For most travellers to Thailand, their exposure to the Reclining Buddha image (more properly known as mahaparinirvana) is likely to begin and end with Wat Pho, an historic Bangkok wat which is on every tour group itinerary. While this may indeed be the country’s most magnificent Reclining Buddha image, it is far from its oldest. The historically-minded tourist can find far more ancient examples of Reclining Buddha images by heading north to the former capital of Ayutthaya. This post will cover what are arguably the most impressive Reclining Buddha images at Ayutthaya.
The best-known of these is at the ruins of the former Wat Lokkayasutharam. Though most of the original temple buildings have been destroyed, the Reclining Buddha itself has survived in excellent condition. Set on a long brick platform, it is made from brick covered in stucco- a type of construction which had probably already existed for a thousand years in Thailand by the middle of the Ayutthaya period. With a length of thirty-seven metres, it is almost as long as the famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho but, at a height of eight metres, it is only half as high. The figure has a soft, dreamy expression which is very beautiful. A unique feature is the fact that his head is pillowed on a giant lotus blossom. The treatment of the robes is also very elegant. Though there is little else on offer at the complex, it is worth coming for the Reclining Buddha alone.
A second Reclining Buddha can be seen in the ruins of Ayutthaya at the complex of Wat Yai Chai Mongkol. There are many historical vestiges at this wat complex, including one truly magnificent chedi surrounded by rows of seated Buddhas. However, for the purposes of this post, the sole object of interest is a Reclining Buddha image. Made from brick and stucco, it can be found in the ruins of a former temple building. The brick platform remains, as does a pair of brick and stucco columns. However, the focal point is the image itself. The Buddha is propped up on an elegantly proportioned arm, portions of which are covered with gold-leaf. It appears that the image may have been restored in the recent past, as it appears remarkably intact. During the time of our visit, it was wrapped in saffron-coloured robe as a sign of respect. It is yet more proof of the enduring power of the Reclining Buddha in Thai religious life.
A final, noteworthy example of the Reclining Buddha image at Ayutthaya can be found at Wat Thammikarat. This is an important wat complex which was once on the main royal road through the ancient capital; vestiges of the former royal road can be seen nearby. Though it was devastated by the war of 1767, there are still substantial remains to check out, including a massive bell-shaped chedi guarded by fifty-two lion figures and the ruins of an ordination hall. Less well-known, but more important for present purposes, is a wooden vihaan which houses a twelve-metre long Reclining Buddha image. Though it is in good condition, it was an authentic patina of age, with the paint wearing through in parts. The feet of this statue are covered with gold leaf and beautifuk mirror mosaics. Fronted by numerous smaller images and votives, it remains a part of the city’s religious life.