Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn or as it is (mercifully) better known, Wat Pho*, is one of Bangkok’s top tourist attractions, famous for its massive reclining Buddha figure, 46 metres long and 18 metres high. It’s also a very active temple, with a large contingent of monks. Most tourists come away with a standard picture of the face of the Buddha figure – but because the hall is so tight around the Buddha figure, it’s impossible to capture its immenseness.

Reclining Buddha figure at Wat Pho

The Lord Buddha was recognised at birth as an individual of extraordinary destiny, not just because he immediately walked and that lotus flowers sprang from each footprint, but because his feet bore 108 auspicious characteristics. These marks are captured in mother-of-pearl on the soles of the Buddha figure at Wat Pho.

Sole of foot of reclining Buddha figure at Wat Pho showing auspicious marks

This image is of the back of the Buddha figure’s head, showing the tight curls of his hair – another auspicious sign:

Back of head of reclining Buddha figure at Wat Pho

[Curiously enough, despite the iconography which has developed around the Lord Buddha (an iconography itself derived from traditional Brahman teaching), the Lord Buddha was not of extraordinary appearance. According to the Tripitaka (the most authoritative of the Buddhist scriptures in the Theravada tradition), when King Ajātasattu went to meet him the king was unable to distinguish him from the disciples around him. And in another incident, Pukkasāti sat talking to the Lord Buddha for hours before he realised to whom he was talking.]

Before Wat Pho became a temple it was a centre of learning for traditional Thai medicine. This tradition continues. There are various statues showing yoga positions:

Yoga figure at Wat Pho

Yoga figure at Wat Pho

and plaques inscribed with medical texts:

Medical figure at Wat Pho

The plaques date from the era of King Rama III when the King had the temple restored, starting in 1788 CE. Last year they were recognised by UNESCO.

It would appear that Thai medical wisdom extends to the health of demonesses, too:

Medical image of demon at Wat Pho

There were some strange trees at the temple, with the flowers growing directly out of the trunk:

Flowers at Wat Pho

I was also drawn to this stack of roof tiles:

Roof tiles at Wat Pho

One way that temples raise money for restoration is by encouraging adherents to pay for a roof tile. In return they can write the name of a loved one on the tile in dedication. Somewhere in Ayutthaya there’s a temple tile with the name of my late father on it.

*For clarification, “Pho” is pronounced with a hard “p” sound, so sounds like the informal word for a chamber pot. Though the Vietnamese dish of noodles in broth is spelled the same way, that word is pronounced more like “fur”, the name being derived from the French “pot-au-feu”.


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