Vastu-shastra (5): Temple Architecture

by D. N. Shukla | 1960 | 69,139 words | ISBN-10: 8121506115 | ISBN-13: 9788121506113

This page describes Temple architecture in Siam (Thailand) of the study on Vastu-Shastra (Indian architecture) fifth part (Temple architecture). This part deals with This book deals with an outline history of Hindu Temple (the place of worship). It furtherr details on various religious buildings in India such as: shrines, temples, chapels, monasteries, pavilions, mandapas, jagatis, prakaras etc. etc.

“The ancient Śyāma-deśa was the north-western one of the six states forming the peninsula east of India and South of China. It then included Burma proper and the northern part of modern Siam east of the Salwin [Salween?], of which Haripuṇya-pura, now Lamphum, on the Me-ping, was probably the capital. It was thus bounded on the west by Indian Ocean, on the north by China, on the east by the Champadesa, and on the south by the Kambhoja-deśa, the sea (Śyama-Sāgara) and the Malaya-desa”.

The building art of Siam can not be said to be sufficiently pronounced. Siam is Śyāma-deśa of the Rāmāyaṇa in connection with the search for Sita, stolen by Rāvaṇa.

Avoiding the details of Siam-history its different races and the Indian penetration the settlements thereof:

“Essentially Buddhistic, the architecture of Siam, owing to the geographical accessibility of the country, shows perceptably in its characteristics the influences of the Buddhist countries with which in the course of its history it came into contact. A few references may suffice to explain the extent and diversity of these external currents on the Siamese style of building at different periods. For instance in the temple of Maha-Tat, presumably of the twelfth century, at Sawank’alok, the tower, or śikhara, shows an affinity to those erected in the tenth and eleventh centuries by the Palas of Bengal, and in its detailed treatment to those of Angkor in Cambodia, or the Bhubaneswar temples of Orissa in Eastern India. The temple of Na Pra Tat (c. eleventh century?) ‘is akin to the Javanese style of the seventh or eighth century’, while in the temple of Chat Yot near Chiengmai there is a distinct resemblance to the shrine of Budh Gaya in Behar; it should be explained however that this great Indian monument, owing to its special sanctity on account of its personal associations with the Buddha, has been the original model for a number of buildings in Buddhists Asia. At Lamp’un the temple or P’ra Yun is reminiscent of the That-Byin-Nyu at Pagan, and from a more distant source, the shrine of the temple at Shri-Sarap’et in Ayudhya there is an approach to that of the Lankatilaka (Jetawanarama [Jetavanarama?]) of the twelfth century at Polonnaruwa in Ceylon. The list might be extended, the resemblance of some of these examples being more convincing than others, but they provide evidences that the master-builders of Siam not only received the impact of these external currents but were also sufficiently impressionable, as well as skilful, as to be able to make use of them in giving variety to the style of their own architectural conceptions”.

The various types of structures peculiar to the architecture of Śyāmadeśa are the:

  1. Vat or Wat a stūpa or temple,
  2. Pra a stūpa,
  3. Vihāra monastry,
  4. Bot consecration hall,
  5. Prakeo imperial places of worship, or Chapel Royal,
  6. Chattamukh (caumukha or Caturmukha) or shrine of four images,
  7. Maṇḍab [Mandab] or Maṇḍapa, Favillian or a large open hall.

Percy Brown remarks that:

“These are apparently derived from two separate traditions, the P’ra-jedi being circular in plan, and the p’ra-prang being rectangular, and accordingly the former has its origin attributed to the Indian stupa, while the latter has been traced to the spire or sikhara of the Indian temple in the Indo-Aryan style. That the p’ra-jedi is a Siamese development of the stupa is quite clear, as the circular plan, and the bell-shaped element in its superstructure are ample proof, but its tapering elongation and finial have removed it far from the original tumulus or mound. Yet as with the stupa, the p’ra-jedi is a solid structure with no interior compartments, and is venerated, like the Crucifix in Christendom, as the most sacred symbol of the Buddhist faith. The derivation of the P’ra-prang is not so certain, but it has much the same significance and sanctity as the p’ra-jedi, although it differs structurally inasmuch as it may include an alcove or cella within its interior. Of the same tall aspiring shape, yet instead of the tapering finial it terminates at its apex in a rounded or domical form, thus recalling in this respect the amala-sila crowning the sikharas of the Brahmanical temple type”.

We can resolve the architectural development of Siam into three periods. The first phase is designated as the Dvārāvatī the name of an ancient Kingdom situated between the two countries corresponding at present to Burma on the one hand and Cambodia on the other. Among the remains a few sculptures are interesting otherwise the buildings are rare. The discoveries however prove that they illustrate the combined influences from the south India, Mammallapura.

The second period or Khmer period was initiated in the 10th century which lasted for three centuries. Mainly being influenced by Burmese ideals the period is called Non-Khmer School as Khmers too were initiated into the Eastern-ideals. The surviving examples of the period are found in such old regions as Sawank alok, Suk’ot’ai and Pits-anulok.

The two typical temples are found in the historical town of Lopburi, the ancient Lavo, eighty miles due north of Bangkok.

“Of the two principal buildings here having Cambodian affinities that of the temple of Wat Mahadhatu, and ascribed to the twelfth century, is the most distinctive. Within a walled enclosure, and consisting of a sanctuary tower with its attached portico or mandapa, its general appearance conforms to that of certain mediaeval temples in India. And although the architectural treatment combines elements recalling both the Indo-Aryan and Khmer styles, it is no slavish copy of either of these modes, but a definite original effort. It is true that the tower or śikhara, in the main, follows the outlines and also the substance of Angkor type, and to a lesser degree those of the temples of India, but there any similarity to either of these styles ends.”

The other temple of Khmer attribution at Lopuri i.e. that of P’ra Prang-som Yot is of quite a different character, not associated with Buddhism, nor with the Brahmanical faith. It is a triple temple each surrounded by its tower. These are more closely affiliated in style to the later Cambodian type. The śikharas display their affinity with south Indian Gopuras though terminating in the amalaśilā, as in the blunted finial of p’ra-prang.

Another temple in old suk’ot’ai is that of Wat Sisawai which is also composed of triple towers.

“Several other significant examples of the effect of the Khmer domination may be referred to, such as a temple at Pimai, built towards the end of the tenth century, another at Panom Wan possibly dating from the eleventh century, and that at Panom Rung of the twelfth, which, if these dates are confirmed, will give a series of examples showing the progressive development of the style.”

The 13th century marks the beginning of the Tai period of building art on Siam which shows influence of Java and Ceylon. The background being the vital of Buddha worship, this period is famous for a colossal size of the Great Teacher notably in bronze, housed in monda-like structures as represented and illustrated in the temples of Maha-Tat at Sawank, alok and another having:

“The same dedication at of Suk-ot’ai, where also is situated that of Cri Chum of a similar type, all found in the more northerly region of the country, while at Ayudhya towards the south, nearer Bangkok, is the temple of Cri Sarap’et (cir. 1490). This class of temple appears to have emerged during the earlier centuries of the Tai period, and in their architectural character as well as in their ritualistic aspect, they recall in some respects the planning and perceptions of the Sinhalese in their temple of Lankatilaka at Polonnaruwa”.

In the 14th century the city of Ayudhya became the capital which was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century.

With the establishment of the capital at Bangkok in 1782 shortly after the destruction of Ayudhya, Siam entered in its modern phase:

“Of the Tai period, when the arts of all kinds received encouragement from the throne. Many important buildings have been erected in Bangkok within the last century, comprising palaces, temples, stupas and shrines, which although they maintain the general character of the historical examples, such as the p’ra-jedi and the p’ra prang, it has become the custom to overlay these traditional forms with so much ornamentation that the simple dignity of the originals is obscured by a superfluity of mouldings and string courses, rich in themselves, but made more so by each being embellished with lesser patterns until the whole presents an appearance of meretriciousness significant of a decline in taste”—Brown.

This is the bare outline of the śiamese architecture, there are yet some other important manifestations but they need not be taken up.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: