WAT SAM VIHAN (วัดสามวิหาร)
Wat Sam Vihan or the "Monastery of the Three Preaching Halls", (also known as Wat
Sam Pihan), is an active temple. It is located north of the city island on the Phaniat
penisula. It is accessible by
Khlong Bang Khuat (also known as Pho Sam Ton River or
the old
Lopburi River). The Maha Chai Fortress stood in front of it.

This monastery has a variety of architecture that survives from the Ayutthaya period. A
rather large bell-shaped chedi is viewable from various points across the city. The
monastery's boat-shaped vihan houses a large reclining Buddha images and a variety of
artifacts. This image is advertised as being over 600 years old. A small Late Ayutthaya
period chedi lies to the west of this vihan. It has many redentations and a full upper
terrace. The ubosot has also survived. It has a full set of sema stones, two for each pillar.
Outer walls are also present. There has been some recent excavations at this site, which
reveal ancient foundation layers underneath one of the structures.

The location of this monastery gave it great historical importance. During the White
Elephant War (1563-1564) Burmese King Hongsawadi led his forces across Pho Sam
Ton (now Khlong Bang Khuat) and advanced to the Phaniat plain. He stationed forces
at Wat Sam Vihan and prepared to attack the city (Cushman 35).

Another story concerns a Mon from Pegu, who self-immolated himself at this temple due
to a family dispute. He sat cross-legged and smeared thick oil over his entire body. After
the fire was ignited and his body thoroughly charred, his mother had it coated with
plaster and a gilded statue was made from it. This image was put on an alter at Wat
Samana Kottharam (Loubere 127).

Just before the fall of Ayutthaya, in 1767, Burmese forces set up a stockade in front of
Wat Sam Vihan and used this strategic location to launch an assault on the Maha Chai
Fortress. They set up a bridge (with walls to conceal troops from view) to cross the
river. They then dug tunnels and filled them with wood, which they could light on fire.
This weakened fortress walls and enabled Burmese the breach the walls to the city
(Cushman 520). The city collapsed afterward and the new capital was moved to
Thonburi/Bangkok.
Text by Ken May - January 2009
Photographs by Tricky Vandenberg
Addendum

Two remarks on the writings above.

On the Mon of Pegu de La Loubère writes the following:

'Tis about six or seven years since a Peguin burnt himself, in one of the temples,
which the Peguins at Siam have called Sam Pihan. He seated himself crossleg'd
and besmear'd his whole body, with very thick oil, or rather with a sort of gum,
and set fire thereunto. 'T was reported that he was very much discontented with
his family, which nevertheless lamented exceedingly about him. After the fire had
smother'd and roasted him well, his body was covered with a kind of plaister; and
thereof they made a statue which was gilded and put upon the altar, behind that
of the Sommona Codom. They call these sorts of saints Pra Tian Tee,
Tian signifies true, Tee signifies certainly.
 

The "Sommona Codom" should be interpreted here as the main Buddha image in a
monastic structure and not as being the temple
Wat Samana Kottharam. In this story the
statue was simply put behind the main Buddha image in the ubosot of Wat Sam Vihan.

Sramana of which Sommona is a derivative, meant originally, in the language of the
Brahmins, a man who performed hard penance, from sram, to work hard, etc. When it
became the name of the Buddhist ascetics, the language had changed, and sramana was
pronounced samana. The explanation commonly given in European works on Buddhism
as Sramana meaning "one who tames the senses, or has quieted the evil in him." is wrong
and stems from another Sanscrit root, 'sam,' to quiet, which in Pali becomes likewise *
sam,' and from this root, 'sam,' to quiet, and not from 'sram,' to tire. [1]

Codom is a derivative name of Gautama [Gotama], a name of "one of the ancient Vedic
bard-families" (Oldenberg). It is the surname, according to Buddhist legend, of the Sakya
tribe from which the Buddha Sakya Muni sprang. The Sommona-codom of many old
narratives represents the Pali form of S'ramaṇa Gautama, "The Ascetic Gautama." [2]

Pra Tian Tee as de La Loubère writes stands likely for  "Phra Thiang Thae" whereby
Phra [พระ] is a monk (priest) and Thiang Thae  [เที่ยงแท้] means "surely or certainly".  


On the Burmese attack on Ayutthaya in 1767:

Although Wat Sam Vihan was occupied by the Burmese forces and fortified, they did not
set up a bridge to cross the river and dug tunnels in order to mine the city wall in this
place. The 'bridging" occurred to the west of
Wat Mae Nang Plum, located in Ban Hua
Ro on the north bank of
Khlong Mueang (the old Lopburi River), where some remains of
the defenses - the
Burmese mounds - still can be seen.

The general of the armies thereupon had the army masters and brigade masters of
the stockades at the Monastery of the Three Preaching Hall, the Monastery of the
Holy Red Funeral Monument and the Monastery of the Spired Building conscript
troops of soldiers and
advance forward to build a bamboo slat bridge across the
Mother of Waters at the Head of the Sluice beside the Fort of Grand Victory
.
They brought boards of Palmyra wood and set them up to form Dutch stockades
to screen both sides of the bridge and offer protection from the guns of the
inhabitants of the Holy Metropolis. Then they advanced their troops across the
bamboo slat bridge to the banks beside the walls of the municipality and
had them establish a stockade beside the Pavilion of Earth outside the walls.
Then they had them dig a tunnel curving lengthwise under the foundations of the
walls and had them haul in firewood and place it under the foundations.
[3]

One hundred meter to the right of the foot bridge leading from Wat Mae Nang Plum over
Khlong Mueang to the Hua Ro market was more or less the position where the Burmese
mined the city wall, next to the Maha Chai Fortress. The fortress was situated where
today the main entry of the covered Hua Ro market is. (1)

In August 2008 the Bangkok Post edited an article stating that the construction of a
Tesco-Lotus Express retail outlet could be prohibited on a site where the remains of an
ancient wall were being excavated (2). This location, on the northern side of Uthong Rd
and near the bend of the covered Hua Ro market was the spot (or very close) to the spot
where the Burmese breached the wall on 7 April 1767 in the late evening. The
construction of the outlet was finally cancelled and a part of the city wall was rebuilt by
the Fine Arts Department in situ. The location though is badly maintained and mostly
covered in shrubs.

Footnotes:

(1) The book "Our Wars with the Burmese" written by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab
(1917) and re-edited by White Lotus, Bangkok in 2000, features a map on page xlii-xliii
which indicates the spot were the Burmese demolished the city walls of Ayutthaya.  
(2) See
Press Focus 2008.

References:

[1] The Wheel of The Law - Henry Alabaster (1871) - Trubner & Co, London. - page
203-4.
[2] Yule, Henry, Sir. Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and
phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. New
ed. edited by William Crooke, B.A. London: J. Murray, 1903.
[3] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 520 /
Source: Royal Autograph.
Addendum by Tricky Vandenberg - March 2012
(Open sided vihara at Wat Sam Vihan)
(Reclining Buddha at Wat Sam Vihan)
(Old vihara in situ)
(Ordination hall of Wat Sam Vihan)
(Main Buddha image in the ordination hall)
(Satellite chedi and vihara)
(Main chedi of Wat Sam Vihan)
(Location where the Burmese entered the city in 1767,
marking the second fall of Ayutthaya)