WAT PHANAN CHOENG
Following the Luang Prasoet version of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya, Phra
Phanan Choeng
was built in 1324, 26 years before King U-Thong founded Ayutthaya.
[1] At origin the Buddha image stood in the open.

There is no record about its construction, although there is a legend written down in the
Phongsawadan Nua” or Northern Chronicles:

"At some time before the Ayutthaya period, there was a Thai King named Phra
Chao Sai Namphung requesting the emperor of China’s daughter to be his wife.
She travelled from China to this area by boat. When she arrived, the King was not
there to greet her. She was heart-broken. She waited for a long time but the King
did not come. Finally, she killed herself by holding her breath. The King was very
sad, so he had this temple built at her cremation site in order to gain merit for her
soul, and he named the temple “Wat Phanan Choeng”."
[2]

The monastery is located in the southeastern area at the confluence of the Chao Phraya
and the Pa Sak Rivers.

The Buddha image - made of brick and mortar and covered with stucco - sits in the
classic posture of Subduing Mara. It measures (approx) 14 meters at the lap and 19
meters in height including the ornament above the head. Thai people call it “
Luang Phor
To
” or “Great Reverend Father”, Chinese or Thais of Chinese origin call it “Sam Po
Kong
”. It is one of the largest, oldest, beautiful and revered Buddha images of Thailand.
Gijsbert Heeck, a Dutch doctor of the VOC, described in 1655 Phra Phanan Choeng in
his Journal as follows:

"Outside the famous, well-known old royal capital Ayutthaya in the Siam River,
not far from the Dutch lodge one sees a very old and exceptionally high temple
with a double roof one above the other. Let in (by one of the talapoins, priests, or
guardians) we saw a frightfully high, large, and heavy image, (we estimated) some
twenty times larger than the largest image we had seen anywhere. It sat cross
legged, but even so one looked up to him as at a tower. From one knee to the
other measured a width of 42 of our feet, and his thumb thick in circumference, l9
inches wide, and as long as a common rattan. The fingers and nails were
exceptionally long and broad relative to his hands and feet. His knees seemed like
small mountains, and the back was so broad that it looked like the wall of a lofty
church. His mouth, nose, eyes, and ears were all matching and so well
proportioned that we could see little or no reason to judge it too thick or too thin,
too long or too short, too broad or too narrow This astonishingly large image was
richly gilded from top to bottom, looking more a golden mountain than a human
figure."
[4]

The story goes that the image have shed tears when the Burmese took Ayutthaya in
1767.

Though an old temple, Wat Panan Choeng has never been deserted by its followers.
Continuous development has been made through time, as evidenced by the existing
landscape and Thai architectural structures decorated by art motifs from different
periods.

The monastery has four principal buildings in its sangkha area: an ordination hall, a
vihara, the large vihara and a small Chinese building.

The ordination hall contains three Buddha images all in the posture of subduing Mara.
Two images are assumed to have been built during the Sukhothai period around 1357.
They were covered with stucco, lacquered and gilt, probably to hide their value from the
Burmese invaders in 1767. In 1963 during a cleaning process, the stucco came off and
the metal became visible. One image is in gold measuring a width of 145 cm and a height
of 190 cm.) The second one is made from an alloy of copper, silver and gold and
measures at width 170 cm and at height is 228 cm. The third image in the middle of the
pedestal is an Ayutthaya stucco image covered with gold (width 182 cm - height is 256
cm). The ubosot has beautiful mural paintings although from recent times.

The vihara located parallel and to the north side of the ordination hall has a Buddha
image in the subduing Mara posture and also very nice Chinese mural paintings.

The large vihara behind the buildings above houses Luang Phor To. The large wooden
entry doors are carved with beautiful floral designs, while the middle of the panels are
decorated with deities and mythical animals, all in traditional Ayutthayan art. Inside the
walls have hundreds of niches, each containing Buddha images and suggesting the
principal image sitting in the middle of the Buddhist universe.

The last structure is the Chinese shrine of Lady Soi Dok Mak (necklace of areca
flowers), a local goddess. It is a traditional designed Chinese building, with a courtyard
in the middle and the outer wall essentially joining the two separate buildings together.
The shrine is in the two-storey building in the rear. The lower floor is dedicated to Mae
Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, while on the upper floor the image of Lady
Mother Soi Dok Mak is enshrined. The window shutters and doors are highly
decorated with dragons and phoenix birds. The shrine remains very popular with
members of the Chinese community to this day.

The area where Phra Phanan Choeng was built, has been home to a large Chinese
community, settled on both sides of the Chao Phraya immediately south of the city in an
area presently known as Bang Kaja (Bangkacha) since times prior the establishment of
the Ayutthaya in 1351. In 1282 two hundred Chinese Sung refugees came to settle in
Ayodhya. Charnvit Kasetsiri relates that Ayodhya had grown considerably, since it
could afford to construct one of the largest Buddha statues of Siam. The presence of
Chinese in the area at this early time does not appear unusual, since Chinese settled in
various ports and markets of the gulf of Siam well before the 13th century. A number of
Chinese were active in trade on the Malay Peninsula and in southern Siam between the
13th and 14th century. [5]

The large Buddha image has been repaired many times during Ayutthaya’s period of
rule. King Mongkut (Rama IV) ordered a restoration in 1854 and named the statue
Phra Buddha Trai Rattana Nayok. [3]

The temple and the Buddha image were damaged by fire on 21 December 1901. King
Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ordered its restoration, what was finished the year after.

The cheeks and the lower jaws of the image broke in pieces on 15 March 1928. In
1929 the Royal Institute had the necessary reparations made.

References:

[1] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya – Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 10 /
Source: Luang Prasoet.
[2] http://ilwc.aru.ac.th/Contents/FolktaleEng/FolktaleEng81.htm (10 Apr 09)
[3] Ayutthaya, a world heritage (2000) - page 96/97.
[4] A Traveler in Siam in the Year 1655: Extracts from the Journal of Gijsbert Heeck -
Barend Jan Terwiel (2008) - page 65.
[5] The Rise of Ayudhya - Charnvit Kasetsiri (1976) – page 67/68, 81, 85.
"In 686 of the Lesser Era, a year of the rat, the image of Lord Buddha,
Lord Phanaeng Choeng, was first installed”
Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - August 2009
Addendum

There was a boat ferry between Wat Phanan Choeng and a landing at Hua Sarapha, east
of
Pom Phet near the arched gateway of Talat Rong Lek.  In Ayutthayan times
there were twenty-two ferry routes between the main land and the city island. The
southern area had six ferries; the five other crossings were: Tha Hoi to
Wat Pa Jak, Tha
Phra Rachawangsan to
Wat Khun Phrom, Tha Dan Chi to Wat Surintharam, Tha
Chakrai Noi to
Wat Tha Rap and Tha Wang Chai to Wat Nak. [1] See "The Boat &
Ferry Landings of Ayutthaya".

References:

[1] อธิบายแผนที่พระนครศรีอยุธยากับคำวินิจฉัยของพระยาโบราฌราชาธานินท์
ฉบับชำระครั้งที่๒และภูมิสถนกรุงศรีอยุธยา (2007) - Explanation of the map of the
Capital of Ayutthaya with a ruling of Phraya Boran Rachathanin - Revised 2nd
edition and Geography of the Ayutthaya Kingdom - Ton Chabab print office -
Nonthaburi (2007) - page 91.
Addendum by Tricky Vandenberg - May 2011
(View from the east)
(View from the Pa Sak River)
(The main Buddha image, Phra Phanan Choeng)
(Inside wall of the Vihara Phra Phanan Choeng)
(Old Buddha images in the ubosot)
(Buddha image in the norhern vihara)
(Chinese shrine in situ)
(Lady Soi Dok Mak Shrine)
(Murals at Wat Phanan Choeng)