Wat Mahathat – A Treasure of Bangkok’s History and Culture

Joy Intisuk

The Wat Mahathat Temple in Bangkok
Wat Mahathat is one of the most significant and historical temples in Bangkok. Located in the Phra Nakhon district, this temple is a prominent landmark with immense religious and cultural significance.

Built in the 14th century, the temple has undergone numerous renovations and restorations over the centuries. Today, it is a testament to Thailand’s rich history and culture.

In this blog, we will explore the history and significance of Wat Mahathat, its architecture, and its notable features. With its stunning architecture and rich history, Wat Mahathat is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring Bangkok.

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History of Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat, also known as the Temple of the Great Relic, was built during the Ayutthaya period in the 14th century. The temple was established by King Borommaracha I and was named after the Mahathat relic, which is said to have been enshrined in the temple.

The Mahathat relic is believed to be a bone of the Buddha’s neck, which was brought to Thailand from Sri Lanka.

The temple was expanded over the centuries, and during the reign of King Rama III, The temple has undergone numerous renovations and restorations over the centuries, with the most significant renovation taking place during the reign of King Rama I in the 18th century.

During this time, the temple was expanded and embellished with additional structures, including a bell tower and a library.

Throughout history, Wat Mahathat has played an important role in Thailand’s religious and cultural life. The temple was a center of learning and scholarship, with many famous monks and scholars within its walls.

It was also a place of pilgrimage, with many devotees coming to pay their respects to the relic of the Buddha’s tooth and to seek blessings from the temple’s resident monks.

In addition to its religious significance, Wat Mahathat has also played a role in Thai history. During the sacking of Ayutthaya in 1767, the temple was looted, and many of its treasures were stolen.

Despite this, the temple remained an important cultural landmark, and efforts were made to restore and preserve it in the following years. Today, Wat Mahathat is a testament to Thailand’s rich history and culture.

Its stunning architecture, intricate carvings, and important relics make it one of Bangkok’s most significant temples and a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Thai history and culture.

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Architecture and Design of Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat is a beautiful and intricate example of Thai architecture. The temple complex covers an area of approximately 2.2 hectares and is surrounded by a wall made of bricks and stucco.

The main entrance to the temple is through a large gate called the “Phra Chao Haeng Krua” gate, which is flanked by two large statues of mythical creatures called “Singh.”

The main temple building, called the “Phra Ubosot,” houses the most important Buddha image in the temple. The Phra Ubosot has a multi-tiered roof and is decorated with intricate carvings and gilded accents.

The roof is typically made of red and gold tiles, and the eaves are adorned with delicate wooden carvings. The temple’s exterior walls are often decorated with beautiful and intricate murals depicting Buddhist themes and stories.

The murals are painted in bright colors and feature detailed depictions of the Buddha, his teachings, and important events in his life. Other notable structures in the temple complex include a bell tower, library, and chedis (stupas).

The bell tower is a tall structure with a large bell, which is rung during important religious ceremonies. The library houses important Buddhist texts and is often used for study and contemplation.

The chedis are large, dome-shaped structures that typically contain relics of the Buddha or other important Buddhist figures. One of the most striking features of Wat Mahathat is its use of ornate carvings and gilded accents.

Intricate designs adorn the temple’s walls, doors, windows, and golden accents throughout the complex. These decorative elements are often in the shape of mythical creatures, such as garudas or naga serpents, important symbols in Thai mythology.

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Notable Features of Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat is home to many notable features that make it one of the most significant temples in Bangkok. Here are some of its most noteworthy features:

Relic of the Buddha’s tooth: The temple was built to enshrine a relic of the Buddha’s tooth, which was brought to Thailand from Sri Lanka. This relic is considered one of the most important in Thailand and is revered by Buddhists worldwide.

Phra Ubosot: The main temple building, known as the Phra Ubosot, is an impressive structure that houses the temple’s most important Buddha image. The building’s multi-tiered roof and intricate carvings make it one of the most visually striking structures in the temple complex.

Murals: The temple’s exterior walls are decorated with beautiful, intricate murals depicting Buddhist themes and stories. These murals are painted in bright colors and offer visitors a glimpse into Thailand’s rich cultural and religious traditions.

Bell tower: The temple’s bell tower is a tall structure with a large bell rung during important religious ceremonies. The tower’s ornate design and bright colors make it a standout feature in the temple complex.

Chedis: Wat Mahathat is home to several chedis, which are large, dome-shaped structures that typically contain relics of the Buddha or other important Buddhist figures. These chedis are adorned with intricate carvings and are an important symbol of Thai Buddhism.

Library: The temple’s library houses important Buddhist texts and is often used for study and contemplation. The library’s peaceful atmosphere and rich cultural history make it a must-see destination for anyone interested in Thai Buddhism.

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Visiting Wat Mahathat

Here’s what you can expect when you visit this iconic temple:

Dress code: It’s important to dress appropriately when visiting Wat Mahathat. Visitors are expected to dress modestly and cover their shoulders and legs.

If you’re wearing shorts or a sleeveless top, you’ll be required to cover up with a sarong or a shawl, which can be rented at the temple.

Entrance fee: There’s a small entrance fee to enter the temple complex, which varies depending on whether you’re a foreigner or a Thai citizen. However, the fee is very reasonable and helps to maintain the temple’s grounds and buildings.

Exploring the temple: Once inside the temple complex, you can explore the different buildings, chedis, and gardens at your leisure. Be sure to check out the Phra Ubosot, the bell tower, the library, and the many murals and carvings that adorn the temple’s walls.

Photography: Photography is allowed in most parts of the temple complex, although some areas may be off-limits. Be sure to respect the temple’s sacred spaces and refrain from taking photos of people without their permission.

Respectful behavior: It’s important to be respectful when visiting Wat Mahathat. Visitors are expected to behave quietly and respectfully and avoid touching Buddha images or other sacred objects.

If you’re unsure about what is appropriate behavior, don’t hesitate to ask a temple staff member for guidance.

Food and drink: There are usually food and drink vendors outside the temple complex, although it’s not allowed to bring food or drink inside the temple buildings. If you bring food or drink, be sure to dispose of it properly.

Timing: Wat Mahathat can get very busy during peak tourist season, so it’s a good idea to visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid crowds. You’ll also have a better chance of experiencing the temple’s serene atmosphere when fewer people are around.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Wat Mahathat is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Thai history and culture. Its stunning architecture, intricate carvings, and important relics make it one of Bangkok’s most significant temples.

Whether you are a devout Buddhist or a curious traveler, visiting Wat Mahathat will surely leave a lasting impression.

And if you’re planning to explore other cultural parts of Thailand, be sure to include Phuket on your itinerary. This beautiful island is known for its rich cultural heritage.

You can visit the Big Buddha, a towering white statue that overlooks the island and is an important symbol of Thai Buddhism or explore the colorful streets of Old Phuket Town, which are lined with historic buildings and unique shops and cafes.

Joy Intisuk is not only a seasoned travel writer and a native of Chiang Mai, Thailand, but also a Director and Chief Editor of Thailand Nomads. Specializing in the digital nomad lifestyle, Joy leverages over a decade of experience exploring Southeast Asia to bring a deep and personal insight into the vibrant culture and hidden gems of Thailand. Her expertise is particularly focused on the logistical nuances of living and working remotely in the region.

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