Two temples to admire on their own, and also for remembering the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is now part of Thailand’s grand history, even if the overwhelming emotions that took hold of Thai people, since the announcement of the monarch’s passing in October 2016, still remain close to the surface. And even though the Kingdom is now moving forward, into a new chapter in its rich narrative, the spirit of Rama IX will continue to be perceptible in Bangkok—and all over the nation—for a very long time. In Bangkok, two of the city’s most beautiful temples are designated as final sanctuaries for the remains of His Majesty, and visiting them provides an opportunity to both pay a last homage to Thailand’s beloved King, and discover two marvelous architectural jewels.
The relics and cremated remains of the late King have been enshrined at Wat Rajabophit and Wat Bowonniwet Vihara with King Maha Vajiralongkorn presiding over religious rites, following the transfer of the royal ashes. Interestingly, both temples played a significant role in the history of Thailand’s monarchy.
Wat Bowonniwet is a Royal Buddhist Monastery built between 1824 and 1832, situated along Phra Sumen Road. The temple is a centre for the Thammayut Nikaya order of Thai Theravada Buddhism, founded by Prince Mongkut (the future King Rama IV). He was, at that time, abbot to the temple, and a tall golden chedi, erected in 1831, pays a tribute to the then Prince.
This temple has also seen all modern-day Thai monarchs being ordained here. The late King Rama IX entered the monkhood here in 1956, and consequently paid many private and official visits to the temple—to talk to the teacher he once had, and also to pay respect to the Supreme Patriarch, who has a residence within the temple compound. In fact, Tamnak Phet, the magnificent throne hall of the Supreme Patriarch, is one of the most beautiful buildings within the temple compound. Completed in 1914, it is an elaborate structure blending Thai architectural traditions with European Art Nouveau, inspired by the Italian ‘Liberty’ style. It is an amazing structure, richly detailed in floral motifs, stucco, marble floors, and elaborate woodcarving.
The nearby Golden Chedi, at the wat’s shrine, contains the relics and ashes of Thai royals, including now King Rama IX. On the terrace of the chedi stands a statue of King Rama IV reading a book. It was sculpted by artist Luang Theprojana in 1868. The nearby Ubosot (main hall) has a majestic Buddha dating from the Sukhothai period—sculpted around 1257. The walls of the temple also have exquisite murals from Siamese monk artist Khrua In Khong, painted in Western style, dating back to the middle of the 19th century.
The other temple under consideration, Wat Rajabophit, is located behind Sanam Luang, along Asadang Canal. It is one of Bangkok’s most colourful temples, thanks to its walls covered in Benjarong ceramics. Yellow, blue, violet, purple, and green tiles, along with golden stucco and mother-of-pearl inlay doors and shutters, make the entire building a true piece of art.
Wat Rajabophit was built in 1870 by King Rama V following a tradition that saw each King building a wat (temple) during his reign. While the large chedi is inspired by Ceylon’s religious architecture, the Ubosot pays tribute again to European architecture. It is a pure Venitian neo-gothic structure, with crystal chandeliers and bronze lighting.
The temple is also deeply linked to the Monarchy as the relics of the Mahidol royal family are kept with mausoleums in Gothic, Khmer, Thai, and neo-classical styles surrounding the structure. Part of the royal ashes of the late King Bhumibol now rest at this temple.
Wat Bowonniwet is located on Phra Sumen Road, a few meters away from Khao San Road. The temple compound is generally open from 9am to 5pm, and admission is free.
Wat Rajabophit is located along Asadang Canal on Rajabophit Road. The temple compound is also open from 9am to 5pm, and admission is free.
Words and photos by Luc Citrinot