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Functional Places of Worship
(Sasana Satharn)

The Buildings of a Thai Temple Complex

Visitors to a Thai temple compound may find the number and type of buildings contained within the walls, and their functions a bit confusing. There is, however, a definite function and significance to each building, which make up a temple complex. The buildings in a Thai temple complex not only serve sacerdotal functions in the cycle of Buddhist ceremonies and holy days but also serve as the residence for the monks of the temple, and temple space serves for educational and community service functions as well.

Temple compounds vary greatly both in size and the number of structure they contain, but a well-ordered temple will have five basic structures, a wiharn, a bote or pra ubo-sote, a chedi, a sala, and lodgings for the monks.

Wiharn

wiharn Central to the temple complex, and usually the largest and most prominent building is the wiharn, or convocation hall. It is usually a large, single story building with projecting eaves to sluice off rain water and may have multi-tiered roofs, raising to two, three, or more levels. The Lanna Thai call the wiharn with these multi-tiered roofs wiharn zod. Because The wiharn serves several important ceremonial functions, and is central to the temple complex, the Lanna Thai like it to be impressive and splendidly decorated. The foundation will be decorated with molded stucco decorations and may be further beautified with the multicolored mirror mosaic tiles which cause such a decorated building to sparkle in the sun. The area under the projecting eaves might be decorated with a carved gable, or elaborately decorated with more molded stucco and mirror tiles. The doors and window shutters are frequently solid slabs of finely carved teak, and the interior may be painted with elaborate murals. The Lanna Thai consider these murals to be not only decorative, but also instructive depicting as they do scenes from the life of the Buddha, the Jatakas, or folk tales which explicate aspects of Buddha's teaching, concepts from Buddhist cosmology, or the Buddhist celestial hierarchy.

wiharn The construction of such a building, and indeed all buildings in a temple complex, is a collective social effort. Individuals will donate money to sponsor a mural or carving, or simply endow an architectural feature of the building, such as a shutter or rafter. Often visitors can see the name of the donor and the amount donated painted on or near whatever feature was sponsored.

First and foremost the wiharn is a place to enshrine Buddha images. If the temple possesses a particularly ancient or revered image, it will often be found on the main altar or the wiharn. Any important or antique temple equipage is also stored there. Every ceremony involving the laity as participants is also celebrated here. Fortnightly the monks gather in the wiharn for the recitation of the ecclesiastical code on the Buddhist Sabbath, a holy day fixed according to the lunar calendar. On this day also the laity come to the wiharn to hear sermons and explanations about the Buddha's teaching. Finally, the wiharn is where the monks and other inhabitants of the temple compound convene for the recitation of Buddhist prayers.

Pra Ubo-sote

roof detail The most sacred building in a temple compound is the Pra Ubo-sote or Bote, often mistakenly called a church, which might best be called the ordination hall. It is built along the lines of a wiharn and shares some architectural features with the wiharn, such as finials topping the projecting peaks of the roof, called chaw faa, but might lack the projecting porch. The buildings might be as richly decorated as the wiharn, both inside and out, but are smaller, being able to contain a convocation of perhaps fifty monks. The bote is built on consecrated ground and nine protective stones, called seema, are buried around the building. Four are located at the cardinal points, four more at the intermediate points, and the ninth is buried in the sacred soil under the floor of the bote. To indicate where the seema are buried, other stones are erected on the ground around the bote, often molded or carved in the form of the eight-spoked wheel of dhamma, a symbol of one aspect of the Buddha's teaching.

bote The bote is basically a ceremonial hall devoted to ceremonies performed by the monks themselves. In some cases women are forbidden to enter the bote, as the Lanna Thai believe that its sanctity and purity should be preserved so the monks do not enter into sin. Devout worshippers might spend the night of the Buddhist Sabbath in the bote for a meditation retreat.

The ceremony for the ordination of boys and men into the Buddhist monkhood is one which the laity may attend in the bote, but others are off limits to all but monks. The first of these is a ceremony for the admission of a slight breaking of the Buddha's precepts, which merit only minor punishment, and for considering admissions of other minor sins. Others include the ceremony for the recitation of prayers on the occasion of receiving monk's robes on gathin, and a ceremony where the monks convene to consider charges about what might have occurred in the monastic community.

Chedi or Jedee

The third structure completing a temple compound is the chedi. The chedi is considered a sacred symbol of deceased persons whose descendants loved, respected, and felt indebted to. A chedi is endowed and constructed after the cremation of the loved one in question and the cremation ashes of the deceased are collected in an urn for interment in the chedi.

It is traditional in the North, as well as other parts of Thailand, for the descendants of deceased persons to build a chedi or other similar memorial to display their respect and gratefulness to their ancestors. The persons who endow a chedi must remain mindful of the teachings of the Lord Buddha as he is their teacher. For this reason the chedi is relevant to events in the life of the Lord Buddha. There are three different categories of chedis in the North.

  1. Phra Chedi: The Phra Chedi in the temple courtyard is considered to be a sacred symbol of the Buddha himself, or his close disciples. The faithful show reverence to the Phra Chedi with the same prostrations as are performed before a Buddha image. Based upon architectural characteristics and what the chedi is thought to contain, there are four different styles:

    1. Prathart Chedi: This is the most sacred kind and is believed to contain relics, or cremation remains, of the Buddha or his close disciples.

    2. Boriphoke Chedi: This kind of chedi is thought to contain personal belongings of the Buddha or his close disciples.

    3. Dhamma Chedi: This kind of chedi contains carved inscriptions relating to the Lord Buddha, records of his teachings or those of his close disciples, or recorded sermons explicating his teachings. The documents may be palm leaves (on which sermons were recorded), gold or silver sheets, or stone carvings.

    4. Oot-thesig Chedi: Such chedis were constructed at different historical sites at which important events in the life of the Lord Buddha occurred; where he was born, where he attained enlightenment, where he propounded his important teachings, and where he attained nirvana.

    The design of the chedi may take the form of a simple bell-shaped structure topped with a finial. However, in many Northern Thai temples the structure is multi-tiered, some elaborately decorated with Buddha images set in niches. If the chedi is privately built by people wishing to pay respect to a deceased relative, the ashes of the deceased must be interred in a proper container in the base of the chedi, and the top of the chedi must have a form that relates to the Lord Buddha or his teachings.

    In the twenty-five centuries since the founding of the Buddhist religion, the Buddha's followers have evolved different architectural designs for chedis:

    1. Sanati Style: This chedi is similar in shape to an overturned bell, and is located at the place in present-day India where the Buddha is believed to have attained nirvana. It is the oldest extant chedi in the Buddhist religion, being 2,000 years old.

    2. Lanka Style: This chedi is similar in shape to the Sanati style, but the upper portion is multi-tiered. Visitors to Wat Oo-Mong can observe chedis built in this style.

    3. Daravadi or Mon Style: Chedis in this style were constructed in temples during the time of the Haripoonchai kingdom, a Mon kingdom pre-dating Chiangmai and centered in present-day Lumpoon. Visitors to Lumpoon can observe extant examples of these ancient chedis.

    4. Srivijai Style: The design of chedis in this style dates back to the ancient eighth-century A.D. Buddhist kingdom of Srivijai, which was centered on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia but whose suzerainty extended to South Thailand. Visitors to Wat Pra Boromthart Chaiya in Suratthani province can see examples of Srivijai style chedis.

    5. Buddhakaya Style: The first chedi of this architectural style was built at the site where the Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment. The best example in Chiangmai can be seen at Wat Jedyord near the Chiangmai National Museum.

  2. Khong Prajao: This is a round-shaped chedi which is multi-tiered from the base to the apex. Each tier has deep niches containing Buddha images or amulets. Examples of this style can be seen at Wat Pra Singh, Wat Rampoeng, and Wat Chedi Liam in Chiangmai, or Wat Jaemathawee in Lumpoon.

  3. Goo: These are small chedis which contain cremation remains of a royalty. The word goo derives from the world koom which refers to the residences of members the royal family. Burial chedis of the royal house of Chiangmai can be seen at Wat Suan Dawk on Suthep Road.

Gooti

Gooti The lodgings for the monks take many forms but are commonly called Gooti, a Pali word which means a small hut or cottage. They wood have been original Sasana Satharn during Lord Buddha's life. Imagine that the Gooti were built under the shady trees in a peaceful environment.

These typical lodgings in the ancient days were small huts. Even nowadays, Gooti can be small spartan cottages or bungalows, each for individual monks. Some other temples have large dormitory-like buildings with several rooms housing thirty to fifty monks. The buildings are called in northern Thai 'Hoang'. The abbot and senior monks may have separate residences.

Sala

One of the usual structures at any temple will be a Sala. This sala takes the form of an open-sided building used for ceremonies and other purposes.
Sala Baart :

Sala Baart
Sala Rye
Sala Gaan Parian
Sala Pa-Cha
Sala Rim Taang

Haw or Towers

Temple compounds might contain several other structures, grouped under the title of Haw or Towers:

Haw Dham :

Older temples may have a small roofed structure on a raised foundation, called a haw dham or scripture library. This structure was the repository of sacred texts; sermons inscribed on palm-leaf ribs or sacred and secular writings on delicate mulberry-bark paper which needed protection from the damp and insects.

Haw Rakang or Haw Deng :

Haw Rakang
Haw Phee Sua Wat :

haw phee sua wat
Haw Sohng :

Haw Chun :

haw chun
Haw Glong Poo-Cha :

Haw Pra :

haw pra
Haw Sua Muang or Haw Arak :

haw sua muang
Haw Sua Baan :

haw sua baan

See related articles (Temples):


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Last modified on:  October 27 2013