On Friday the 13th January I managed to walk to Wat Ratchbophit, which is as far as I could manage on foot. The temple was only half open, I knew no one there, and although I got some good photographs it was becoming increasingly clear that I wasn’t going to be able to get much further work done without help.
Fortunately for me in the afternoon Ayya Adhimutta put me in touch with one of her supporters in Bangkok, Dheerarupa, and we hurriedly arranged for a trip on the following day to two temples concerned with women in general and bhikkhunis in particular.
Statue of Rama III
photo by Ahoerstemeier
The next day Phra Naam also came with us, and we arrived very early at the just waking temple of Wat Thepthidaram which Rama III had built for his beloved daughter Princess Wilat. We wandered around trying to find anything that was open, but without success.
Then our luck really changed as from a balcony one monk called us to go and meet him. We climbed the stairs and were warmly greeted by a monk we soon found out was the Assistant Abbot, Phra Wisudthiwaraphon. He invited us in for coffee, and we soon became friends.
It’s always useful to have a friend in the temple as they can open doors others can’t (quite literally), and so it proved to be in this case as we explained we were interested in the Bhikkhuni Hall, which he said was just about due to open.
Phra Wisudthiwaraphon was busy himself for the rest of that day, but he has been a very valuable help to me ever since in identifying some of the photographs I took, and also wrote the introductory for the Wat Theptidaram album.
After a while we met up again with Dheerarupa and her nephew and we gained access to the Bhikkhuni Hall, which was built to honour women’s place in Buddhism. The Hall features 52 statues of nuns in various postures with Maha Pajapati (the first Bhikkhuni) at the front.
Three of the statues are standing, while the others are kneeling. They take up various activities, like meditation, praying, qi-gong, holding cloths, and so on. The Buddha statues on either side are also very feminine in appearance, which apparently was deliberately done for the honour of women.
Unfortunately the murals on the walls are in a most dilapidated state, and are badly in need of preservation before they are lost altogether. On the outside of the Hall there are some fine plaques showing various scenes from Temple life.
King Rama III, who also commissioned the bhikkhuni murals at Wat Pho, seems to have had a great love for women, and I tried to find out how many wives he had, as the Thai Kings (before the present one) are notorious for having lots of wives, but it seems he may have had many concubines, but he raised none of them to the status of Queen.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Bangkok is because I knew of the murals at Wat Pho, and because I had seen photographs of the statues at Wat Theptidaram. Bhikkhunis are generally under-represented in all the Buddhists arts, so I hope some of this work helps to make them more visible, and will be reused by people looking for scarce images.
Afterwards we made our way through the bustling amulet market attached to Wat Ratchanadda, which is the temple next door built by Rama III for his Grand-Daughter. The highlight in this monastery has nothing to do with women, but is a recreation of the Loha Prasada (or Brazen Palace), which was originally found in India, and was later also built in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka (only ruins remain of the latter).
This building appears to have taken over 150 years to complete, and is only recently opened. The Palace features 37 iron-made spires and acts as a teaching museum for the religion, with well laid out presentations on various aspects of Buddhism on the inside.
I somehow managed to climb to the top of the 5-story structure and had a grand view out over the centre of Bangkok, and especially of Wat Saket, or the Golden Mount, which would be our next port-of-call on the following day.
Here are a few photographs from the trip, for the rest please visit the following online albums, where you can find more information about both temples:
Bhikkhuni with Cloth
Bathing the Buddha