VIHAN MONGKHON BOPHIT
Phra Mongkhon Bophit or the “Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious
Reverence
” was sculpted in 1538 in the reign of King Chairacha (r. 1534-1547) at Wat
Chi Chiang Sai. 1538 is generally accepted as the year that the image was built, based
on the Luang Prasoet version of the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya (Most of the other
versions put its construction at 880 of the Chulasakkarat era or somehow 20 years
earlier). [1]

As at the beginning of the reign of King Songtham (r. 1610/1611-1628), Wat Chi
Chiang laid in ruins, hit by lightening, the king had the large bronze cast Buddha image
moved westwards and had a mandapa (mondop or square roofed structure) built over
the structure to house it [2]; Although the timing of the move of the Buddha image Phra
Mongkhon Bophit can be discussed.

The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention as date of the move of the statue 1603 (965
CS - year of the hare), but this date falls in the reign of King Naresuan. [2] Jeremias
Van Vliet, a Dutch merchant writes in his “Description of the Kingdom of Siam” in 1638
A few months ago the ruling king demolished the temple to its very base and had
a large copper heathen image which was located there pulled back several rods so
that another temple like the last could be built over the image
.” [3] Taken all the
versions above in account, the most plausible is the one from Van Vliet and the move of
the Buddha image has to be situated around 1637.

Later the open the place in front of the mandapa (the vicinity of the present location of
Vihan Klaeb) was leveled and reserved for royal cremation ceremonies, called Sanam
Na Chakkrawat. (The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention as date of the reservation
1606 (968 CS - year of the horse), but here also the date falls in the reign of King
Naresuan). [3]

During the reign of King Sua (r. 1703-1709) a lightning struck the spire of the mondop.
The building caught fire and the burned roof came down on the Buddha image. The neck
of the image broke and the head came down. King Sua had the mandapa demolished
and ordered the construction of a new tall preaching hall. It took the Siamese artisans
two years to build the vihara. The finalization of its construction was followed by a three
day long festival. (The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention 1700 (1062 CS) as year
of the fire incident, which is in fact during the reign of King Petracha). [4]

The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya mention also that in the reign of King Boromakot (r.
1733-1758) in the year 1742, another restoration took place. [5] Although when
looking closely to the texts of the Royal Chronicles, it seems they describe the same
incident which occurred during the reign of King Sua i.e. the restoration of the Buddha’s
head and the construction of a vihara instead of a mandapa. Two times a same incident
within 40 years let this writer believe that in fact only one restoration took place, and the
latter in the reign of King Borommakot.

The vihara and the image were badly destroyed by fire during the fall of Ayutthaya in
April 1767. The roof of the vihara was damaged and the head and the right arm of the
image were broken.

"…Now they lit fires in every vicinity and burned down buildings, houses, hermitages and the
Holy Royal Palace Enclosure, including the palaces and royal domicile. The light of the
conflagration was as bright as the middle of the day…"

Restoration of the Buddha image - in which the broken head and right arm were
repaired by Phraya Boran Rachathanin - took place in 1920 (reign of King Rama VI).

In 1931 another restoration took place with the financial support of Khunying Amares
Sombat. [6]

During restoration works on the statue in 1955, a quantity of Buddha images were found
on the left shoulder of Phra Mongkhon Bophit. These images can now be seen at the
Chao Sam Phraya National museum.

The Prime Minister of Burma on official visit in Ayutthaya in 1956 gave a donation for
the restoration of the vihara. The vihara was finalised in 1957, but not with the same
beautiful craftsmanship of the former one.

The statue of Phra Mongkhon Bophit was covered with gold leaf in 1992 by the
“Mongkhon Bophit Foundation” in celebration of the 60th birthday of H.M. Queen
Sirikit.

Phra Mongkhon Bophit is one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand with its
measures of (approx) 9.5 meters across the lap and a height of 12.5 meters (without the
pedestal). The Buddha image is seated in the position of Subduing Mara.

Vihan Mongkhon Bophit is located on the City Island within
Ayutthaya Historical Park
and situated south of
Wat Sri Sanphet and the Grand Palace.

References:

[1] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya – Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 20 /
Source: Luang Prasoet, Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
[2] Van Vliet's Siam - Chris Baker, Dhiravat Na Pombejra, Alfons Van Der Kraan &
David K. Wyatt (2005) - page 244.
[3] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya – Richard D. Cushman (2006) - 209 / Source:
Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra Cakkraphatdiphong &
Royal Autograph.
[4] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya – Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 381 - 382
/ Source: British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat & Royal Autograph.
[5] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya – Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 435 /
Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat & Royal Autograph.
[6] Ayutthaya, a world heritage (2000) - page 120.
In 900, a year of the dog, the King first had the earth piled up at the Chi Chiang
Sai Monastery in the sixth month , and founded the Lord Buddha image and the
holy monument there …
Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - April 2009
Addendum

The night the Burmese entered the city of Ayutthaya in 1767, the last ruler of Ayutthaya,
King Ekathat was smuggled out of the Grand Palace by his royal pages, put into a small
boat and brought to Chik Village near the
Sangkhawat Monastery. There the pages,
afraid to fall in the hands of the Burmese, left him alone. After the retreat of the Burmese
army, the rear guard discovered him at the village. King Ekathat was out of food for
more than ten days. The Burmese brought him to the fortification at Pho Sam Ton, where
he died shortly after. Suki, the Mon General in charge for the Burmese rear guard,
ordered the body of the king buried at a mound in the Royal cremation grounds in front
of Vihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit. [1] Six months later, after chasing out the Burmese
from the Pho Sam Ton fortification, General Taksin ordered the exhumation of the
remains of King Ekhathat and organized a cremation with all possible ceremony. [2]

References:

[1] Our Wars with the Burmese. - Prince Damrong Rajanubhab (1917) - page 357.
[2] A History of Siam - William Wood (1924) - page 253.
Addendum by Tricky Vandenberg - April 2011
(View from the east)
(The Buddha statue Phra Mongkhon Bophit)
(The Buddha statue Phra Mongkhon Bophit)
(Phra Mongkon Bophit, prior restoration of the vihara)
(Vihan Mongkhon Bophit, old photograph))
(Vihan Mongkhon Bophit, old photograph)
(Vihan Mongkhon Bophit, old photograph)