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Roof and gable of the main viharn of Wat Phra Singh in Chang Mai

This article on Thai Temple Art and Architecture discusses Buddhist temples in Thailand.



A typical Wat Thai (loosely translated as monastery or temple) has an enclosing wall that divides it from the secular world.

Wat architecture in Thailand

Wat Chiang Man, from left to right: Ubosoth, Hor Trai and Chedi
The kamphaeng kaew (crystal wall) surrounding the ubosoth at Wat Ratchabopit in Bangkok

The architecture of a Wat has seen many changes in Thailand in the course of history. Although there are many differences in lay-out and style, they all adhere to the same principals.

A Thai temple, with few exceptions, consists of two parts: The Phuttha-wat and the Sangha-wat.


The Phutthawat

The Phutthawat (Thai: เขถพุทธาวาส) is the area which is dedicated to Buddha. It generally contains several buildings:

  • Chedi (Thai: พระเจดีย์) - also known as a stupa it is mostly seen in the form of a bell-shaped tower, often accessible and covered with gold leaf, containing a relic chamber.
  • Prang (Thai: พระปรางค์) - the Thai version of Khmer temple towers, mostly seen in temples from the Sukhothai and the Ayutthaya period.
  • Ubosoth or Bot (Thai: พระอุโบสถ or โบสถ์) - the Ordination Hall and most sacred area of a Wat. Eight Sema stones (Bai Sema, Thai: ใบเสมา) mark the consecrated area.
  • Viharn (Thai: พระวิหาร) - in Thai temples this designates a shrine hall that contains the principal Buddha images; it is the assembly hall where monks and believers congregate.
  • Hor Trai (Thai: หอไตร) - the Temple Library or Scriptures Depository houses the sacred Tipiṭaka scriptures. Sometimes they are built in the form of a Mondop (Thai: พระมณฑป), a cubical-shaped building where the pyramidal roof is carried by columns.
  • Sala (Thai: ศาลา) - an open pavilion providing shade and a place to rest.
  • Sala Kan Prian (Thai: ศาลาการเปรียญ) - a large, open hall where lay people can hear sermons or receive religious education. It literally means "Hall, in which monks study for their Prian exam" and is used for saying afternoon prayers.
  • Hor Rakang (Thai: หอระฆัง) - the bell tower is used for waking the monks and to announce the morning and evening ceremonies.
  • Phra Rabieng (Thai: พระระเบียง) - a peristyle is sometimes built around the sacred inner area as a cloister.
  • Additional buildings can also be found inside the Phuttawat area, depending on local needs, such as a crematorium or a school.

The buildings are often adorned with elements such as chofahs. In temples of the Rattanakosin era, such as Wat Pho and Wat Ratchabopit, the ubosoth can be contained within a (low) inner wall called a Kamphaeng Kaew (Thai: กำแพงแก้ว), which translated to 'Crystal Wall'.

The Sanghawat

The Sanghawat (Thai: เขถสังฆวาส) contains the living quarters of the monks. It also lies within the wall surrounding the whole temple compound. The sanghawat area can have the following buildings:

  • Kuti (Thai: กุฎิ) - originally a small structure, built on stilts, designed to house a monk, with its proper size defined in the Sanghathisep, Rule 6, to be 12 by 7 Keub (4.013 by 2.343 meters). Modern kutis take on the shape of an apartment building with small rooms for the monks.
  • The sanghawat can also contain the 'Hor Rakang' (bell tower) and even the 'Sala Kan Prian' (sermon hall).
  • It will house most of the functional buildings such as a kitchen building where food can be prepared by lay people, and sanitary buildings.

Popular Temple Icons

During the 10th century, Thai Theravada Buddhism and Hindu cultures merged, and Hindu elements were introduced into Thai iconography. Popular figures include the four-armed figure of Vishnu; the garuda (half man, half bird); the eight-armed Shiva; elephant-headed Ganesh; the nāga, which appears as a snake, dragon or cobra; and the ghost-banishing giant Yaksha.

See also

Depictions of the Buddha

Statues and ornamentation: deities, demons and mythical beings

Architectural elements


External links

Further reading

  • Karl Döhring, Buddhist Temples of Thailand: An Architectonic Introduction, White Lotus, 2000. ISBN 974-7534-40-1


  • Discovery Channel by Scott Rutherford, "Insight Guides: Thailand.", APA Publications GmbH & Co., 2004.
  • Discovery Channel by Steve Van Beek, "Insight Pocket Guide: Thailand.", APA Publications GmbH & Co., 2004.
  • Maria Grazia Casella and Paola Piacco, "Thailand: Nature and Wonders.", Asia Books Co,.Ltd., 2004.
  • John Hoskin and Gerald Cubitt, "This is Thailand.", Asia Books Co.,Ltd., 2003


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