WAT SUAN LUANG (วัดสวนหลวง)
Wat Suan Luang or the "Monastery of the Royal Garden" was situated on the city
bank of the Chao Phraya River, opposite
Wat Kasatrathirat. Wat Suan Luang is
translated in Cushman's Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya as the "
Monastery of the Crown
Garden
". The monastery was located adjacent to the "Monastery of the Corpses of
Heaven" or
Wat Sop Sawan.

It status is not clear. It is difficult to assess from the explanations of the Fine Arts
Department (FAD) at the Suriyothai Memorial  "
…. and it remains today the only part
of Wat Sobsawan in existence.
", if we have to consider one monastery or two
monasteries. Phraya Boran Rachathanin although was very clear. He indicated on
his
map drafted in 1926 two monasteries being Wat Sop Sawan and Wat Suan Luang.

We know from the Chronicles that Suan Luang was the place where King Chakkraphat
(r. 1548-1569) ordered the body of his wife, Chief Queen Suriyothai, brought, after she
died on the battle field (1).  As the war with the Burmese continued her body was laid to
rest at Suan Luang, waiting royal cremation. After the Burmese finally retreated, King
Chakkraphat ordered the royal funeral rites be held and a "wat" established on the
cremation ground. He then named the monastery "Sop Sawan" in memory of his beloved
wife and daughter. [1]

From archaeological evidence indicate that Suan Luang and Wat Sop Sawan were
divided by a canal, called Khlong Chang Maha Chai. Wat Sop Sawan stood on its north
bank, while the Royal Garden was on its south bank. Question remains at what time this
canal had been dug. If it had been dug after 1550, than it had split the Sop Sawan
Monastery in two parts and FAD has a point. If it was already in existence, we definitely
have to consider two monasteries.

It was more or less customary at that time, that on the location of the funeral pyre of
Royals a monastery was built and a commemoration chedi erected in another important
location. It could have been that, on the funeral pyre of Queen Suriyothai and her
daughter, a monastery (Sop Sawan) was built and that in the Royal Garden, a funeral
monument constructed to commemorate Queen Suriyothai.

The Thai Army and the FAD restored
Phra Chedi Suriyothai and landscaped its
surroundings in 1990. During excavations in the area around the chedi, brick foundations
of a monastic structure (vihara or ubosot) were discovered on the north side of the chedi.
There was a path made of bricks linking the structure and the chedi, while there was also
evidence of a wall around the perimeter. A large chedi, a vihara or ubosot and a wall,
hence Wat Suan Luang.

During the later part of his life King Maha Chakkraphat came to live at Suan Luang after
abdicating in favor of his son, Prince  Mahin. The area became afterwards the location of
the
Palace to the Rear, the antipode of the Front Palace.

Wat Suan Luang was mentioned in the chronicles as one of Ayutthaya's defense
positions during the siege by the Burmese in 1760. Ex-King Uthumpon (r. 1758) left the
monkhood to assist in the defense of the city. The Chronicles recall him doing an
inspection of this position and others (on the 14th day of the waning moon in the 5th
month) and the giving of specific instructions, after the Burmese fired their canons on the
city, damaging buildings and wounding and killing people. King Suriyamarin ordered to
answer the Burmese fire with the large guns in this position and others, on the opposite
banks of the river. That evening the Burmese withdrew to the banks at the side of
Wat
Phukhao Thong. [2]

After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, Suan Luang was deserted. Somewhere in the 19th
century, the Army department settled in the area  and the remaining buildings of the
palace, with the exception of the large chedi, were destroyed. [3]

Phraya Boran Rachathanin surveyed the area on important archaeological sites begin of
the 20th century and published a work "An explanation of the Map of Ayutthaya" in
1908. King Rama VI (r. 1910 - 1925) realizing the importance of the site, re-established
the memorial of Queen Suriyothai and named the chedi "Phra Chedi Sri Suriyothai". [3]

Previous attempts to preserve the chedi were discovered: boundary stones from other
temples were placed around the chedi; a torso of a Buddha image and a partly
destroyed  sandstone Buddha head were placed in the pedestal of the chedi and covered
with bricks and cemented all over. [3]

On 20 May 1990, during the FAD excavation works, a relic of the Buddha and other
sacred objects were discovered inside the dome. The FAD restored the chedi by
removing the existing plaster and re-plastering using a traditional technique. During the
first phase of restoration, gold leaf was applied at the top of the stupa only. HM Queen
Sirikit requested the construction of a life size Buddha image to be placed inside the
stupa. The queen gave this image the name of Phra Phuttha Suriyothai Sirikitthikhayu
Mongkhon. In 1991, renovation finished, the chedi was covered completely with gold
leaf. [3]

On the premises of Suan Luang next to Chedi Suriyothai, there is also a shrine and a
small museum. A visit to the small museum is worthwhile, but there are unfortunately only
a few signs in English. It is a restful place and a good spot to recover from the heat
outside.

See also:
Queen Suriyothai Monument and Chedi Sri Suriyothai.

The site features on a
mid-19th century map, on Phraya Boran Rachathanin's 1926 map
and on maps of the Fine Arts Department (1974, 1993, 2005). The site is situated in
Geo Coord: +14° 21' 06.99" N, +100° 32' 50.22" E. The mid-19th century map
indicates the existence of a chedi with a crucifix base.

Footnotes:

(1) Queen Suriyothai was killed by the King of Prome, when helping her husband, King
Chakkraphat out, the latter being in a dangerous battle situation. Prince Ramesuan and
Prince Mahin forced their elephants in, but came too late to intervene in the battle of their
mother with the Burmese leader. Queen Suriyothai was  deadly wounded by the King of
Prome. The two brothers retreated and were able to protect the entrance of the corpse
of their mother into the Capital. Also a daughter of King Chakkraphat and Queen
Suriyothai died in the battle.

References:

[1] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 34 /
Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
[2] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 482 & 483
/ Source: Royal Autograph.
[3] Fine Arts Department sign at the Suriyothai Memorial site.
Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - November 2009
Review April 2011, January 2012
(Suan Luang or Royal garden)
(Chedi Phra Suriyothai)
(Suriyothai Shrine)
(Relics found during excavations in 1990)
(Exhibition at the museum)
(Exhibition at the museum)
(Extract of a mid-19th century map)
(Extract of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's 1926 map)