Phra Phuttha Bhusayakiri Sri Suvarnabhumi: A Majestic Rock Buddha of Suphan Buri Province
Witness the magnificence of Phra Phuttha Bhusayakiri Sri Suvarnabhumi or Luang Por U Thong, a gigantic carved Buddha image on a cliff at Wat Khao Tham Thiam in U Thong subdistrict of Suphan Buri province. Also, trace back in time to the beginning of a Buddhist mission in Suvarnabhumi region through archeological evidences at the temple.
"U Thong" is an ancient city which had been established for more than thousands of years. The historical evidences indicate that "U Thong" was once one of the most significant cities. It was the capital city of Dvaravati or Tolopoti Kingdom and the center of Suvarnabhumi region where all the cultures, traditions, and arts are derived from. On this trip, we will take you back in time to learn about the earliest Buddhist mission at Wat Khao Tham Thiam which is presumed to be the very first temple in Thailand. The renowned sacred image that draws visitors and locals alike to this temple is the massive carved Buddha image on the rock known as "Phra Phuttha Bhusayakiri Sri Suvarnabhumi".
The World’s Biggest Rock Buddha Image
Phra Phuttha Bhusayakiri Sri Suvarnabhumi (Luang Por U Thong) is a Buddha image sitting cross-legged. His left hand is placed palm-up on his lap and his right hand is at his chest level with his index finger touching his thumb. Some other Buddha images with similar postures may have his left hand placed on his knee and his right fingers bended.
Phra Phuttha Bhusayakiri Sri Suvarnabhumi is 108 meters tall and 65 meters wide with a base width of 88 meters. The Buddha image is made by carving a natural rock on a steep and towering cliff named “Pha Mungkorn Bin” or “Flying Dragon Cliff”. The construction of this Buddha image was initiated by Phra Thep Suwanmolee (Sa Ing Sirin Natho, Buddhist Dhamma level 8), a Buddhist ecclesiastical official monk of Suphan Buri and an abbot of Wat Pa Lelai Worawiharn. The construction had begun after receiving a confirmation from the Fine Arts Department that the area of Wat Khao Tham Thiam was once used to be a birthplace of the Buddhist mission in Suvarnabhumi region.
Originally, this area where the Buddha image was formed had been granted a concession from the government to explode the mountains to build a stone mill factory. After the concession contract was expired, this place had been left abandoned. The Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Public Organization) or DASTA came to a rescue and developed a landscape in front of the Buddha image to be nicer and cleaner. Visitors who enter the temple area will see the views of a beautiful waterfall and a lush green forest as well as a big pond.
The Beginning of the Buddhist Mission in Suvarnabhumi Region
Apart from the grandeur and beauty of the Buddha image, the temple area is full of bygone stories. It is believed that Wat Khao Tham Thiam is the first temple ever built in Thailand. According the history, 300 years after the Lord Buddha had attained the complete Nirvana, Mokkalliputratissathera, one of the Buddhist saints, had arranged a third accumulation of the Buddhist codes of discipline under a royal patronage of King Asoka of India. The king had sent 2 senior monks, Phra Sona and Phra Uttara, to propagate Buddhism in Suvarnabhumi region and inscribe an ancient Sanskrit word "Bhusayakiri" or "Bhusayakeeree" on to a stele. “Bhusayakiri” means a mountain with flowers since there are beautiful flowers such as yellow silk cotton and red cotton flowers on the mountain. Also, the name “Bhusayakiri” resembles to the name of a mountain "Bhusayakiri Sangkaram" in a city of Sanchi in Orissa state of India.
For the origin of the temple’s name "Wat Khao Tham Thiam", it denotes a temple that is built together with Wat Khao Phra since the word “thiam” means together. Wat Khao Tham Thiam was built at the same time of Wat Khao Phra’s construction in 1917 and it was bestowed “Wisung Kham Seema” from the king in 1928 which means to be granted with a piece of land to be used for building a temple.
The Holy Stone Tunnel
At the back of the Rock Buddha image stands an enormous tunnel with 20 meters in width and 50 meters in depth. The moment we stepped inside the tunnel, a nice breeze gently blew and we suddenly felt the calmness and peacefulness of this place.
A little further inside the tunnel, there are a statue of “U Thokkathan” or “Mother Earth Squeezing Her Hair” and other Buddha images for visitors to pay respect and wish for propitiousness in their lives. On important religious days, this place is also used to hold Buddhism-related ceremonies.
Wat Khao Tham Thiam can be said to be one of the most significant Buddhist sites in Suphan Buri province thanks to the aesthetically massive Buddha image sculpture and places for visitors to learn more about Buddhism. With the support from DASTA and other government agencies, the temple area has been developed to become a sustainable tourist attraction which generates additional incomes to neighboring communities in the long run. After visiting this place, we all agreed that Phra Phuttha Bhusayakiri Sri Suvarnabhumi has lived up to its epithet "the precious heritage, the only one in Thailand, the grandest in the world".