For more than 2,500 years Thailand has been under the peaceful shelter of Buddhism. The Buddha's teaching, or Dharm, color almost every spect of life within the Kingdom, uniting the people into a harmonious, peace-loving society. Images of the Buddha were originlly created as a reminder of the teachings of the Buddha and as a means of spreading the Buddha's message.
Srivijaya Art Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva: circa 9th - 10th century AD, Bronze, Height 65 cm, Found at Wat Phra Borommathat Chaiya, Surat Thani province. (Currently on exhibition at Bangkok National Museum)
Accordingly, the images were designed not simply to represent the Buddha's physical characteristics but his teachings too. Over time, and in different locations within the kingdom, the specific form of Buddha images has undergone subtle changes, creating visibly different characteristics that reflect the cultural values, craftsmansship, and influence of neighboring countries of the period. Today, Thailand's legacy of Buddha images is not only a source of spiritual nutriment, it is also a fascinating journey through time, illustrating the many influences that have shaped modern Thailand and its unique cultural heritage.
A wat (derived from Pali and Sanskrit word avasa word avasatha) is a monastery temple in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. The word "wat" (Thai วัด) (sometimes rendered "vat" when referring to Laos) means "school." Strictly speaking a wat is a Buddhist sacred precinct with monks' rooms, the temple itself, a building housing a great image of Buddha, and a class structure. A Buddhist site without at least three resident monks can not correctly be described as a wat, although the term is often used more flexibly, including the ruins of ancient temples. (As a verb transitive or intransitive, wat means to measure, to take action, comparison templum, which has the same root as the template).