During the past couple of weeks, I visited two temples that had major buildings — vihan (prayer rooms) and bots (ordination halls) — designed in the shape of boats. The first was Wat Yannawa in Bangkok; the second was Wat Sa Prasan Suk in Ubon Ratchathani.
Wat Yannawa is just two miles from my apartment down Sathorn Road near the Chao Phraya River (map below). This temple dates back to the late Ayutthaya period (1350-1767) and it was originally named Wat Khok Kwai or Temple of the Buffalo Stable. During the reign of King Rama I (1782 – 1809), the temple was designated as a royal temple. King Rama III (1824 – 1851) later ordered that a monument be built in the shape of a Chinese junk to honor the brave seamen who sailed between China and Siam, to acknowledge the lucrative trade between these countries, and to commemorate the junk that was quickly being replaced by steamships. The 140 foot long monument was constructed of reinforced concrete with two chedis for the masts. The temple was renamed Wat Yannawa, or the Temple of Junk, and a statue of Rama III stands in front of the replica junk.
The vihan, or prayer room, located in the wheelhouse in the stern of the ship, contains an altar with a statue of Buddha. When I went in to see the Buddha image, an elderly attendant — probably my age (!) but he looked to have been “ridden hard and put away wet” — gave me a container with a set of sticks inside. I went to take one out, but he shook his head and pantomimed that I needed to shake the container, quite vigorously, until a stick popped out. When the stick marked with the number ๙ (nine — or gao — in Thai) came out, he smiled widely at my good fortune. He gave me a sheet of paper that had my fortune written in Thai, Chinese, and English, viz.:
It’s so clear that a fish will turn back to be a dragon like it used to be. Heading toward south and west like a ship sailing on the wind for good fortune and prosperity. Behave property to the time and place like dragons and snakes cast their skins seasonally. Save your savings the same way as reserving water for the dry season then you’ll be wealthy. You’ll meet the missing person you’re looking for. Currently, it’s not the time for you and your lover to get married. If you’re ill, the condition is likely to be serious. One who casts this number will have good fortune and make one’s wish come true. However, be diligent in your profession and things will be good for you.
In the temple’s garden is a 16.5-ton white jade statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy and compassion, flanked by two other statues covered in gold leaf. Several other Buddha images adorn the grounds. Across the street is a modern-day relic — a partially finished apartment building that looks like it dates back to the Asian financial crisis of 1997. There are several building like this around the city where construction abruptly stopped as developers ran out of money and could not get credit. No one is willing to take on the risk of finishing these buildings, so they sit as they were and will ultimately be torn down. In the meantime, they provide a stark reminder of how destructive credit crises are.
Wat Sa Prasan Suk
Wat Sa Prasan Suk is located in Ubon Ratchathani, the easternmost province in Thailand near the Laos border. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force had a large base in Ubon that was used for combat missions over North Vietnam.
Wat Sa Prasan Suk, formerly known as Wat Ban Na Muang, has not one but two boat-like structures. To enter the temple grounds, you drive under a large, three-headed, white elephant, known as an Erawan. On the right side of the road is the primary vihan — a large building but nothing out of the ordinary. Inside the vihan were the typical Buddha images, a monk giving blessings, and a handful of worshipers.
On the left side of the road is a spectacular ordination hall (bot) built to resembles the Royal Barge Suphannahongsa that I saw at Bangkok’s National Barge Museum back in May. There were statues of 40 oarsmen (although 50 oarsmen are used to propel the Suphannahongsa) along with statues of various attendants. The roof, windows, doors, and gables of the bot, the external portions of the barge, and the statutes were covered in brown ceramic.
As I walked around the grounds, I passed a three-story bell tower and several large Buddha statues. At the rear of the property is a small lake upon which a second barge-shaped structure appears to float with another prayer room built upon it. The lake is teeming with fish and many locals brought bread and pellets to feed them. The water is pretty murky, but as soon as the food hit, a fish would quickly surface and grab it. I think that these were catfish, but keep in mind that they only appeared for a second, I am a city dweller, and my preferred fish is a boneless fillet.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.