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Photography - Buddha Head - Wat Mahathat 003

One of the most popular Thai Buddha head in the world is Buddha Head in Tree Roots in Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya.

Buddha Head Entwined In A Tree :

This iconic image is very popular as people may see time and again the photograph of the Buddha head on post cards and in guide-books. This particular Buddha head is entwined within the roots of a tree and is one of the most recognizable images from Thailand.

The Buddha head is located at Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya. The ancient temple in the location is believed to have been built around 14th century but was destroyed and reduced to ruins in 1767 during the invasion of Ayutthaya by the Burmese army. The invaders also vandalized many of the Buddha images and Buddha heads in Ayutthaya. The site remained abandoned until the early 1950s when the Department of Fine Art of Thailand began the restoration work in Ayutthaya.

There is still no exact history of how the Buddha head became entwined in the roots of the tree. Among many theories, one theory suggests that the tree grew around the head of the Buddha when the temple was left abandoned. Similarly, another theory also states that a thief moved the Buddha head away from the main temple in Ayutthaya to hide it. But after moving the stone Buddha head away from the ruined main temple, it is believed that the thief could not move the head beyond the walls surrounding the temple. Instead of that, the stone Buddha head was left by the wall where it got nestled in the tree roots which have grown and entwined around it.

Wat Mahathat :

Wat Mahathat or the Monastery of the Great Relic is located on the city island in the central part of Ayutthaya in Tha Wasukri sub-district. The temple is situated on the corner of the present Chikun Road and Naresuan Road. The monastery of the Great Relic stood on the west bank of Khlong Pratu Khao Pluak, an important canal, which has been filled up somewhere in the early 20th century.

In ancient times the temple was likely fully surrounded by canals and moats. The structure has been registered as a national historic site by the Fine Arts Department on 8 March 1935 and is part of the Ayutthaya World Heritage Historical Park.

The exact date of the establishment of Wat Mahathat is difficult to assess. The Luang Prasoet version of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya put its construction in 736 Chula Sakarat or 1374 of the Christian Era, during the reign of King Borommaracha I (r. 1370-1388), somehow 23 years after the establishment of Ayutthaya. The chronicles mention that the central prang had a height of 46 meter. Later versions of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya state that Wat Mahathat was established by King Ramesuan (r. 1388-1395) after his attack of Chiang Mai in 1384 (746 CS). But this date is not corroborating with his period of reign.

In general, historians bet on the two horses and take as granted that the construction of the monastery was started by King Borommaracha I and completed in King Ramesuan’s reign. In the second version the prang was 38 meter high with on top, a finial of 6 meter.

An earlier source, Jeremias Van Vliet, a chief merchant of the Dutch East India Company in Ayutthaya, wrote in his Short History of the Kings of Siam in 1640, that it was Prince U-Thong, the later King Ramathibodhi I, who built Wat Mahathat. The chronicles mention that King Borommaracha II (r. 1424-1448) attacked Angkor in 1431 and had a large number of sacred images of oxen, lions and other creatures removed from the temples there. These images were brought to Ayutthaya and installed as offerings at Wat Mahathat.

Wat Mahathat was one of the most important monasteries of the Ayutthaya kingdom, not only because it was the religious centre and enshrined relics of the Buddha, but also because of its proximity to the Grand Palace. It was a royal monastery and the seat of the Supreme Patriarch of the City Dwelling sect till the end of the Ayutthaya period – at par with the Supreme Patriarch of the Forest Dwelling sect, which had its seat at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon (called Wat Pa Kaeo in earlier times). Van Vliet wrote in 1638 in his Description of the Kingdom of Siam that from the highest ecclesiastic regents, namely the four bishops of the principal temples of Judia, “The bishop of the Nappetat has the supreme dignity”.

More photos Wat Mahathat here.

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