Wat Bowonniwet Vihara is a first class Royal Buddhist monastery (raja wara maha vihara) of the Dhammayut tradition, located on the northeast side of Bangkok’s Ratanakosin island, just inside the old city wall bordering Banglumpoo canal, on Pra Sumeru road. The monastery’s name comes from the Pali language: Pavara+niwesa and translates as the Excellent Abode Monastery.
Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, or Wat Bowon for short, has a long and interesting history beginning with the arrival of the first abbot, Prince Mongkut, in 1836. The Prince Bhikkhu, also known by his monastic name, Phra Vajiranyano, was ordained for twenty-seven years, and abbot of Wat Bowonniwet for fourteen, before ascending the throne as Phra Bat Somdet Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua — better known in English as King Rama IV.
There have been five former abbots here, three of whom were Supreme Patriarchs. The abbots after King Mongkut were:
2.) Somdet Pra Maha Samana Chao Krom Phraya Pavares Variyalongkorn (Phra Ong Chao Rerk), the second abbot from 1851 – 1892,
3.) Somdet Pra Maha Samana Chao Krom Phraya Vajiranyanavarorassa (Phra Ong Chao Manussanagmanop), the third abbot from 1892 – 1921,
4.) Somdet Pra Sangharaj Chao Krom Luang Vajiranyanavongse (Mom Rajawong Chuen Nopavongse), fourth abbot from 1921 – 1958, and
5.) Phra Prommuni (Pin, Suvaco), fifth abbot from 1958 – 1961. 6.) His Holiness Somdet Pra Nyanasamvara (Charoen, Suvaddhano), Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, is the present abbot.
Before the arrival of Venerable Vajiranyano, the area presently occupied by Wat Bowonniwet was actually two different monasteries separated by a canal — Wat Mai to the north and Wat Rangsee Suddhawas to the south. As Wat Mai was abbotless, King Rama III (1824-1851) requested the Prince Bhikkhu to take over as abbot in 1836. Later, during the reign of king Rama VI (1910-1925), the two monasteries were incorporated into one, resulting in the temples present dimensions.
The Temple Precincts
Buddhist monasteries are usually divided into two sections: Buddhavasa – buildings and structures devoted to the Buddha such as the Uposatha hall, the Cetiya or Stupa, etc., and Sanghavasa – or dwellings for monks (bhikkhus) and novices (samaneras).