Understanding Thai Temples

If you want to understand Thai Temples, here are some easily recognized features to get you started:

The Thai word for temple is wat. When you are giving or receiving directions, Thais usually refer to the nearest wat since the neighborhood wat’s location will be familiar to everyone. That’s how central they are to Thai life.

Temples usually consist of several buildings: large buildings, shrines (big and small) and monuments enclosed–all by a wall. There are thousands of temples in Thailand, and every town and village has at least one. In Chiang Mai, where I live, some city blocks have four!

The word “wat” (วัด) means school, as the temples were the only place where formal education took place for centuries. To this day, poorer families send their children to the temple school. Buddhist wats usually consists of:

  • Bot: The prayer or meditation room. It’s usually open only to monks. Architecturally similar to the viharn (below), but more heavily decorated. It is also called the “ordination hall” and it is where the monks take their vows.
  • Viharn: The busiest structure in a wat, where the temple’s main Buddha image is displayed and where people come to make offerings. It is open to all.
  • Chedi or stupa: A tall bell-shaped structure that generally houses relics of the Buddha.
  • Prang: A tall, slender spire (of Khmer and Ayutthayan origin) that serves the same devotional purpose as a chedi.
  • Mondop: A square, open-sided building with four arches and a pyramidal roof often where religious texts or objects are displayed for veneration.
  • Sala: An open-sided pavilion that is used for relaxation, as a meeting place, for larger crowds to hear the dharma read, and a rain shelter.
  • Chofah (‘sky tassel’): Bird-like decorations on the end of temple roofs. They represent Garuda, a mythical creature that is half bird and half man.

Now, here’s a video about understanding local, Chiang Mai Thailand temples:

And Some More Reading to Help Your Understanding of Thai Temples

  • President Obama’s First Stop in Asia Is in Thailand | The White House – Though his stop to the country lasted for less than one full day, the President visited a Buddhist temple at the Wat Pho monastery, met with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, held a joint press conference with Thai Prime Minister …
  • Speak More Chinese, Ambassador Tells Thais – NYTimes.com – Recently, there was much embarrassment at home after a teenage boy from Nanjing scrawled “Ding Jinhao was here” on a stone relief in Egypt’s 3,500-old Luxor Temple. There are reports about “cashed-up” Chinese tourists …
  • Thai temples – page 1/7 – Thai World View – THAI TEMPLES. A Thai Buddhist temple (“WAT” – วัด) is a complex comprising several distinct religious buildings. Major Buddhist ceremonies happen in temples. Some ceremonies (wedding, death, building consecration) are done by monks …
  • Thai temples – page 5/7 – The Buddhist flag is yellow-orange. The Dharma wheel is drawn on it. The Thai flag (“THONG TRAI RONG” – ธงไตรรงค์) symbolises the monarchy (blue color), the nation (red color) and the Buddhism (white color). Buddhist and Thai flags …

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