|WAT WORACHET (วัดวรเชษฐ์ )
|Wat Worachet is often confused with a monastery sharing a similar name that is located
directly on the city island. This has led 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 western temple will be referred to as Wat Worachet
because Royal Chronicles specifically mention a temple in this geographic location by
that name. I will refer to the monastery situated on the city island as Worachettharam
because that is how it is named on Phraya Boran Rachathanin’s 1926 map. Sources
have inadvertently labeled both monasteries as Wat Worachet Thep Bamrung, so I will
refrain from using this name to avoid confusion.
Wat Worachet can still be classified as a restored ruin; however, due to controversial
activities at this site (see information below), an active sermon hall, monks’ quarters, and
a shrine to King Naresuan were recently constructed in 2009. Most of this modern-half
is located away from the ruin and separated by trees and a small creek. The new sermon
hall is still incomplete, but it has been constructed mainly from laterite and it sits on stilts
above a pond. A drug treatment center has been built on land adjacent to this temple.
The ancient monastery has many impressive structures, which have been restored by the
Fine Arts Department. The primary structure is its large Khmer-style prang. The elevated
base provides space for walking counterclockwise around the prang as an act of
religious respect, and its elaborate balustrades show traces of enlargement dating to the
late Ayutthaya period (TAT 126-127). Beth Fouser suggests that the reappearance of
the prang as the principal monument of a monastery began in 1629 with the reign of King
Prasat Thong (Fouser 52). In light of an upcoming Buddhist millennial year, this King
wanted to restore Ayutthaya to its past greatness, so he built monasteries with the
Khmer style to reflect the architectural style used by the city’s first kings. The Khmer-
influenced can also be seen at Wat Chai Watthanaram, which was built in 1630 by King
Prasat Thong in his old neighborhood. Other scholars believe that Wat Worachet was
built as a prototype before undertaking the massive endeavor of constructing Wat Chai
Watthanaram (Baker 46).
In addition to its central prang, Wat Worachet also has two sermon halls. The ubosot is
large and curved at the foundation like a boat. There are many portions of Buddha
images inside, including a large head that is in good condition. This rests on the altar
beside a large square-shaped structure resembling a chedi of some sort. The second
sermon hall is a restored vihara that has many Buddha portions stacked on its portico.
Furthermore, there are several chedis in situ. One of these is bell-shaped in the Middle
Ayutthaya Period style. A second is pyramid-shaped with many indented corners and
niches in the relic chamber. This style of chedi is usually attributed to the Late Ayutthaya
Period. Other chedis exist on the temple ground, but these are much smaller and some
only consist of the basic foundation layer. Walls can be seen around the entire monastery
grounds and new floor tiles have replaced the earlier ones at the site.
During the Ayutthaya period, Wat Worachet (and nearby Wat Suren) could be reached
from the Chao Phraya River via a small canal. The 1993 FAD map places this canal at a
location in front of Wat Pom Yai and Wat Pom Noi - both are located on the opposite
side of the river from Wat Phukhao Thong. A map developed by Sumet Jumai shows a
canal leading to Wat Worachet from an area opposite of the palace (Baker 46). Khlong
Klaep may have also provided access. All these canals are now either buried or
unusable for transport.
Royal Chronicles document this monastery’s existence to 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).
The Fine Arts Department has placed a plaque at this western site that claims King
Ekathotsarot (1605-1610) established it in 1605 and dedicated it to his brother King
Naresuan, who had died earlier that year. Other resources claim that "Wat Worachet
Thep Bamrung"; was build by King Ekathotsarot in 1605 to commemorate his brother
King Naresuan (TAT 126-127). The problem is that the exact same information is also
attributed to a temple located on the main island - near the Royal Palace. The Fine Arts
Department has posted similar plaque at both temple ruins (perhaps covering both bases
just in case). A reasonable argument could be made to support either temple as the
location of King Naresuan's remains.
The Royal Chronicles refer to an enormous and widely attended funeral ceremony held
in honor for King Naresuan 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). Since Wat Worachet is located west of the city island, in a less populated area, it
would have been more appropriate for forest dwelling sects of monks. It is definitely
larger and grander than the temple under a similar name on the city island, which may
offer credence to the claim that King Naresuan was buried at this site.
In addition, Wat Worachet is also the most likely 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 Dutchmen - Joost Laurentsz and Daniel Jacobsz - became very drunk and started
acting belligerently. The rest of the group promptly 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 - exhausted
and unable to speak - 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 at the Worachetharam on the city island.
Reasonable arguments can be made for both locations.
This monastery has continued to generate controversy in modern times. A Bangkok Post
article (27-1-08) reported that state authorities were taking actions to evict illegal settlers
at this temple. The Fine Arts Department charged three groups of encroaching on the
premises of Wat Worachet. These settlers started coming to this deserted site in 2003 in
order to hold superstitious rituals for financial benefit. This group included a group of
monks led by Phra Maha Singthon, a group of nuns, and a third group comprised of
mediums claiming to have supernatural powers. These settlers believed that the temple
was built to commemorate King Naresuan, a fact unconfirmed by the Fine Arts
Department. Attendance at these ritualistic ceremonies numbered in the thousands. This
shocked the director of the provincial office of archaeology, Anek Sihamart, who
believed that this encroachment on an ancient site could cost Ayutthaya its World
Heritage Site status.
The same group of nuns also got in trouble for using the area around the temple to treat
patients that had drug addictions. The patients were kept in chains during treatment. As a
result, the Fine Arts Department decided to construct an active temple on-site and invite
monks from other places to reside there. This new sermon hall opened in 2009.
|Text by Ken May - September 2009
Photographs & maps by Tricky Vandenberg
Updated March 2016
|(View from the west)
|(The main cob corn-like stupa or prang)
|(Monastic hall on the west)
|(View from the north-west)
|(Northern satellite stupa)
|(Inside the monastic hall)
|(Detail of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map -
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Department - 3th Region)
|(Detail of a Monthon Krung Kao 1916 map)
|(Source: Phra Rachawang lae Wat Boran nai Jangwat Phra Nakhon Sri Ayuthaya - 2511.
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Department - 3th Region)