Thai Temple architecture

Here’s a final look at the colourful joy that is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. So let’s take yet another look at some of the sparkly gold, red, green and blue decorations.

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In the guise of this blog being semi educational (and not just LOADS of my holiday snaps!!) here’s a bit of a breakneck tour about some of the most commonly occuring elements of Thai temple architecture for you.

Buddhist temples in Thailand are known as wats meaning ‘an enclosure’. A temple has an enclosing wall that divides the secular and the spiritual worlds.

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Multiple roof tiers are an important, instantly recognisable element of the Thai temple – above is a typical example. Two or three tiers are most often used, but some royal temples have four.

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Most decorations are attached to the bargeboard – the long, thin panel on the edge of the roof at the gable ends.The decorative structure is called the lamyong. Above to the right is a spectacular shiny example.

The lamyong is made into a undulating shape evoking the serpentine nāga. Its blade-like end, called bai raka, are apparently suggestive of the feathers of Garuda – a large mythical bird or bird-like creature that appears in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

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During the 10th century, Thai Theravada Buddhism and Hindu cultures merged, and Hindu elements were introduced into Thai iconography which is why you’ll see a mixture of both.

Popular figures include the four-armed figure of Vishnu; the garuda – half man, half bird; the eight-armed Shiva; elephant-headed Ganesh; the nāga, which appears as a snake, dragon or cobra; and the ghost-banishing giant Yaksha.

An example of a Yaksha is below and is a common, colourful theme in Thai temple architecture. You can see huge, epic versions in the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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Below you can also see a pair of golden Apsara, another frequent decorative motif. These are the female spirits of the clouds and waters who appear in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

They specialise in dancing and can be found decorating temples in countries such as Cambodia and India.

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