Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wat Sommanas

Wat Somanas
So who was the little known Princess Somanas? She was a queen who died young, leaving behind two temples - Wat Ratchanaddaram and Wat Somanus and the Lohaprasada - built for her honour and her memory. In 2006, Wat Somanus marked its 150th anniversary. The temple is located in a seclusive quarter, at the intersection of Ratchadamnoen Klang and Mahachak Roads. But you can visit Wat Sommanus from Nakhonsawan Road.

It is rather difficult to locate Wat Somanus, about a kilometre away from the King Rama III statue because of the sprouting up of the shop houses that surround it. Wat Somanus is encapsulated in a lost time, like

the fading from the modern memory of the Thais about the tragic death of the young queen.

Mom Chao Ying Sommanus Wattanavadi was the darling niece of King Nangklao - Rama III. He took her into his care and brought her to the Grand Palace after the untimely death of her father, Prince Lakkhananukul. When King Mongkut ascended the throne he took Princess Sommanus as his wife in order to reinforce the Chakri bloodline. In 1851, at the age of 18, Queen Sommanus gave birth to a prince, but tragically, the boy lived for only a few hours. The Queen became seriously ill herself, and not long afterward she too passed away.

If the prince had lived, he would have become King Rama V. King Mongkut later married Princess Rampoey, another niece of Rama III, who gave birth to Prince Chulalongkorn, later to become King Rama V.
King Mongkut had Wat Somanus built in memory of his first queen, choosing a site far from the Grand Palace so that it could be used as a meditation retreat. The area around it was indeed once very quiet, so quiet that rumours were swirling that ghosts were plenty.

During his 27 years in the monkhood, Mongkut, then still a prince, had founded the Dhammayuti sect, which differed from the mainstream Mahanikaya sect in its

stricter approach in the discipline in the conduct of Buddhist practices. Wat Sommanas was about a kilometre from the city limit during King Mongkut's time. As a monk he stayed at Wat Samorai on Samsen Road, now Wat Rajathiwat, before moving to Wat Borwonniet to become the abbot. Wat Sommanas followed the tradition of the Dhammayuti Sect.

King Mongkut had canals, including Khlong Phadungkasem, excavated around the temple so that it could be readily accessed.
Construction, undertaken by the king's own expense, was completed in 1856, three years after it began. The temple is well known for its main Buddha statue, which foreigners have dubbed "The Lucky Buddha".
If you want a wish granted, it's said, this is the place to come.
The temple also has beautiful murals, as well as excellent training in meditation. Legend has it that Queen Sommanas, a lady of exceptional beauty, appears at the temple from time to time. Her presence is certainly felt by any visitor, though.

A stroll through Wat Sommanas is like stepping into the past, when the City of Angels was gentle and kinder capital.

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