Wat Bowonniwet Vihara is a first class Royal Buddhist monastery (raja wara maha vihara) of the Dhammayut tradition, located on the northeast side of Bangkok’s Ratanakosin island, just inside the old city wall bordering Banglumpoo canal, on Pra Sumeru road. The monastery’s name comes from the Pali language: Pavara+niwesa and translates as the Excellent Abode Monastery.
Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, or Wat Bowon for short, has a long and interesting history beginning with the arrival of the first abbot, Prince Mongkut, in 1836. The Prince Bhikkhu, also known by his monastic name, Phra Vajiranyano, was ordained for twenty-seven years, and abbot of Wat Bowonniwet for fourteen, before ascending the throne as Phra Bat Somdet Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua — better known in English as King Rama IV.
There have been five former abbots here, three of whom were Supreme Patriarchs. The abbots after King Mongkut were:
2.) His Holiness Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn. (Thai title: Somdet Pra Maha Samana Chao Krom Phraya Pavares Variyalongkorn (birth title: Phra Ong Chao Rerk), the second abbot from 1851 – 1892.
3.) His Holiness Prince Vajiranyanavarorassa. (Thai title: Somdet Pra Maha Samana Chao Krom Phraya Vajiranyanavarorassa (birth title: Phra Ong Chao Manussanagmanop), the third abbot from 1892 – 1921,
4.) His Holiness Somdet Pra Sangharaj Chao Krom Luang Vajiranyanavongse (birth title: Mom Rajawong Chuen Nopavongse), fourth abbot from 1921 – 1958, and
5.) Phra Prommuni (Pin, Suvaco), fifth abbot from 1958 – 1961.
6.) His Holiness Somdet Pra Sangharaj Chao Krom Luang Vajiranyanasamvara (birth name: Charoen Ghotchawat, Suvaddhano), 19th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, sixth abbot from 1961-2013.
7.) Somdet Pra Vanarat (Jund, Brahamagutto), seventh abbot from 2015-2022.
8.) Phra Dhamvajiranyan (Jirapol) Interim abbot March 2022 – present.
Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn (1809-1893)
Second Abbot (1851-1893)
Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn was born Thursday, September 14, 1809. He was the twenty-first child of Prince Jui, and first child of Noi Lek. As he was born at the commencement of the coronation ceremonies, King Rama II named him “Rerk”, or “Auspicious Time”. Subsequently, Prince Jui was appointed to the position of Viceroy during the reign of Rama II, under the title of Maha Senanurak.
When Maha Senanurak passed away, Princess Thepayavadee, Prince Pavares’ paternal aunt, took him to live in the Grand Palace, with Prince Mongkut (Rama IV) as his protege. Therefore, Prince Mongkut and Prince Rerk were well acquainted since their youth.
Prince Pavares was ordained as a novice in 1822, and went to reside at Wat Mahadhatu with his preceptor, the 3rd Supreme Patriarch (Mee). He studied the fundamentals of the Pali language with Phra Nyanasombodhi (Rod) Chamnichamnan, and later passed an oral exam, conducted in the presence of Pali teachers convening at the Former Palace. In 1826, he contracted small pox and had to return to lay life in order to regain his health. After he regained his health, Maha Sakdi Phol Sep, the Viceroy during the Third Reign, wanted him to ordain as a novice again, which he did. The prince remained a novice until he was fully twenty years of age, in 1829. In preparing for the higher (bhikkhu) ordination ceremony, King Rama III had Prince Pavares disrobe first, to partake in a pre-ordination celebration, along with the king’s younger brother, Celestial Prince Abhorn, who was preparing for novice ordination. Prince Pavares’ preceptor was the 5th Supreme Patriarch (Don), Prince Paramanuchitchinorot and Phra Vinayarakkhita were his teachers.
Prince Mongkut received higher ordination in the traditional Thai Order in 1824, however, due to his concerns relating to the Monastic Code, he subsequently received ordination in the Mon lineage and moved to Wat Samorrai (Wat Rajadhiwat). Prince Pavares followed his example and was re-ordained in a water boundary, with Phra Sumedhacariya (Buddhavamso, Sai) acting as his preceptor, and Prince Mongkut as his teacher. He was given formal Dhamma training under the tutelage of Phra Vichienprecha (Poo), a royal scholar.
Later, after King Rama III had conferred an ecclesiastical title upon Prince Mongkut, the king gave the fan formerly used by Prince Mongkut to Prince Pavares. The embroidered fan, made of linen with silver threads, was equal in level to those held by Pali scholars.
In 1836, King Rama III invited Prince Mongkut to become abbot of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, having him moved from Wat Rajadhiwat to Wat Bowonniwet Vihara in a large boat procession. Prince Pavares came to Wat Bowonniwet Vihara at that time, accompanying Prince Mongkut in the flotilla.
In 1849, King Rama III conferred an ecclesiastical title upon Prince Pavares, complete with fan, robes and other regalia. The fan, known as “thom pat” in Thai, consisted of a copper frame, painted with multi color enamel—unusual when compared to the ubiquitous, embroidered fan. King Rama III passed away in 1851, and was succeeded by Prince Mongkut (Rama IV). In that same year, the king conferred upon Prince Pavares the title of Krom. The abbreviated version of his name was: kroma muen bowonransi suriyapan. However, the long version, as recorded on a gold plate, is as follows:
phra chao varavong ter kroma muen bowonransi suriyapan piya bhromacariyadhammavarayut patibat sudhaghananayaka buddhasasana dilokpavaraybanpajit sabbadhammikakiccakosol suvimolpricha pannyaagga mahasamanudom borombopit
On that occasion, the king offered Prince Pavares two fans: the first, the handle and finial were made of ivory, the finial was carved in the form of a crown. The fan body was embroidered with gold thread, a crown motif visible in the middle. The second fan was made up entirely of ivory. Phraya Sudhammontri (Boonsri Buranasiri) created this fan for Rama IV, to offer to Prince Pavares. This fan reflected his position as head of the Dhammayut Order.
When Prince Chulalongkorn (Rama V r. 1868-1910) was ordained as a novice on July 19, 1866, Prince Pavares acted as his preceptor, and again, seven years later, when King Chulalongkorn received the higher ordination as a bhikkhu, on October 3rd, 1873. (cont…)
Prince Vajiranyanvarorasa (1860-1921)
Third Abbot (1893-1921)
Prince Vajiranyanavarorasa was born Thursday, April 12, 1860. He was the forty-seventh son of King Mongkut (Rama IV) and fourth child of Pae, a first-class consort. His father named him Manusyanagmanop, or ‘young man who is a Naga amongst human beings’. The reason for this unusual name was due to the prince being born during a downpour, and nagas (supernatural serpents) are associated with water.
The following year, the prince’s mother died after giving birth to her fifth child. Her five children were: Princess Ying Yaowalak, Princess Pak Pimonphan, Prince Kasemsan Sopak, Prince Manusyanagmanop, and Princess Banjopbenjama. Princess Vorasetsuda (Phra Ong Chao Putri), a daughter of King Rama III and Tao-song-kandan and was a relative of Pae, took in all five children.
Prince Vajiranyana’s preliminary education was conducted by the ladies of the inner court. Ms. Nok, daughter of Phra Sri Virot, taught the Siamese alphabet and reading, while Princess Vorasetsuda taught math. At the age of eight, he undertook the study of Pali language and Khmer script with Phraya Pariyatti Dhammatada (Piam), along with many of his half siblings, at the Suddhaisawan hall, in the Grand Palace. He could translate the Dhammapada before he was ordained as a novice. Furthermore, he studied English and French with Francis Patterson, as well as other contemporary subjects.
Prince Vajiranyana was ordained as a novice at the age of fourteen along with several of his half brothers, in the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha on August 7, 1873. Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn was his preceptor, while Prince Thammunhisa administered the Refuges and Precepts. He resided at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara for two and a half months before returning to lay life.
At the age of twenty, the prince received higher, bhikkhu ordination at the Emerald Buddha Chapel on Friday, June 27, 1879, with the monastic name Manusanago, given to him by his preceptor, Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn. His teacher (kammavacacariya) was Phra Candara Gocarakhun (Yim, Candavamso).
After having spent his first rains retreat at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, Prince Vajiranyanavarorasa went to reside at Wat Makutkasatriyaram, to study the Dhamma with Phra Candara Gocarakhun and he studied the Pali language with Phra Brohmmuni (Fang, Kittisaro). While there, he underwent a reaffirmation of his ordination (dalhikamma) on a raft in front of Wat Rajadhiwas, as per Dhammayut tradition for royals, on January 3, 1879. His preceptor was Phra Candara Gocarakhun (Yim, Candavamso), while his teacher was Phra Trailokacariya (Dej Thanacaro), abbot of Wat Thepsirintarawat, was his teacher.
After the prince had been in the Order for three years he applied for the Pali oral exams, which took place in the Green Room of the Phra Borom Rajasathit Maholarn. The committee was made up of ten senior monks under the direction of Prince Pavares Variyalongkorn. Prince Vajiranyanavarorasa passed the Fifth level of Pali studies at that time, translating the Dhammapada Commentary, Mangalatthadipani, and the Saratthasamgaha.
King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) bestowed the title of Kroma Muen Vajiranyanavarorasa upon his younger brother in 1881, giving him a senior ecclesiastical rank, designating him a secondary leader (chao gana rong) of the Dhammayut Order. (Cont…)
Before the arrival of Venerable Vajiranyano, the area presently occupied by Wat Bowonniwet was actually two different monasteries separated by a canal — Wat Mai to the north and Wat Rangsee Suddhawas to the south. As Wat Mai was abbotless, King Rama III (1824-1851) requested the Prince Bhikkhu to take over as abbot in 1836. Later, during the reign of king Rama VI (1910-1925), the two monasteries were incorporated into one, resulting in the temples present dimensions.
The Temple Precincts
Buddhist monasteries are usually divided into two sections: Buddhavasa – buildings and structures devoted to the Buddha such as the Uposatha hall, the Cetiya or Stupa, etc., and Sanghavasa – or dwellings for monks (bhikkhus) and novices (samaneras).