Friday, July 1, 2011

Wat Suthat: A Diamond in the Rough

Wat Suthat, located across the street from the Giant Swing, is, to say the very least, beautiful! When I found out how close it is to the Giant Swing I thought that I really should have visited Wat Suthat at the same time but my daylight had already started to fade. When I did go though, I was glad to have waited, visiting a wat isn’t something you want to be rushed in. As I walked through the gates I was, as at the Golden Mount, struck by the calmness and serenity of the place. Right on the main road you would expect the noise from Bangkok’s traffic to overflow into the temple but somehow the walls managed to keep out the sound, either that or I was so mesmerized by the beautifully structured roofs and Buddha-lined walkways that I just failed to notice it.
The temple seemed to be a mix of Chinese and Thai architecture, I don’t know what made me think Chinese but it entered my mind like a lightning bolt when I saw the temple. There were what looked to be sandstone statues in front of the entrance and they seemed to be of Chinese design and multi tiered spirit houses, or pagodas, lining the sides of the temple and bronze horses dotted around the corners. The pagodas, statues and horses are all of Chinese origin.
The compound is a large square, with the temple in the center and covered cloisters lining the outer perimeter. Before going into the temple I wandered around the perimeter and saw as people laid down thin rattan mattresses and lay down to rest in front of one of the 150-odd Buddha statues that line the walls. How wonderful! I thought, to sleep under the protective gaze of Buddha, had I more time I would have like to doze there myself. Later on when I did my research I discovered that these statues are ‘adopted’ by patrons in memory of loved ones who have passed away and who may be entombed in the base of the wall near the statues.
The marble floors of the cloisters and main square were pristine and clearly reflected the Buddhas and the temple, like looking into a marbled mirror. I walked around the cloisters, admiring the delicately painted doors and the statues that were placed around the temple. I entered the temple from the back door and as I made my way to the front of the main hall my eyes were drawn upwards to the towering gold Buddha, which dominated the room, it must have been 10 meters high! I was hesitant to take photos though because the room was full of people in prayer and I was worried that the chirp and click of the camera as it turns on and takes photos would disturb their silent reverie, so as discretely as possible I pulled out the camera, trying to muffle it as it switched on and, standing in a far corner, took a few cautious photos. 
It was then that I noticed something that I was surprised I’d missed, although with a giant golden Buddha taking up most of the room perhaps its not so surprising. The walls of the temple were covered in paintings depicting Jataka Tales, that is to say the 24 previous lives of the Buddha (although this fact I didn’t find out until I later went and did my research). These paintings are perhaps the most extensive and most important of their kind and went through extensive and costly restorations in the 1980’s, money well spent if I may say so. 
Before leaving I stopped for a while to sit and sketch one of the roofs, which are of traditional Thai styling with the horned corners and green and orange tiles as well as the Chinese pagodas, I don’t know how long I was sitting there, it’s easy to lose track of time in a place as ageless as Wat Suthat.

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