shape. The most used chedi style in Thailand is the bell-shaped form. The shape of the chedi is likely derived from an ancient burial mound.
A prang is a tower with a conical shape with a broad base getting narrower towards the top and an entrance on one side. Prangs originate from Khmer architecture.
The oldest prangs in Thailand were inspired by Angkor Wat in Cambodia and can be found in Central and North East Thailand in places as Lopburi and Phimai Historical Park. Later on during the Ayutthaya era many prangs were built in a somewhat evolved style.
Mondop(from Sanskrit: Mandapa), a usually open, square building with four arches and a pyramidal roof, used to worship religious texts or objects;a place to store scriptures or objects used in temple ceremonies.
Sema or Sima stones and luuk nimit
Sema or sima stones are used to form a boundary around the bot. A bot always has to be surrounded by eight sema stones, that are placed outside the bot in a rectangular shape.
The stones mark the sacred area of the bot. A ninth sema stone is buried under the location of the main Buddha image inside the bot. Beneath the sema stones, buried in the ground are the luuk nimit, which are large iron balls that have to be ritually buried before the boat can be used. Pictures of luuk nimit are impossible to get due to the very nature of them being buried.
Ho Trai (Scripture library)
The Ho Trai is the library of the Wat where the Buddhist scriptures are kept. Ho Trai structures can be found in many different architectural styles and sizes.
Traditionally a Ho Trai was a wooden building on stilts over a pond to keep out all kinds of insects, because in the old days the Buddhist scriptures were written on dried palm leaves.
Sala or Sala Kan Parien
A Sala is an open rectangular shaped pavilion, used to provide shelter and for resting. Traditionally, a sala was used for purposes as making merit and providing shelter for passing travellers. Salas can be found outside of the Wat as well, often along roads and canals, where they are used as a bus stop or waiting room for passengers of river boats.
The Kuti is the living quarters of the monks living in the Wat. A kuti can appear in many different sizes and shapes. Traditionally a kuti was a very small detached building on stilts. Nowadays, especially in the cities, a kuti is a small room in an small building block.
The living quarters of the monks, including the kuti or kut (monk cells),are separated from the sacred buildings.
Kutis are the cells of the monks. Here they meditate and they sleep. All Thai temples (Wade) have an own living range for Bhikkhus (Monks), in which are very close by to the holy buildings may be attending/living in.
An exception from this is Phra Kaeo in Bangkok. Here no monks reside, since they may not establish themselves within palace walls. They stay to the south within the “holy range” (Thai: Putthawat), in which the sanctified buildings are. There are also some temples, with which the Sanghawat lies east of the Putthawat.
The monks of a temple are in groups from approximately six to ten persons, so-called. Khanas (collectively) The director/conductor of such a group is called Chao Khana. About ten of such groups are again under the line one Raja Khana summarized. The highest Raja Khana has the title Somdet Raja Khana. He is at the same time an Abbott of the temple.
Many Wats in Thailand have a crematorium where the dead are cremated. The crematorium is easily recognizable through the high chimney.
Contrary to Western people, most Buddhist people get cremated.
After death the relatives will bring the body of the deceased to the temple, where the monks perform Buddhist rites that will benefit the deceased. Usually, a body is cremated within a few days, although sometimes the bodies of rich people can be kept in temple for as long as a year.
SAHATSADECHA THE COLORFUL DEMON GUARDIAN
Sahatsadecha is the guardian pictured here. A generally benevolent Yaksha, or nature-spirit that acts as a caretaker. In Thailand, Yakshas are commonly guardians of gates in Buddhist temples throughout the country
The images below are some examples of a Yaksha, sometimes spelled Yaksa or Yakkha. In spite of his fierce appearance, he is charged with taking care of precious things. In this case, he is guarding a temple in Thailand.
The Yaksha is not always given demon faces; they can be quite beautiful, also. There are guardian Yaksha but also evil Yaksha who haunt wild places and devour travelers.
They are thought to have been used in Thailand since at least the 14th century.
Each has a distinguishing color, the green one is named Tosakan whereas the white one is named Sahatsadecha.
Sahatsadecha, a white skin demon, is a demon of the North. In the reign
of King Ram III, his sculpture was made of stucco and decorated with glazed tiles
at his costume, the sculpture is standing at the gate of the Temple of Dawn, as a
guardian deity to protect the religious important landmark.
Chofah adorn the end of the roof of most temples in Thailand. Shaped like a slender bird, chofah represent Garuda, a large bird like creature from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, the mount of Vishnu.
The Dhamma wheel, also called Dhammachakra or “The wheel of law” symbolizes the Dhamma, the Buddha’s teachings.
The wheel is often seen in temples, sometimes accompanied by two deer. After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha held a first sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath, thus setting in motion the wheel of Dhamma.
The Naga is a large mythological snake, often depicted with multiple heads. Naga snakes are often found protecting Buddhist temples, their bodies extending over the balustrades of the stairs that lead to the temple.
The most famous Naga is Mucalinda. After having reached enlightenment the Buddha was meditating under a Bodhi tree when a violent storm with torrential rain broke out. Mucalinda appeared and sheltered the Buddha with its hoods from the rain. (which is why you sometimes see Nagas with Hoods)
Traditions about Nagas are also very common in all the Buddhist countries of Asia. In many countries, the Naga concept has been merged with local traditions of great and wise serpents or dragons. In Tibet, the naga was equated with the klu, which dwell in lakes or underground streams and guard treasure. In China, the naga was equated with the long or Chinese dragon.
Chinthe, a creature resembling a lion, are often seen at the entrance of temples.They are believed, to also guard Buddhist temples.
The Lion is one of Buddhism’s most potent symbols. Traditionally, the lion is associated with regality, strength and power. It is therefore an appropriate symbol for the Buddha who tradition has it was a royal prince. The Buddha’s teachings are sometimes referred to as the ‘Lion’s Roar’, again indicative of their strength and power.
Bell Tower (Ho Rakhang)
Ho Rakhang (Ho rakang; Thai หอระฆัง), in English, the bell tower or belfry. Most of the temples will have bell or drum tower to call the faithful. The bell is sounded to announce the time in the morning and the evening. An important moment is 11 o’clock when the last meal of the monks is announced.
In the temples in the East we see, besides the bell tower, a drum tower (Thai: ho klong). Often the bell and the drum are combined in the same small building. The pictures show examples of this.
The Bodhi tree has come to represent a number of symbols in Buddhism.
The tree is associated with the path to enlightenment.The Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple is called the Sri Maha Bodhi. Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) while meditating underneath a Ficus religiosa.
According to Buddhist texts, the Buddha meditated without moving from his seat for seven weeks (49 days) under this tree.
As mentioned before it is quite often that you will see a gilded Buddha outside the Wat buildings. These are usually located in front of the Bot or Ubosot, but sometimes this is not practical so they are placed close by.
During my Journeys round many Wats I became aware that they also have gilded revered Monks, these are also done as a mark of respect , usually to the founding monk of the Wat.