Building Merit: Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui, Thailand

Head shot of a red clay temple-door guardian, Yaak or Dvarapala Yaksha.

The giant warrior (Dvarapala Yaksha) guards the doors to Wat Ratchathammaram’s unfinished temple.

Enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight.

Neither, apparently, does building a temple.

I don’t know how long they have been working on the new wihan (พระวิหาร), or shrine hall, at Wat Ratchathammaram (วัดราชธรรมาราม) in Maret on the southeast side of Koh Samui, but we’ve been driving past on the way to or from somewhere for several of our visits to the island over recent years – the sight each time causing me to remark on the beautiful red colour of the cement or clay in the building’s structure.

On our last two visits: mid-2011 and early 2012, we actually stopped. Comparing the two sets of photos that I took, I can see little change in the building or the surrounding grounds across the intervening time.

Terracotta coloured thai temple building. วัดราชธรรมาราม  Wat Ratchathammaram

Although the shrine hall structure is up, and some of the paving is down, Wat Ratchathammaram’s wihan still has an “unfinished” look.

Thai giant guardian in red clay at a temple front; Bay of Thailand in the background.

The giant warriors have been standing guard at the temple doorway for some time…

Thai dragoon head in red clay or cement, Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui

…but the dragons at the steps are still supported by scaffolding.

Long view of a Thai temple hall build from red cement; a golden buddha at the end.

The wihan houses the temple’s Buddha image.

Thai temples are often decorated with murals depicting stories from religious and everyday life.  Theravada Buddhist scriptures are written in Pali, an Indian language not generally understood by Thais outside the monkhood, and temple art provides a means of passing on historical, moral, and religious lessons.

At Wat Ratchathammaram, the murals are in elaborate bas-relief, instead of the more common stylised and richly-coloured wall paintings.

Temple mural in red clay: Hanuman the monkey in a scene from the Ramakian.

This panel depicts Hanuman, the magical white monkey warrior, in an episode from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana, the 2000 year old Hindu epic.

Red clay bas-relief: Scenes of battle from the Ramakien.

Scenes of battle from the Ramakien.

Red bas-relief: Ganesh. Wat Ratchathammaram

Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, in a back corner.

Three Thai devi in red bas-relief clay. Wat Ratchathammaram

Devas, benevolent supernatural beings, say prayers.

Back of the red cement wihan at Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui.

More deities feature on the exterior of the back wall.

Ornate Thai temple roof in carved red cement. Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui

The intricately decorated roof bargeboard or lamyong includes elements of the feathered garuda and the serpentine nāga.

Karma, from the Sanskrit karman, or ‘action, effect, fate’, comes from one’s actions and intentions. Therefore, making merit (puñña), or doing good mindfully, contributes to good karma in the Thai world-view. Honouring others (especially the Buddha) and offering service (especially to the temple) are a great way to make merit.

Young Thai man in a head-scarf laying pavers. Wat Ratchathammaram

A young man meticulously fills the gaps between the paving tiles.

Thai male in a blue polo shirt cementing paving tiles. Wat Ratchathammaram

Careful work on the new paving tiles.

Paving trowel on a pile of re clay pavers.

Paving tools.

Red pavers and building site rubble around Wat Ratchathammaram

As is the case on any building site, rubble collects on the ground.

Red clay mouldings stacked, waiting to be incorporated in the new building. Wat Ratchathammaram

New mouldings are stacked and waiting.

Meanwhile, around the rest of the temple grounds, life continues.

A white and black cat on a table, with a hot-pot and tea-making supplies.

A cat sits on the tea-making table outside the abbot’s rooms.

Red-roofed kuti (monk

Little kuti (monks’ houses) drop down the hill…

View of white sand beach and greenery from Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui.

… with a pleasing view over the Bay of Thailand.

View down over private memorial stupas. Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui.

Beneath the temple, down towards the beach, a number of memorial stupas are located.

Close-up: private stupa with blue and white mosaic patterns.Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui

Decorated in rich colours and designs…

Nameplate - in Thai script - on a private stupa in a temple graveyard. Wat Ratchathammaram

… they contain the ashes of loved ones.

Ceramic vases at the base of a private stupa. Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui

Vases for flower offerings and incense sit at the base of many of the stupas –

Small golden Buddha in the alcove of a golden stupa. Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui

– and a Buddha image is never far away.

Wildly coloured temple bell, Wat Ratchathammaram, Koh Samui.

The wildly coloured temple bell is a surprise, given the monochrome tones of the wihan.

It is a lovely, quiet spot, and I look forward to seeing what changes – if any – have been effected by our next visit.

Pictures: 22August2011 and 29April2012

  • Gabe - January 3, 2013 - 8:30 pm

    Probably still unfinished, but peaceful just the sameReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - January 3, 2013 - 11:05 pm

    Such vibrant colours and an idealic location to contemplate, just looking at the water would be so relaxing. Gorgeous as always.ReplyCancel

  • Dietmut - January 7, 2013 - 5:22 pm

    ik heb je bericht weer met veel interesse gelezen Ursula. Ook je geplaatste fotos waren weer super. Groetjes DietmutReplyCancel

    • Ursula - January 8, 2013 - 3:01 am

      Greetings to you, too, Dietmut! Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Michael - January 14, 2014 - 8:10 pm

    Liked your post and your pics are so much better than the ones I took!!!!!!!!, having read your article I can confirm that it is much the same as when you were last there, my pics from 24th Mar 2013 still show dragons supported by scaffolding and building rubble scattered around, all the same I liked it and will revisit in April 2014.


    • Ursula - January 15, 2014 - 12:37 am

      Thanks for the visit, Michael. I am not surprised to hear there has been little change at the temple – but isn’t it a peaceful spot?

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