Adorning Bangkok’s skyline and postcards with equal splendor, any trip to Thailand’s capital city is incomplete without a visit to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. This Buddhist temple bags the honour of being one of the most exquisite architectural wonders of Thailand, owing to its location on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River and its distinctive design.
The temple is named after the Hindu God Aruna, often portrayed as the vermillion rays of the rising sun. The sight of the first rays of sun reflecting off the temple surface is a souvenir you must add to your memories. Being one of the six temples to bear the honour of the first class Royal Temples, the temple itself has practically seen Bankok grow into the city as it is. Wat Arun is easily recognised by its 80 metre high spire or prang, lording over the river in all its majesty. Ironically, the best view of the Temple of Dawn is seen at sunset from the eastern side of the river where the Wat Arun is lit up in all its glory and shines radiantly against a dark, night sky backdrop.
Wat Arun is said to be an architect’s attempt at epitomizing Mount Meru, which is the centre of the world in Buddhist cosmology. Mount Meru essentially symbolizes the centre of the universe and the unification of the goals of the mind sought by monks and devotees. This location is believed to exist beyond the realm of material actuality in a demesne of perfection and transcendence. This symbolism is brought to life with the four corner (satellite) prangs of Wat Arun, containing images of the guardian gods of the four directions. The satellite prangs are in honour of the Wind God and the yakshas at the entrance, the white figure being Sahassa Deja and the green one being Thotsakan (aka Ravana) from the Ramayana.
Worshipping the prang at Wat Arun is said to bring eternal happiness and a new dawn or beginning. Holding three joss sticks and a pair of candles, one must encircle the prang thrice in a clockwise direction.
Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan or the Wat Arun temple is deeply rooted in the history of Thai culture and religion.
It began its journey into documented history in the Ayutthaya Dynasty as a Buddhist temple named Wat Makok after the village of its location Bang Makok. The term Wat means a group of religious buildings enclosed by a multi gated wall. The Ayutthaya Era saw ships from all over the world sailing up and down the River of Kings. These ships would stop at the junction of the Chao Phraya river called Thonburi to restock their supplies for the journey while the sailors would sojourn in reverence to the old temple.
Wat Arun was shown in French maps during the 17th century rule of King Narai according to the historian Prince Damrong Rajanubhab.
King Taksin’s royal fleet disembarked at Wat Makok precisely at the hour of dawn. They stopped to pay their respects to the Holy Relic housed in the Pagoda and the temple was subsequently renamed to Wat Chaeng- the Temple of Dawn. Upon proclaiming himself ruler, King Taskin deemed Wat Chaeng a royal temple within the grand palace on account of it being the first place in Thonburi to see the morning sunlight. In order to worship privately in the temple, the king ill treated the monks and expelled them from the place.
The temple was home to the Emerald Buddha image before being moved to Wat Phra Kaew on the eastern bank of the river in 1785. King Taskin’s successor Rama I relocated the palace to the other side of the river, leaving the temple abandoned until Rama II restored it and lengthened the pagoda.
An architectural marvel in itself, the temple is characterised by a colossal 79-80 metre prang built in the Khmer style and is fenced by four smaller prangs. The large prang is adorned and caked with ceramic tiles and porcelain fragments of various colours previously used as ballasts by boats from China, creating a visually appealing spectacle. The architecture, on close inspection reveals a subtle burst of colour complete with mosaic adornments. The central prang is crowned by a seven pronged Trident called the Trident of Shiva. Its base is ornamented by sculpture depicting Chinese soldiers and animals. The second terrace features four statues of the Hindu God Indra. The satellite prangs house images of and are dedicated to Phra Phai, the God of Wind.
Tourists and devotees are permitted to walk up the steep steps of the main prang upto a certain point which offers scenic views of the Chao Phraya river. The stairway opens up to a pair of terraces fashioning the prang foundation The second terrace features four statues of the Hindu God Indra. Various layers of this material depiction of the thirty-three heavens are supported by sculptures of Kinnaree (demi humans) and yakshas (demons).
The central prang, according to Buddhist iconography has three symbolic levels indicating existence, gratification of desires and six heavens of the seven realms of happiness respectively. At the riverside, you will find six Chinese style pavilions made of green granite which have landing bridges. There is also an Ordination Hall near the prang housing a Niramitr Buddha image which has a central spired roof embellished with coloured ceramic and stuccowork enveloped in coloured china.
Situated directly opposite Wat Pho, you can easily reach the temple by taking a river boat from Sapphan Taskin Boat Pier stopping at Pier 8. A small shuttle boat transports you across the river from here. The entry fee to the temple is 100 baht.
The temple is open daily from 08:30 am to 5:30 pm, but the best time to visit is sunset as the temple is resplendent across the twilight sky and offers stunning views. If you want to avoid the crowds, early morning would be the best time to visit.
Climbing the steps of the prang is a little difficult owing to the steep declivity, but it offers magnificent views of the river and the grand palace. It is necessary to dress appropriately and certain cover-ups are available for hire at the entrance.
Basking in the sunlight or shining through the darkness, visit this temple for an architectural feast, a historical spectacle and a renewed sense of spirituality.