Wat Khongkharam - The Kuti and the Mural Paintings of the Bosot

Professor Constance Wilson
Department of History
Northern Illinois University
Dekalb, IL 60115

Wat Khongkharam is a Buddhist monastery located on the bank of the Maeklong River in the province of Ratburi southwest of Bangkok, Thailand. The monastery has an ancient history. According to No Na Paknam, a Thai art historian, the temple was first built in the pre-Ayutthaya Period (before 1350), but it was abandoned when the Burmese invaded the country in 1767 and sacked the capital. The monastery was later rebuilt by the inhabitants of a nearby Mon settlement.

The monastery is best known for its bosot, the main sanctuary of a Buddhist monastery where the major religious services take place. The bosot of Wat Khongkharam is renown for its mural paintings which are said to represent an older style of Thai mural painting from the Middle Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767). King Mongkut, (Rama IV, 1851-1868) was reported to have visited this monastery in 1815, and was so impressed with the murals that he had them restored during the first years of his reign as king. The monastery underwent another restoration in the 1970s by the Fine Arts Department at the time it was declared a National Historical Monument.

In addition to the bosot, the monastery grounds contain two sections of living quarters for the monks. The kuti, the living quarters of the monks, are traditional wooden buildings that are recognized for their beautiful carvings.

The map, figure 1, shows the layout of the monastery.

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Figure 1

On the right side is the plan of the bosot surrounded by a low masonry wall. Inside is the small bosot with its thick walls, windows, and central shrine. The famous mural paintings are found on the inside walls. Small chedi (Mon in style) are scattered around the courtyard. The second area (2) includes a kuti of seven rooms, a dining area, and a hall for religious services. In the lower left corner a square marks the location of the bell tower. The third cluster (3) of buildings contains a large kuti of nine rooms and a second hall for religious devotions.  Figure 2, below is an enlargement of the bosot.

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Figure 2

Figure 3 shows the restored bosot with its surrounding wall, entrance gate, and collection of memorial chedi.

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Figure 3


The classic construction of a Thai residence made of wood is shown in slide 1. The building is raised off the ground. It has a steeply sloped roof, with a naga (water snake) running along the roofline, raising its head into the air.

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Slide 1

Slide 2 shows details of the walls. A rear platform holds storage jars,  probably for water.

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Slide 2

Slides 3 through 8 illustrate some of the carved doors: 3, a door surrounded by paneled woodwork; 4, an exceptionally fine detail of carved flowers; 5, a second carved door;  6 and 7, details of carved figures with early Thai architecture showing people engaged in a variety of activities; and 8, another elaborately detailed doorway.

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Slide 3

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Slide 6

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We have a few slides of the outside of the bosot before its restoration by the Fine Arts Department.   Slide 9 presents a side view with the small chedi that shows the windows with their decorations.  A closeup view of the decorations (slide 10) reveals a spire with two heavenly figures. Above are the holes in the wall that will support the new roof. The next slide (11) is a painting of the Buddha with a halo, located on the front of the bosot near the entrance.

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Slide 9

Slide 10

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Slide 11

The murals, located on the interior walls of the bosot, illustrate some of the Jataka Tales (stories of the lives of the Buddha before he became the Buddha) and the life of the Buddha.

A row of former Buddhas separate the red and gold ceiling of the interior from the murals that tell the history of the life of the Buddha. Slide 12 shows the monks with their followers, each monk with his own space set apart by flower arrangements.  The brilliance of the colors of the restored mural paintings shows in slide 13 where a group of thewada (heavenly beings) floats, each holding a bouquet of flowers intended for King Nimi of the Nimi Jataka.  A vivid scene from the Mahajanaka Jataka shows a stormy sea with huge waves out of which appears the head of a green sea monster (slide 14).

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Slide 12

Slide 13

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Slide 14

In the Culla Padume Jataka, Prince Padumaraj , his brothers, and  their wives are exiled in a region where there is no food. In an unusually cruel tale for a Buddhist Jataka, the brothers eat their wives one by one.  We see them here, in slide 15, around a boiling caldron.  The Prince was able to escape with his wife, but they separated from each other soon afterward.

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Slide 15

A happier story is told in the Temiya Jataka, slides 16 and 17. A father is discussing with his son, the future Buddha, who is playing dumb as a way of testing the virtue of patience.  The dark background is covered with bright flowers. Gold leaf accents the dress and jewelry of the royal couple.  In the next scene, the young man has finished testing himself and is lifting a chariot over his head to show his strength.

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Slide 16

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 This final series of examples of older Thai mural painting illustrates episodes from the life of the Buddha, who was born as the Prince Siddhattha. The announcement of his birth was received with great rejoicing and the prediction of many miracles (slide 18).

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Slide 18

On the right hand side, seated against a red background is a rishi or holy man paying his respects to the infant.  Here the infant Buddha-to-Be is standing on the head of the rishi. On the lower left the child prince is resting in the shelter of a covered platform surrounded by respectful courtiers.

The next slide (19) shows a complete, wall-sized mural that includes many scenes. Below the marriage of Prince Siddhattha to Princess Bimba is shown in slide 20.

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The marriage takes place in a pavilion of many roofs where it is witnessed by the invited royal guests.  To the right, a small group of commoners is looking on. Above the marriage, we see the Prince taking leave of his sleeping wife and child.

In slide 21 all of the attendants are asleep, the horse, held by a groom, awaits outside. Below, in the middle, slide 22, is a picture of the everyday life of the Thai, with a plowing ceremony taking place. Behind the plowman, a line of foreign soldiers watches from the bushes.  In the lower right corner (23) we find the Prince engaged in the practice of self-mortification, an attempt at asceticism. Five other ascetics attend him. The Prince reaches the conclusion that asceticism is not going to lead to salvation. From such efforts as these, the Prince will ultimately reach insight into the middle way, the way between life in this world and that of the ascetic.

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Slide 21

Slide 22

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Slide 23

But Mara, slide 24, tries to block the Buddha is his efforts to reach enlightenment and to prevent him from attaining his goals.  The Buddha is rescued by the earth goddess on the far left.  Mara’s army is defeated despite a large number of troops from many different groups of people, some of them in foreign dress. The individual at the bottom is wearing a white shirt with magical signs, a horoscope, inscribed on it. Above him is a person in a batik shirt, while two people in European dress stand behind him.  There is a lion and a mythical animal with deities. In the next row there is an Arab or a Persian in a red shirt.

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Slide 24

Prince Siddhattha, now the Buddha begins to preach.  The next mural (slide 25) shows him as a successful preacher. In the central image, slide 26, the Brahma is asked the Buddha to preach.  And in the side image, slide 27, we find him preaching to people from all social classes, disciples, kings in their gold crowns, and common people.

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Slide 25

Slide 26

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Slide 27

Again there are pictures of daily life along the bottom of the mural, in this case (slide 28), a close up of a peaceful village view of a house along a canal where people are entering a boat.

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Slide 28

We close with the sight of people in hell, slide 29, pleading with the Buddha who has performed a miracle, reproducing himself four times in the figures resting in the tree above.

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Slide 29


“The Mon in Thailand” (special issue).  Muang Boran Journal, Vol. 10, No. 3 (July-September, 1984).

No Na Paknam. Wat Khongkharam. Bangkok: Muang Boran, 1994. (In Thai and English)

Thailand, Fine Arts Department. Wat Kongkaram. Bangkok: Thai Watthanaphanit, 1974. (In Thai and English)

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