March 27, 2016
Visiting the many thousands of ‘Wat’s’ (temples) across the magical Kingdom of Thailand is one of the many reasons so many people come to these shores each year, listed here are the “Do’s and Don’ts” when entering temple grounds.
Did you know there are a total of 40,717 Buddhist temples in Thailand as of 31 December 2004, of which 33,902 are in current use, according to the Office of National Buddhism. For a list of these temples provided by Wikipedia click here
Etiquette to observe
Please Note: As with all temples of worship anywhere in the world, those attending are respectively asked that they follow a number of simple rules:
- Bow your head and pay respect to the temple and the Buddha statues.
- Do not point at Buddha statues, Monks, Nuns and/or elders especially with your feet
- Cover yourself from the shoulders down to at least below your knees.
- Keep your head below Buddha statues, images, honourable Monks and Nuns
- Bow your head and pay respect to the temple and the Buddha statues.
- Do not touch (especially on the head) Buddha statues, images, Monks, Nuns and elders.
- Please refrain from public displays of affection
- Keep Quiet. There are those meditating or praying somewhere even though you may not see them
- It may be very fascinating to foreigners to see a reclining Buddha. However, do not get too close to a Buddha statue when taking a picture. Where possible kneel on the ground so that you head is below the statue.
Buddhist monks and Women
Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch ,or to be touched by a woman or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman has to give anything to a monk or novice, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it. Or in the case of a woman who wants to present it with her hand, the monk or novice will spread out a piece of saffron robe or handkerchief in front of him, and the woman will lay down the material on the robe which is being held at one end by the monk or novice.
All Buddha images, large or small, ruined or not, are regarded as sacred objects. Therefore, do not climb up on one to take a photograph, or generally speaking, do anything that might show a lack of respect.
Failure to adhere to these simple rules will be viewed as offensive.
More on Temples
Buddhist temples in Thailand are known as “wats”, from the Pāḷi vāṭa, meaning an enclosure. A temple normally has an enclosing wall that divides it from the outside world. While the architecture of the Kingdoms Wat’s has seen many changes over its long and at times bloody history in both their lay out and style they all adhere to the same principles.
A Thai temple, with few exceptions, consists of two parts: the Phutthawat and the Sangkhawat.
The Phutthawat (Thai: พุทธาวาส) is the area which is dedicated to Buddha. It generally contains several buildings:
- Chedi (Thai: เจดีย์): 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: ปรางค์): The Thai version of Khmer temple towers, mostly seen in temples from the Sukhothai and the Ayutthaya period.
- Ubosot or Bot (Thai: อุโบสถ or Thai: โบสถ์): The ordination hall and most sacred area of any wat. Eight Sema stones (Bai Sema, Thai: ใบเสมา) mark the consecrated area.
- Wihan (Thai: วิหาร): In Thai temples this designates a shrine hall that contains the principal Buddha images. It is the assembly hall where monks and laypeople congregate.
- Mondop (Thai: มณฑป): A mondop is a specific square or cruciform based building or shrine, sometimes with a spired roof within a Thai Buddhist temple or temple complex. It is a ceremonial structural form that can be applied to several different kinds of buildings. It can house relics, sacred scriptures or act as a shrine. Unlike the mandapa of Khmer or Indian temple, which are part of a larger structure, the Thai mondop is a free-standing unit.
- Ho 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 parian (Thai: ศาลาการเปรียญ): A large, open hall where laity can hear sermons or receive religious education. It literally means “hall, in which monks study for their Parian exam” and is used for saying afternoon prayers.
- Ho rakhang (Thai: หอระฆัง): The bell tower is used for waking the monks and to announce the morning and evening ceremonies.
- Phra rabiang (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 chofas.
In temples of the Rattanakosin era, such as Wat Pho and Wat Ratchabophit, the ubosot can be contained within a (low) inner wall called a Kamphaeng Kaeo (Thai: กำแพงแก้ว), which translates to “crystal wall”.
The sangkhawat (Thai: สังฆาวาส) contains the living quarters of the monks. It also lies within the wall surrounding the whole temple compound. The sangkhawat area can have the following buildings:
- Kuti (Thai: กุฏิ): Originally a small structure, built on stilts, designed to house a monk. Modern kutis take on the shape of an apartment building with small rooms for the monks.
- The sangkhawat can also contain the ‘Ho rakhang’ (bell tower) and even the ‘Sala Kan Parian’ (sermon hall).
- It will house most of the functional buildings such as a kitchen building where food can be prepared by laity, and sanitary buildings.
Making an offering at a Buddhist Temple
The most common Buddhist ceremony you are likely to witness in Thailand is called wai phra; wai being the traditional greeting with palms pressed together and raised towards the face and phra being the word for a Buddha image, monk or priest.
There are no hard and fast rules, to state you have to be Buddhist, to make a wai phra offering, nor are there, any ardent rules on how a wai phra is conducted.
For what I have seen here in Thailand, all are welcome in the Buddhist faith, to pay their respects and any attending Buddhists will be quite happy to see you join in a wai phra, so long as it is conducted with respect. (Also see our post; Thailand’s Wai Phra)
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