One day I would really love to write about a nearby temple on which I can find some historical information to include! Most of the books about Phuket that I’ve seen in English rarely mention the majority of Buddhist temples (wat) other than Wat Chalong and a couple nearby Thalang in the north-central part of the island. Ironically, details about the Chinese shrines dotting Phuket Town are more prevalent in the English-language guidebooks. Call me silly but I like to know how long something’s been there and if anything significant happened there!
The closest wat to my home is Wat Wichit Songkram (also commonly spelled Vichitsongkhram) which sits near the Suthas-Nasithorn Intersection in northern Phuket Town. The entrance on Nasitorn Road leads to a large enclosed parking area, dominated by a large tree to the right and the temple’s school to the left. The school is called Phuket Thamwitthayathan which is unusual as most temple schools I’ve seen in Thailand take on the name of the wat. Even more confusing is that outside there is a well with signage calling it the Wat Kuan Public Well. Was Wat Wichit Songkram once called Wat Kuan? Or was Wat Kuan previously on the site of the school? Where does one find the answers to these types of questions?
The actual wat sits atop a small hill, accessible via two short flights of stairs (or by a separate entrance off of the small Thesa Road which lies between the temple grounds and two schools — Phuket Anuban, a kindergarten, and Piboonsawasdee, a municipal school for the primary levels). The stairs leading up to the temple and those leading into the main hall (called the ubosoth, I believe) are flanked by the mythological Naga (nak in Thai). I love seeing these serpent-like creatures; many Buddhist temples have a few but the ones here are fairly large and numerous. According to Window On Chiang Mai,
The Naga is seen pouring out of the mouth of a Makara, a creature that combines the crocodile, the elephant and the serpent. They are aquatic servants of Varuna, a powerful Vedic god. In Vedic mythology Varuna controlled not only the waters, but also controlled the means that produced the cosmos.
Varuna, as the serpent king, rode upon the back of a Makara and bound subjects who disobeyed natural law (the dhamma) in fetters which were represented as snakes. Varuna, therefore, may be closely associated with the Brahmanic notion of the universe as an illusion represented by Mara, and the Buddhist notion that man is bound to the world of illusion by sensory attachment.
The Naga and Makara live in paradises beneath the rivers, lakes and seas. They control the sources of rain and are the guardians of life-giving energy in its waters. On the balustrades to temples they represent both the rising of water to the heavens and the down pouring of rain from the sky. Thus they are powerful symbols in a culture based on wet-rice cultivation.
They may also be seen as linking the earth below to the heaven above by a celestial stairway represented by a rainbow. The colors of the rainbow represent different aspects of the unity of light at their source. The naga stairway, then, symbolically links opposites. It links the world of illusion, the Sea of Samsara upon which the viharn floats, to the formless world of nirvana. Thus the Naga and Makara symbolize the ties that bind man to the world of illusion, and the path that frees man from that illusion.
Wat Wichit Songkram seems very quiet and peaceful compared to some of the temples I’ve visited. Perhaps that was because it was late on a Sunday afternoon but I only saw three people the entire time I was there — a motorcycle taxi driver napping on his bike, a young boy playing in front of the school, and a monk hanging robes to dry. The wat is fairly small and easy to explore.
There are almost forty Buddhist temples on Phuket. Somewhere there must be a listing of them all (I usually find them by walking around or poring over maps) with a bit of information on them. I’d love to visit them all and be able to tell something about each. If anybody knows of good source of information about the lesser-known wats, please let me know in the comments…