The senior Thai monk Venerable Somdet Phra Wannarat, the abbot of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, a 19th century royal Buddhist monastery in Bangkok, acting patriarch of the Dhammayuttika Order, and an executive member of the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand, has died at the age of 85.
According to the director of Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, Sipboworn Kaewngam, Ven. Somdet Phra Wannarat passed away on the afternoon of 15 March at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, where he was receiving medical treatment for gall bladder cancer.
On 17 March, the Thai monarch, Vajiralongkorn, known as King Rama X, accompanied by his consort Queen Suthida, attended funeral rites for Ven. Somdet Phra Wannarat at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon District. The royal couple bestowed ceremonial bathing water, burned incense sticks and candles, and presented sacred offerings to the late monk.
The bathing ceremony was also attended by a congregation of monks, novices, and lay Buddhists.
Born Jun Prampitak in 1936 in the eastern coastal province of Trat, Ven. Somdet Phra Wannarat became a novice monk at the age of 12. He received full ordination at the age of 20 at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara from the supreme patriarch, the head of Thailand’s monastic sangha.
Among his official duties, Ven. Somdet Phra Wannarat was responsible for calculating and verifying the Thai lunar calendar, which is widely used for scheduling the timing of traditional Buddhist and royal ceremonial activities. The Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand, the governing body headed by the supreme patriarch, assigned him the duty as, according to local media reports, very few people in contemporary Thailand are qualified to perform this task.
Ven. Somdet Phra Wannarat was a recipient of numerous awards because of his wide-ranging contributions to the Buddhist sangha and to Thai society: in 2009, he received an honorary doctorate in Social Sciences for Development from Rajabhat Mahasaragam University; in 2010, he received an honorary doctorate in Buddhism from Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University; in 2011, he received an honorary doctorate in Development Strategy from Rajabhat Phra Nakhorn University; in 2013, he received a Royal Award for his conservation of art and architecture of Thailand; in 2014, he received an honorary doctorate in Educational Administration from Mahamakut Buddhist University; in 2015, he received the Sema Dharmacakra Award for propagating Buddhism in Thailand; and in 2016, he received the ecclesiastical title “Aggamahāpaṇḍi-ta” from the government of Myanmar.
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 93.5 per cent of the nation’s population of almost 70 million people identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2018. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 40,000 Buddhist temples and almost 300,000 monks (Pali: bhikkhus). While communities of female renunciants also exist, the monastic authorities in Thailand have never officially recognized the full ordination of women, and bhikkhunis do not generally enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.
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