Wat Thepthidaram: Temple of the Heavenly Daughter
If there is one thing that makes Wat Thepthidaram unique is that it contains images of female disciples of Buddha. It was King Rama III who established this temple in 1836 for his oldest favorite daughter, Princess Kroma Muen Apsomsudathep. When translated into English, the name of the temple means Temple of the Heavenly Daughter. A famous Thai poet/monk named Suthon Phu, lived in this temple for two years from 1840 until 1842. This royal temple was constructed in an architectural style that combines Chinese and with four prang. Prangs are a kind of tower or spire which are usually found in Thailand Buddhist temples.
Even though King Rama III had previously restored several Bangkok temples, this was the first new building during his reign. The temple was constructed under the directions of Prince Laddawan who served as the Royal Construction Manager for this project. The temple was completed in 1839 after a three year construction. The exquisite designs of the temple like the murals on the walls of the main temple, the buildings, the decorative patterns on glazed tiles as well as Chinese stone dolls all reflect its Chinese influence. These buildings show Thai Chinese architecture wherein the gables are decorated with Chinese porcelain.
According to Thai tradition, the temple grounds were strictly segregated into two sections: on the East the place where the monks lived and on the West, consecrated building or place where the Buddha is located. This East-West orientation is followed when it comes to constructing each building. “Winning doors”, provide an easy access between each building. The type of construction even has a style known as Phra Racha Silpa Niyom which means “The King Preferred Art”.
Things to See
Its principal Buddha image is carved from pure white stones and is referred to as Venerable White Buddha. This Buddha sits on a small curtained shrine. The Buddha was given its name by King Rama IX. Two adorned standing Buddha located on the left and right of this principal Buddha holds the posture “Calming the Ocean”. This is a symbol of their homage to the Princess.
An image of the Buddha’s stepmother can be seen in the House of Bhikkhuni or Bikkhuni Viharn. Images of about 52 fully ordained female monks or Bhikkunis surround Mahapajapati Gotami’s image. These are some of the oldest and rarest Bhikkuni statues found in the world even today. The wall painting of the Phoenix in the Bhikkuni Hall symbolizes women empowerment.
Within the temple area are stone sculptures made from ballast of old Chinese merchant ships. Forty nine of these statues are seated while three of them remain standing. They were made out of bronze. The temple is said to exude an air of femininity and celebrates this expression. As evidence, some of the Buddha statues carry feminine features. An image that shows Buddha being bathed is on display in the temple. Original brass engravings of different scenes were on display as well.
Four guardians guard the temple in all directions and they are: Thao Kuwen, Thao Thataroj, Thao Virupak and Thao Virunhok. These guardians are symbols only but were not able to stand guard against robbers who have stolen some of the human and animal figures found in the monastery. Some engravings show people bringing their offerings to Buddha. In one of them he is shown listening to the discourses brought under his watchful attention as he calmly sits and watches. On other engravings, Buddha is shown carrying out his teachings in the village. There were several engravings that deal with chanting monks as they offer robes to Buddha or chant for Sanghikadana (alms or offerings). Another chant is shown being offered for funerals. In several images shown on the engravings it shows how monks build sand pagoda and indulge in splashing water during Songkran (New Year’s Day festival from April 13 until April 15).
It is also strange but true that in one of the original engravings it shows fighting a Yakkha (indigenous Nepalese). Temple rubbings of these brass engravings were also made but the scenes are more numerous than those found on the brass engravings on display. In some of the scenes group of musicians, people who are cooking and Songkran Festivals are shown. Thai people hold a high regard for Princess Wilat as she was fondly called because of her generous contributions to the temple. The Princess was a result of King Rama’s relationship to his concubine, Chao Chom Manda Bang.
Each of the buildings is unique. In 1977 this temple was declared as a national monument by the Fine Arts Department. The former residence of the Thai poet mentioned earlier was transformed into a museum. The poet was later an ordained monk and was considered as the Shakespeare of Thai Literature. After his death, some of his manuscripts were left behind. Unfortunately pests and weather changes have damage his works. He was honored by UNESCO for his outstanding cultural contributions in 1986 131 years from the time of his death. He was given the recognition as Great Personality of the World.
There was a time when the temple was in need of repair in 2004. By 2007 it was in better condition to receive visitors. Today, the monastery plays classical Thai Pi Phat revival music. This type of music is what Thais consider as religiously motivated temple sounds. On the southwest side of this temple, the Golden Mountain (Phu Khao Thong) can be visibly seen.
How to Get There
This temple can be found on Maha Chai Road which is south of Wat Ratchanadda in the district of Phra Nakhon. This temple can be accessed by walking on foot or taking the aircon bus 511 which runs along the Sukhumvit area. Another option is to take the BTS to Ratchathewi station or MRT at Hua Lamphong station and go the rest of the way by taking a taxi. By the way visiting hours are from 8am till 5pm. The temple is open all days of the week. Admission is FREE.