WAT CHANG YAI (วัดช้างใหญ่)
Wat Chang Yai or the Great Monastery of the Elephant is an active temple located
off the city island in the northwestern area in Wat Tum sub-district, Ban Chang Yai, Moo
1. The monastery is located east of road No 309.

In situ is an old ordination hall (Th: ubosot) in the Early Ayutthaya style (1351 - 1491)
and other more recent monastic structures. The ubosot has one elevated front porch with
rear there is a single entry door - likely none in earlier times. Initially the hall had five
square windows on the sides, but due to the bad shape of the building, two of them at
each side have been filled up, while at the same time the whole structure was fortified by
installing concrete support beams around the hall.

The old hall has mural paintings from the Ratanakosin period, painted during the reign of
King Rama IV. The mural paintings although are damaged and slowly fading away.
There are also some traces of old faded paintings on the outside wall at the entry of the
ubosot. The main Buddha image in the ordination hall is in U-Thong style, depicted in
sitting posture and in the Bhumisparsa mudra also called
Maravijaya or Victory over
hand gesture.

On the temple premises is a monument erected of a war elephant and a statue of the
Ayutthayan King Naresuan, as the area around Chang Yai had formerly a historical
connection with King Naresuan  (r. 1590-1605).

In 1584 internal troubles arose in Burma. Prince Naresuan, at that time Governor of
Phitsanulok, was ordered to assist the Burmese in an expedition against Ava. Nanda
Bhureng, King of Burma, thought the occasion favorable to get rid of the Naresuan and
instructed two Peguan (Mon) noblemen - Phraya Khiat and Phraya Ram - to ambush
him and his army. The plot although was revealed to Naresuan by the head monk Thera
Khan Chong of the City of Khraeng and the Black Prince proceeded to Hongsawadi
with a considerable force. Most of the population along the border joined him. Learning
however that Nanda Bhureng conquered Ava and was returning with his army, he
decided to return to Siam, taking with him a large number of prisoners, mostly Siamese
captured by the Burmese in previous wars. After the Battle of the Sittaung River, Prince
Naresuan moved back to Ayutthaya [1].

Mon families - the relatives of the two Peguan nobleman and the head monk as well as
about 10.000 forcibly removed Raman (Mon) inhabitants of the provincial cities along
the way - migrated to Thailand (1) [2] and settled in the outskirts of Ayutthaya. The
vicinity of
Wat Chumphon, Wat Chang Yai and Wat Chang Noi was the area were the
Mon were authorized to settle. The area was previously called
Ban Mon by the locals,
but later changed into
Ban Maen. (2)

The group of Mons who migrated to Siam during King Maha Thammaracha's reign (r.
1569-1590), was very skilled in working with elephants, especially training elephants for
warfare. Many Mons were mahouts (Th: Mae Thap Na), and fought actively and
successfully along the Siamese against the Burmese in the wars of 1584-1586, 1587,
1590 and 1592.

The Mon leader Phra Racha Manu was successful in combat and participated in the
Battle of Chainat in 1584, where he defeated Phraya Bassein's Burmese army, before
the Chiang Mai army could catch up and retreated finally. In 1585 he fought in the Battle
of Pa Mok against the Chiang Mai army, which was routed. In 1592 his vanguard is
routed in the Battle for Lawaek at the Ranam (village/forest) pass. He was sentenced to
death by King Naresuan for his defeat, but King Ekathotsarot requested the sentence to
be suspended. Manu advanced again with an army and this time routed Pattabong and
Pursat. The siege of Lawaek was later halted due to lack of food supplies.

Phra Racha Manu was following the Tamnan history the leader of the elephant
caretakers. He apparently was an excellent trainer in getting soldiers accustomed with
elephants trained for war. The Mon leader trained especially an elephant named Phlay
(3) Phukhao Thong (Golden Mount) for Prince Naresuan. The animal became
Naresuan's Royal war elephant and he gave it the name Chao Phraya Chayanuprab
(Lord Triumphator). This elephant was a bull and "six sok, one khuep and two niu tall
(4)" tall, about 3.3 meters. It was on this animal that King Naresuan in 1592 defeated the
Crown Prince of Burma, Min Chit Swa, at Nong Sa Rai (Don Chedi). In the hustle after
the killing of the Burmese prince, the mahout Nai Mahanuphap of King Naresuan was
fired at and killed (5). After this battle Naresuan's elephant was called Chao Phraya
Prab Hongsawadi or "Lord who subdued Hongsawadi".

The vicinities around
Wat Tha Khlong, Wat Chang Yai, Wat Chang Noi and Wat
Chumphon were all related to elephants and warfare. It is in this area that army and
battle formations were prepared, troops concentrated prior to move out. It was also
here that different pre-battle rites were performed such as
Cutting the wood which
corresponds with the name of the enemy
(6) and were the Siamese King underwent
the Brahmin rite of
Anointing the Head.

Wat Chang Yai has a "
Luk Krok" or child spirit displayed in a glass cupboard in its old
ordination hall.


(1) The first massive Mon migration following Halliday occurred in the 1660's following a
Mon revolt in Martaban. The Mons captured the viceroy of Martaban, an uncle of the
King of Ava and handed him over to the King Narai. Some estimated 10.000 people
took refuge at Ayutthaya. Mon officials received the refugees in Kanchanaburi province
and allotted land in Ayutthaya. [3] [4]. Although in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya  
can be found that already in 1584 a Mon migration - more or less forced - took place.
[2] Due to the similar social and religious background as the Siamese, Mon settlement
was peaceful in Siam.
(2) Derived from the Tamnan History of Wat Chang Yai.
(3) "Phlai" is a Mon word, meaning youthful male or a strong man. In Thai language it is
used to refer to a male elephant. [5]
(4) For measurement calculation see
(5) War elephants had a mahout in the front and a center guard in the back. The elephant
was equipped with a war howdah, where in the noble took place and fought. The
elephant was surrounded by a quadruped guard of high ranking nobles, which following
their title had a position near one of the legs of the elephant. This classic combat position
can be seen at the
War Elephant Monument near the Elephant Kraal.
(6) Royal ceremony known as
Phra Ratcha Phithi Tat Mai Khom Nam. Phraratcha is
equivalent to the Burmese Daw, Phithi means ceremony, Tat means to cut, Mai means
wood, Khom means to press down or subdue, and Nam means name. According to
ancient principles and methods of warfare, before an army leaves the capital of a
kingdom to meet the enemy's forces, a ceremony has to be performed to ensure success,
and this ceremony is what is known as
Phithi Tat Mai Khom Nam, i.e. Cutting the
wood which corresponds with the name of the enemy. In the first place a temporary
shed has to be erected with six posts having a sort of verandah around it. The shed is
surrounded by a bamboo lattice, having open spaces in the form of a lozenge. Along the
lattice are fixed paper umbrellas with three, five, or seven tiers. Young banana stems and
sugarcane stalks are planted at some distance apart from each other. Then a person,
who is an adept in magic squares, Pali letters, and numerical figures, as well as in
incantations, collects the earth from under three bridges, three ferry landing places, and
three graveyards. The earth thus collected is moistened and made into the likeness of the
enemy. The name of the enemy is written on a piece of paper, the adept then writes over
the name his magic squares which will have a destructive effect on the enemy. This paper
is then inserted in the chest of the earthen figure which must be dressed in the customary
dress of the enemy. Young banana stems, and the stem of a tree the name of which
corresponds with the name of the enemy, are brought and kept in the shed on three
successive days, and every night on those days incantations are pronounced or intoned
over them. After this the earthen figure is inserted into the banana stem which is then tied
round in three places with consecrated cotton thread. A pit is dug, and the banana stem
and the stem of the tree which corresponds with the name of the enemy are planted
together in this pit. Having prepared thus, about 3 p.m., court Brahmans enter the shed,
put down a jar of water used for consecration or incantation, and wind cotton threads
used for the same purpose round the combined banana and tree stems. The Brahmans
then invoke celestial beings such as Shiva, Krishna, Ganesha and so on, to come from
their celestial abodes to be adored and to lend their help in the ceremony. Then when the
auspicious moment is near, the king deputes some officials, usually the commanders of
the expeditionary force, to perform the ceremony in his stead. The king hands over to his
deputies His Majesty's finger-ring set with nine gems, and royal swords. His Majesty's
deputies proceed to the shed and at the auspicious moment draw the royal swords from
their scabbards, take three slow, deliberate steps forward, and cut the stems of the
banana tree and the tree corresponding with the name of the enemy three times. In so
doing, they should take care that the swords cut the earthen figure and the name of the
enemy. They then stamp three times on the fallen part of the banana stem and the tree
corresponding with the name of the enemy. As soon as they have done as described,
they should turn round and return to the palace without looking back at all. They then
return the ring and swords to the king's attendants, enter into the king's presence, and
inform him saying, "May it please Your Majesty in going to subdue the enemy, we have
been entirely successful as desired by Your Majesty." Thus ends the ceremony. [Phraya
Sombati Parihar, Bangkok.] [6]


[1] A History of Siam - W.A.R. Wood (1924) - Chalermnit Press - page 131-132.
[2] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 89-90 /
Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
[3] Immigration of Mons into Siam - Halliday (1913)
[4] Fear and Sanctuary: Burmese refugees in Thailand - Hazel J. Lang (2002).
[5] Khun Chang Khun Phaen: Chapter 1 - The births of Khun Chang and Khun Phaen.
[6] Our Wars with the Burmese - Prince Damrong Rajanubhab (re-edited 2001) -
White Lotus, Bangkok - Notes page 363/364. (Integrally with exception of the Burmese
translations of some words).
Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - May 2009
Update December 2009, April 2014
Monument of an elephant with war howdah
King Naresuan monument
The old ubosot in Early Ayutthaya style
Mural painting on the outside wall
Main Buddha statue in U-Thong style
Mural painting inside the ubosot
(Monument of an elephant with war howdah)
(King Naresuan monument)
(Main Buddha statue in U-Thong style)
(Mural painting on the outside wall)
(The old ubosot in Early Ayutthaya style)
(Mural painting inside the ubosot)
Extract of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map
(Detail of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map -
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Department - 3th Region)
The murals at Wat Chang Yai date from the Late Ayutthaya period and were painted in the reign of King Borommakot  (r. 1733-1758). The
murals are tempera paintings on a clay foundation. Behind the main Buddha image we find a scene of the Buddha defeating Mara; on the front
wall we see the Three Worlds (Traiphum). On the side walls we find the Ten previous lives of the Buddha, while the upper part is decorated with
Devas. Restoration occurred in the Ratanakosin period around 1813. (Ref: board in situ).