Wat Pra Chetupon, University for people
If you want to learn more or want to see various kinds of architectural gracefulness, you can get them all at Wat Po.
Wat Pra Chetupon Wimol Munkhalaram or Wat Potaram is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Bangkok. The temple is commonly called "Wat Po" and situated in the south of the Grand Palace. The temple is bounded by roads that are, namely, Tai Wang road in the north, Sanam Chai road in the east, Setakarn road in the south, and Maharaj road in the west. The temple's precinct is clearly separated into two parts, Buddhawas and Sunkhawas.
The perfectly arranged Sunkhawas is a living area for monks. The Buddhawas is consisted of churches, pagodas, and monastery halls. The temple is both beautiful and full of various kinds of trees, flowerpots containing dwarfed trees, Chinese style dolls, and also the sculpture of ascetics performing physical exercise (Yoga style). These features in Wat Po always provide surprises and enjoyable atmosphere for visitors.
Wat Po was built during 1688-1721 A.D., which was the time when City of Ayudhaya was the capital of the kingdom of Siam (Thailand). In the reign of king Rama III who deeply admired Chinese arts, the temple was restored under the king's royal command. The restoration lasted 16 years, the period of time that had created beautiful Chinese arts as appeared to us nowadays. Another restoration commenced in 1832 A.D and completed in 1850 A.D.
Wat Prachetupon was the most important temple in providing education for Thai people. King Rama III ordered wise men to write down many fields of knowledge and subjects onto stone plates, then fixed to columns of monastic halls. So that people who wished to learn about any thing could go to study in Wat Po.
In the past, education for Thai people was not broadly provided. Only noble's children were provided good education. Parents took their children to stay and study with monks or teacher whom could not take many students at a time. By this reason, King Rama III wished to provide better and broader education for Thai people who wanted to study by themselves. The inscribed stone plates in Wat Pra Chetupon became sources of knowledge. The temple implicitly became the first university for people in Thailand.
The knowledge inscribed on stone plates is the advanced one. Persons who thoroughly learn this valuable knowledge can use them to work as their professions. The knowledge is divided into 8 categories that are, namely, the history of the temple, Medicine treatises and sanitation, Traditions, Literatures, Proverbs, Precedence, and Buddhism.
Among these eight categories, the interesting categories are the Medicine treatises and Sanitation, especially, the treatise of Thai traditional massage that has been a science of therapy in Thailand for generations. The Thai traditional massage is also accepted by modern medical practice that the therapy has been well cultivated and it is still an important method for therapy and, definitely, it will continue to develop.
Besides the gracefulness of churches, temples, pagodas, Buddha images and other structures, the other interesting features are the sculptures of ascetics performing Yoga (bending his body) that are situated around the place. The way that ascetic bends the body represents the style that is used for relaxing body and curing other illness after his long practice of penance. For example, having and ache, dizziness, having high pressures and low pressures etc.
Besides the images of ascetics, there is a rhyme for people to read. It says;
Bending body to relief dizziness and headache
He stayed alone in the forest
Scared with wild creatures
Poorly ill with aches
Caused by long practice of penance.
The method is to sit with body stays upright, put hands together on top of the head, contract body, take a deep breath and stretch to expand chest and stomach. Then stop inhaling for a few seconds and start to exhale until the stomach is most flat. Relax the body is the last stage. Alternately proceed this method as many time as desired.
This is only a small piece of knowledge from Wat Pra Chetupon, the university for people. There are lots more stories inside the temple. All Thai and foreigners are very welcome to visit and study. Other stories of this temple will be present here in the near future.
25 September 2000