Nostalgia can sometimes take you on a trip of its own ; which is probably why I found myself heading to Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha Temple in Bangkok, twenty years after my first visit here. I barely had any memory of my maiden trip to Bangkok and an old under exposed photograph showed a Golden Buddha in a reclining pose. Intrigued, I decided to revisit the temple and learnt that the name, Wat Pho takes its name after a monastery in India where Buddha once used to live.
Our journey to the temples started as we flew in a sky train and landed at the pier. Jostling through the crowds at the jetty, we took a couple of Express Boats and cruised down the Chao Phraya River watching the skyscape alternate between modern buildings and old monasteries built on the banks of the river. It was a warm day but the sky was clothed in rather monotone shades and I rued the absence of a blue sky. Yet the landscape was drenched in colours as we stepped out in the piers. A vibrant market greeted us as we quenched our thirst with a huge ball of tender coconut filled with sweet water.
Wat Arun stood in front of us, the temple of dawn or Wat Chaeng , built to represent Mount Meru, which is believed to be at the centre of the world in Buddhism. Glittering in the light, the ceramic tiles and porcelain mosaic fascinated us. We huffed and puffed as we climbed the 79 metre high tower representing the 33 heavens. Wat Arun was a reference to the Hindu deity Aruna which symbolises the dawn and it was later renamed as Wat Arun Ratchavararam. The view of the river was magnificent and we stood there for a while admiring it.
Read my post and photofeature on Wat Arun.
Located adjacent to the Grand Palace, the official name of Wat Pho is quite a mouthful. It is called the Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan or simply put, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Interestingly this temple is considered the birthplace of Thai Massage and after almost roaming around the entire complex for almost two hours, I did want a massage . One of the oldest Wats in Bangkok, Wat Pho was once a centre of learning for traditional Thai medicine.
The centrepiece however here was a 15 metre long Reclining Buddha and a Bodhi tree stood here in the middle, believed to be propagated here from the original Bodhi tree in India. We entered to see Buddha smiling in his reclining pose, his head supported by his right arm. The foot which was more than three metres high was divided into 108 panels, representing the auspicious symbols. The corridor also had about 108 copper bowls. And the authority of Thailand stood above the Buddha, represented by a seven tier umbrella.
But there was more to this 300 year old temple than just the Reclining Buddha. Spread over 80000 sq metres, one could see more than thousand images of Buddha besides a 160 feet tall Buddha. In addition to the shrine, there was a massage centre where ancient medicine and Thai massage practises were still taught. And there was also a monastery and another school here . As we walked around the temple complex, filled with stupas and viharas, we saw several artists sitting on the steps drawing sketches of the monuments and the Gods.
The sky darkened as we lost our way. Almost every stupa looked the same. There were more than 16 gates here, each guarded by ferocious giants, sculptures brought from China. Finally we found our way, gazing at the many Buddhas that smiled at us on the way.
If you are planning a visit to Bangkok with family, then here is a great post on Things to do in Bangkok with kids.