Wat Worachetharam is located directly west of the Royal Palace. It is situated within a protected park that includes Wat Lokaya Sutharam and Wat Rakhang (also known as Wat Worapho). It is easiest to access this site via the western side of Khlong Tho. There is a small road leading to it. It can also be accessed from a second road running behind the park, leading to Wat Tuk and U-Thong Road.
Wat Worachetharam is a large restored ruin with many architectural structures in situ. One of its primary features is a large bell-shaped chedi that is constructed in the classic Middle-Ayutthaya period style. The spire contains about 25 rings, and its harmika is fully intact - including spire-supporting colonnade. The chedi sits upon a reconstructed platform. In front of the chedi is a sermon hall. This viharn has been rebuilt to the basic foundation layer, which includes some partial walls and column stubs. A large Buddha image sits on the altar in the Taming Mara pose. The ubosot lies north of the viharn. This roofless building has all its walls intact, and there is evidence that ceramic plates were once placed within the stucco of the gable. A second Buddha image sits on the altar in the Taming Mara pose inside the ubosot. A gallery of fragmented Buddha images can be seen on a small platform along the walls. A third sermon hall is north of the ubosot, but this is only the reconstruction of the basic foundation layer.
There are other structures in situ as well. A square structure stands on the northeastern corner of the ubosot. This looks like a former mondop or possibly a bell tower. Near this is a rectangular platform containing two chedi. Both of these chedi have multiple indented corners, which is suggestive of a late-Ayutthaya period prang. However, the upper portions are missing, including the relic chamber. In addition there are two structures in situ that consist only of foundations at the ground level. A stub of a small chedi can also be seen on monastery grounds. There are also traces of a moat that once created an island for this temple to rest upon.
Wat Worachetharam is often confused with a monastery sharing a similar name that is located west of the city island. This has lead to many complications when interpreting history as it relates to the two monasteries. The same facts are sometimes mistakenly attributed to both temples. To be clear, this temple is referred to only as Wat Worachetharam because that is how it is named on Phraya Boran Rachathanin’s 1926 map. The temple situated west of the city will be mentioned as Wat Worachet, since Royal Chronicles specifically mention a temple in the west with this name. Both monasteries are listed as possible sites for containing King Naresuan’s ashes.
The Fine Arts Department has placed a plaque at Wat Worachetharam claiming that King Ekathotsarot built it in 1605 for his brother, King Naresuan, who had died earlier that year. Other resources claim that “Wat Worachet Thep Bamrung” was build by King Ekathotsarot to commemorate his brother King Naresuan (TAT 126-127). The problem is that the exact same information is attributed to both temples, and a reasonable argument could be made to support either one.
The Royal Chronicles refer to an enormous and widely attended funeral ceremony held in honor for King Naresuan in 1605 by his brother King Ekathotsarot. A temple was built on the site of his cremation, which had a great and holy stupa with a holy relic of the Buddha, dormitories, a wall-appropriate for the forest-dwelling sect of Buddhists, and a complete edition of the Tripitaka. Forest monks were invited to live inside this chief temple and supported with alms so that they would be supplied with food daily without fail. Crown officials were appointed to this temple and endowed with Royal wealth (Cushman 199-200).
There are several reasons to believe that Wat Worachetharam is where King Naresuan’s ashes remain. One is that the bell-shaped chedi was more commonly used during the time of King Naresuan’s demise. A second reason is that is situated closer to the Royal Palace, where the remains of other great Kings were placed. Why would King Naresuan's ashes be placed in a remote location far off the city island to the west? Perhaps the best argument on why King Naresuan’s ashes may be located here is that Wat Worachet already existed west of the city during his reign. Royal Chronicles mention it in relation to a war with the Burmese in 1563-1564. The Burmese king sent 3,000 men, 700 war elephants, and 3,000 horses to Ayutthaya in hopes of conquering the city. They set up many stockades around the city. The army of the Phraya of Bassein set up his stockade at Municipality of Prachet, also known as the Worachet Monastery plain (Cushman 31-32). Why would King Ekathotsarot construct a great memorial temple at Wat Worachet - a monastery already existing 41-42 years before King Naresuan died?
In addition, Wat Worachet is also mentioned as a possible location of the infamous Picnic Incident that took place in 1636. This ill-fated event between Siamese and Dutch traders was written about by Jeremias Van Vliet - a representative of the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) in Ayutthaya from 1633-1642. As the story goes, a number of Dutch traders decided to enjoy a sunny picnic one December morning. Unfortunately, two of the Dutch men - Joost Laurentsz and Daniel Jacobsz - became very drunk and started acting belligerently. The rest of the group excused themselves and departed by boat. Meanwhile, the two Dutch drunkards went for a stroll, getting into several altercations along the way. They called people bad names, invaded homes, stole food, and eventually picked a fight with the heavily tattooed slaves of the prince - apparently the two Dutch swiped away sabers and paddles and refused to give them back. Daniel Jacobsz was immediately seized and taken to the Palace for punishment. Joost Laurentsz escaped by jumping into the river, where he was later found still swimming - speechless and exhausted – by the other Dutchmen (Baker 45-47). Despite his effort to escape, Joost was also led to prison for his participation in the Picnic Incident.
King Prasat Thong ordered that both Dutch men be sentenced to death by elephant trampling, but while they were lashed to a pole in the hot sun awaiting execution, Jeremias Van Vliet, the company director, tried to save their lives. Van Vliet was ultimately forced to bow in humiliation to King Prasat Thong and beg for their release. The two men were let go, but Dutch authorities severely reprimanded Van Vliet for the act of bowing to a foreign king. The Picnic Incident, however, like other historical events, may have actually happened instead in the west at the Worachet. Reasonable arguments can be made for either locations
In recent times, Thai visitors often place ceramic roosters on the large bell-shaped chedi at Wat Worachetharam. This symbolizes King Naresuan’s enjoyment of cockfighting and reflects the popular nationalistic legend that, while still a young boy forced to live in Burma, he waged a bet with a Burmese prince for Ayutthaya’s freedom. The two youngsters staged a cockfight to determine the city’s outcome, and the Burmese prince lost the bet. These roosters started appearing after a popular movie about King Naresuan was released.
Text & photographs by Ken May - September 2009
The site is indicated on a mid-19th century map in an identical position as on Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map drafted in 1926. The mid-19th century map indicates the existence of a chedi. On the latter map the monastery is called Wat Chetharam (วัดเชฐาราม), while on PBR's map it is called Wat Worachetharam (วัดวรเชษฐาราม).