The Legend of the Cursed Treasure at Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya
Another greatest and oldest holy place of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Wat Ratchaburana is the royal monastery established by Somdet Phra Boromrachathiraja or King Sam Phraya. Drawing more than a thousand visitors per year, Wat Ratchaburana is top of the famous landmarks any tourists would visit for the trip in Ayutthaya province.
Dates back to the year 1957, the unfortunate incident which caused both excitement and sorrow among local people. The news regarding the stealthy excavation of the Prang Pagoda at Wat Ratchaburana’s compound that contained numerous countless of treasure within. According to the statement of the criminal fellows and the deputy director-general of the Department of Fine Arts at that time revealed that the objects stolen from the repository of Wat Ratchaburana are inestimable.
Considered the nation domains, the exceptional items although part of the lost items returned, unluckily most of them were distributed to the antique traders and collectors. Mysteriously, the ancient treasure has come with the curse included one at Wat Ratchaburana. The story noted that the people who possess it ill-gotten lives the life with no peace at all.
About Wat Ratchaburana
Wat Ratchaburana stood in the north of Wat Mahathat as the royal monastery in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. The monastery complex contained the grand pagoda in the Khmer design fenced by the gallery. The image hall is in the east while the ordination hall is right at the backward in the west.
The temple is significantly famous regarding the significant excavation to discover the vast numbers of the goldwares in the repository within the grand pagoda. Apart from that, the magnificent ancient mural painting dated back to the beginning of the Ayutthaya Era allowed for the visitors to sight. Undoubtedly, Wat Ratchaburana is top in mind destination in Ayutthaya for the travelers to witness by the eyes intermittently.
Background of the Temple
The Buddhist temple is in the north of Wat Mahathat considered the royal temple in the Ayutthaya period. According to the Ayutthaya Chronicles recorded that King Sam Phraya of Ayutthaya commanded to construct the Wat Ratchaburan in 1424 to be the crematorium for his elder brothers “Chao Ai Phraya” and “Chao Yi Phraya” who fought to succeed the throne and both died in the battle. Then, the area which the king’s brother’s breast’s their last built set up two pagodas called “Chao Ai Chai Yi Chedi” where the place is the foot of the bridge “Pa Than” in the Ayutthaya period or presently is in the southeast of Wat Ratchaburana.
Inside the monastery compound is the main pagoda environed by the balcony, the sanctuary is in the east and in the west is the ordination hall that is on the same principal line of the main structure. Inside the grand pagoda is the valuable mural painting of the early Ayutthaya about the story of Lord Buddha influenced by Chinese art.
1956 until today:
In 1956, while the Department of Fine Arts was working on the excavation and restoration the remains inside the monastery complex, the thieves smuggled to access the repository in the main stupa at the site and took numerous precious items. Hence, the Department of Fine Arts redid the excavation of the Prang Pagoda of Wat Ratchaburana which discovered the vast collection of the royal regalia made from gold, various design amulets, and other valuable items.
Anyhow, part of the amulets collection was traded to the public by the Department of Fine Arts for fundraising to establish Chao Sam Phraya Museum where the place stored those of the precious and historical objects of the ancient Ayutthaya discovered at Wat Ratchaburana and other sites in Ayutthaya region. Today, the notable pagoda of Wat Ratchaburana allowed the visitors to access the stairways created by the Department of Fine Arts to see the magnificent mural painting within.
The Repository of Wat Ratchaburana
The news coverage dated 28 September 1967 reported that eight criminal fellows were under arrest by the police officers. The bandits sneaked to dig the Prang Pagoda of Wat Ratchaburana through the chambers where the repository contained large numbers of the inestimable items within.
although the archeological finds returned from those thieves are just part of the lost, but they are the valuable royal regalia made from gold, such as spittoon, the receptacle for betel, breast chain, and ornaments.
The encroachment happened after the survey of the Department of Fine Arts with the purpose to take all of the ancient amulets for trade. Up to 20 of the thieves invaded into the pagoda at Wat Ratchaburana to the secret chamber where stored countless wealth. As revealed by one of the bandits noted that when they access to the repository, they got blind from the dazzling treasure included the sword of victory, crown, utensils, statues of Buddha, and ornaments all made from gold.
Additionally, followed to the statement of the deputy general-director of the Department of Fine Arts at that time said that from the investigation and evidence at the site, the numbers of the Buddha images and the figures of the animals in gold and silver stored around the grand pagoda. Notably, even the dirt and dusk inside the chamber which was washed resulted in the particle of gold weighted about 60 Baht (approximately 912 grams), gemstones and ruby weighted in total 1,800 grams, various crystal weighted 1,050 grams, and mixed of silver, and ruby beads weighted 250 grams.
Surprisingly, in 2005, the news reported the golden hat was founded at a museum in USA and it has been criticized whether it is the genuine antique from the repository at Wat Ratchaburana or not.
The Curse of nation domains of Siam, no more peace for the ill-gotten taker
The news about the encroachment of Wat Ratchaburana’s vault leads to the presumption of which the secret chamber of this notable temple might bury lots more of wealth, yet nobody can find them. Regardless of the excavation spread over the Ayutthaya city, the mysterious story about the curse of the treasure caused the unfortunate life of the intruders harshly began.
Though only 8 from 20 criminal fellows were under arrest, ones who saved from the imprisonment lived the life with no peace. Some were killed to seize the property, some faced the family disaster regarding the rapacity, or some even already melted the gold and trade for the money were killed in the accident after that, for instance.
Furthermore, even the gold shops and the goldsmith who transferred the mysterious items of Wat Ratchaburana experience the severe conflagration, as well as member of the family died usually. Remarkably, those of which incidents occurred within a year. And the only survivor who was the supervisor of the excavation became a person with unsound mind, finally.
The Ancient Mural Painting inside Wat Ratchaburana
The mural painting inside the grand pagoda of Wat Ratchaburana is another remarkable thing that anyone who visits this temple must not miss to see. The splendid work of art considered the precious and historic archeological finds. According to the evidence, there are three chambers ordered vertically within the grand pagoda.
The first chamber is at the top part of the pagoda below is the second chamber which both furnished with the beautiful painting on the wall. And the third chamber is the lowest part with no any mural painting.
So, it could explain that the first and the second vaults rose above the floor quite enough, also partitioned with the part of the third chamber. As a result, the painting on the wall in the first and the second chambers are harmless from the soil moisture.
Nevertheless, it was not safe from the intruders in the year 1967 as mentioned previously. Many goldwares displayed at the museums in other countries have been suspicious to be the treasure from Wat Ratchaburana’s vault which supported by some local scholars.
Causes of deterioration of mural paintings
Regarding the invasion of the thieves, they dropped into the pagoda through the first chamber where is 1.4 meters wide in each side of the wall and 1.5 meters high. Then, the second vault which is also 1.4 meters wide of the wall and up to 2.5 meters in its height. According to the record of the Department of Fine Arts noted that the thieves lifted themselves up by the footsteps before reaching the ground of this vault. Carefully notice will find the trace of scratch on the wall. So, possibly the damage of the mural painting is caused by neither moisture nor water, instead of the paw with hooves. Worse, it’s painful to imagine how many times they make this scratch before copped.
The destroyed painting remained only the evidence to show the story of Buddha in chapter of Queen Maya of Sakya (the mother of Gautama Buddha) laid down in the palace and dreamt that “the great white elephant raises a trunk holding a freshly bloom white lotus, and the notable elephant then makes three rounds of prataksina (walk clockwise) around the queen”.
Resulting from the damage, consequently, the painting is lack noticeable, although it’s valuable and important since this chapter of the Buddha’s story is the only sample exists presently (included the images of the other Buddhas, other chapters of the story of Gautama Buddha, and the Jataka). Significantly, the remarkable ruination is a good sample of loss reminding the people to be aware of the value of the archeological finds and remains, as well as, preserve them instead of supplication when it wasted.
What to See at Wat Ratchaburana
The temple, definitely, contains lots of ancient remains and antiques for the visitors to be thrilled. Certainly, the highlight of the place is the grand pagoda, the massive Prang style stupa constructed from the laterite over the squared platform. The main structure is four satellite stupas in all four directions, the stairways in the east leading to the entrance of the grand pagoda. Although the design influenced by the Khmer art, the prang pagoda at Wat Ratchaburana features the Thai culture with the high platform that unique from Khmer style of which mostly is the low base. Besides, the ample space at the façade reached out in the arched entrance, the prominent top part is slim and sharp similar to corn shape with the hollow spears.
The Chambers of Wat Ratchaburana
The famous and mysterious chambers of Wat Ratchaburana are 3 vaults set orderly in vertical which the lowest part is on the ground level.
1. The First Chamber:
As the top of the repository, originally the wall covered with the magnificent painting of Chinese and celestials. Behind the wall are many small slots to store the votive tablets and Buddha images and this is the section that the intruders discovered several golden Buddha images with 0.5 meters wide of the lap.
2. The Second Chamber:
The mid storeroom which used to be three golden trays filled with the goldwares. The Department of Fine Arts removed the floor of this section resulted in the connection between the second and the third chambers. This room features the mural painting of the former Buddhas inside the squared lots, the bronze tables set around the room inside the arched frames excepted the south wall. Assumingly, the tables were stood for the goldwares and golden textile which mentioned by the thieves they turned to dust just only touch.
3. The Third Chamber:
The innermost section of the repository and also the most important. The third chamber is the place to enshrine the Buddha’s relics that well reserved inside the gold stupa and environed with various postures of the Buddha images.
Apart from the grand pagoda and the repository inside, the entrance space of Wat Ratchaburana’s complex is the royal sanctuary, the enormous squared shape construction made from bricks. Unfortunately, the roof part already collapsed, only the ruins of the pillar and the plaster base of the Buddha image. The view from outside presenting the prang pagoda perfectly inside the door frame, as well as some of the satellite stupas inside the window frames.
Noticeably, for one who often travels to the historic site may notice most of the ancient remains in Thailand regularly build door and window to align to either sanctuary or ordination hall. For Wat Ratchaburana which is the temple in the early Ayutthaya Era landscaped the image hall is at the front, next is the main pagoda, and the ordination hall is at the backward.
How to Get There
Traveling from Bangkok on Asia Road (the highway number 32) makes the left turn at the intersection to enter Ayutthaya province. And drives straight on to cross Somdet Phra Naresuan Bridge and goes to the second junction. Then, turns right and drives pass Phra Ram Pond, and you will spot Wat Mahathat on the left side, and next is Wat Ratchaburana.
Wat Ratchaburana opens to the visitors daily from 8.30am through 4.30pm. The admission fee for the tourist is TGB10 for Thai and THB30 for the foreigners. And between 7.30 – 9.00pm the bedazzled lighting displayed at the location which is another good idea for the tourist to take the picture at the nighttime.