Several Buddhist temples in the historic Thai city of Ayutthaya were underwater on Wednesday as heavy monsoon rains flooded provinces across the country. Sukhothai, another historic city, and the capital Bangkok have also seen flooding due to heavy rains and upriver water management decisions.
In Ayutthaya, Wat Chula Manee, built in 1750 during the Ayutthaya Kingdom (fl. 1350–1767), is one of the most prominent temples to have been inundated by water in recent days. It was flooded on 3 October after after a retaining wall around it collapsed. Some two meters of water entered the temple grounds, causing widespread damage to the structure as well as pagodas containing the ashes of local ancestors in funerary urns.
The flooding occurred suddenly on Sunday when the Royal Irrigation Department discharged water through the Chao Phraya Dam in Chai Nat Province at a heightened rate, causing the Chao Phraya River to burst its banks, flooding Ayutthaya and surrounding communities.
“The highest volume of water running through the water measurement station in Ayutthaya’s Bang Sai District was 2,800 cubic meters per second,” said Somkiat Prajamwong, retired secretary-general of the Office of National Water Resources. (UCA News)
More than 40 temples in Ayutthaya, which hosts a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with ancient Buddhist temples, ruins, and monuments, have been damaged by flood waters, according to city officials.
The city is also home to numerous operating temples, such as Wat Satue, where monks were seen paddling small boats through the floodwaters.
“This is the worst flood in 10 years,” said Phra Kru Pariyat Yathikhun, abbot of Wat Satue, noting that surrounding areas were also flooded. (Reuters)
Villages near another Buddhist temple, Saeng Siritham in Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok, have also been dealing with high waters after recent rains and tidal surges through the Chao Phraya river.
“Residents have already moved their belongings to higher floors and are continuously monitoring water levels,” a local newspaper reported. (UCA News)
Further north in Sukhothai Province, paragliding members of the Disaster Response Association of Phitsunalok took to the skies to deliver relief supplies to those hit by floods. Sukhothai is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its outstanding cultural and historical value.
Further flood warnings have been issued across much of Thailand due to Tropical Storm Dianmu, which formed rapidly in the South China Sea before passing over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos and into central Thailand in late September. The storm has caused flash floods in 32 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, killing nine and affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
Sukhothai and Ayutthaya represent the first and second Siamese capitals, respectively. Sukhothai was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries and Ayutthaya followed as capital from c. 1350 until it was destroyed by Burmese invaders in the late 18th century. Both developed as central cosmopolitan areas centered around a large number of Buddhist monasteries, temples, and stupas. Many of these, built in brick and stone, remain today in various degrees of ruin and restoration.
In 2011, floods hit Thailand with their worst effects in decades, killing hundreds. More recently, in August 2019, extraordinary droughts exposed a once-submerged temple, bringing joy to Buddhist devotees in the area but devastating farmers.*
Government officials have not directly connected the recent floods and damage to climate change, however climate change scientists have warned that shifting weather patterns will cause more frequent and more extreme weather events of this kind.
Theravada Buddhism is the predominant religion in Thailand, with 94.5 per cent of the population identifying as Buddhists, accordig to the 2015 census. Islam and Christianity are the largest minority religions, with 4.29 per cent and 1.17 per cent of the population, respectively.
* Drought Reveals Lost Buddhist Temple in Thailand (Buddhistdoor Global)
Temples underwater as floods hit historic Thai city (Reuters)
Ancient Ayutthaya temple flooded (Bangkok Post)
Historic temples bear brunt as monsoon floods hit Thailand (UCA News)
Thailand’s Bangkok and historical royal city of Ayutthaya hit by severe flooding (The Star)
Extreme weather tormenting the planet will worsen because of global warming, U.N. panel finds (The Washington Post)
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