Ayutthaya – 700 year old Wat Phra Ram


The Temple 700 year old Wat Phra Ram is located in the center of Ayutthaya and connects the Rama Public Park and the Historical Park.

History

The exact time of its construction is not known as the various Chronicles of Ayutthaya
give different timings of its construction. The oldest version, the Luang Prasoet, written
during the Late Ayutthayan era, states its establishment in 1369 [1]. Later versions
written in the post-Ayutthayan era put its construction in the year 1434, after the death of
Borommaracha II (r. 1424-1448) and the throne ascending of King Borommatrailokanat
(r. Ayutthaya 1448-1463 / r. Phitsanulok 1463 -1488), somehow 65 year later.

“And on the cremation site for King Ramathibodi I, he who had founded the
Capital, the King had a holy monastery established, consisting of a great holy
reliquary and a holy preaching hall, and he named it the Phra Ram Monastery.”
[2]

The Luang Prasoet version tells us that Wat Phra Ram was the first constructed temple
at the time King Ramathibodi I passed away. The later versions could also be interpreted
as that the monastery was expanded with a Khmer-styled prang and a vihara. Nobody
knows exactly.

The acquisition of merit

But why such temples? Robert Heine-Geldern explains in his “Conceptions of State and
Kingship in Southeast Asia” (1956) that the religious merit acquired in previous lives,
makes a man born a king or makes him acquire kingship during his lifetime. Merit was as
thus political legitimacy. The more merit was accrued (in building temples and offering
valuables), the more legitimacy for the king or the king-to-be was endowed.

The whole kingship is about the possession of great religious merit. Central to Buddhism,
but especially to Theravada is the acquisition of “Bun” (lit: merit). The concept of merit
was based on the law of karma (Th: kam) and was in fact the basis for the Theravada
Kingship. Constructing a temple was regarded as highly meritorious and the deed that
brought most merit. By donating the site to the monkhood, the king could acquire merit
at the same time as he showed his reverence for his predecessor or royal ancestor,
commemorated in the temple. To deposit the remains of a former king inside a prang or
chedi would also ensure his eventual rebirth as a Buddha. [4]

The same concept of merit was applicable to valuables deposed in crypts. It has long
been a funeral custom to deposit valuable and cherished belongings of the deceased
together with the ashes of the dead. Relatives made votive offerings specially fabricated
for the occasion in the gesture of making merit (hence the many votive tablets found in
the different crypts).  Some part of them might been inherited by them from their ancestors.

A large number of votive objects
came probably from the third brother, King Borommaracha II.  Also close followers
donated their treasures to the deceased as a token of their homage and in a gesture of
merit making. [5]

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