Buddha’s Head in a tree

buddha head bodhi tree wat mahathat ayutthaya
Stone Buddha’s Head in the roots of a Bodhi tree, Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya

In the grounds of a temple in Ayutthaya is to be found one of Thailand’s most iconic sights, the head of a stone Buddha held firmly in the roots of a Bodhi tree.

Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, is an easy day’s excursion from Bangkok by road, rail, or even by boat, up the Chao Phraya River. In Ayutthaya you may visit the gardens and pavilions of the summer palace and tour many magnificent ruins of the old city.

One of the most beautiful temples in Ayutthaya is that of Wat Mahathat, which once held great treasures of gold, precious stones and a relic of Buddha, held in a golden casket. The treasures have long-gone; some, including the Lord Buddha in the golden casket, are now housed in the National Museum in Bangkok. Much of the rest was taken by the Burmese when they ransacked the city in 1767.

When the Burmese plundered the city, they vandalised all of the Buddha statues by chopping off their heads. Many headless statues remain, but the stone head of one Buddha rolled into the support roots of a young Bodhi tree, where it has remained for 250 years. The tree has grown old and the roots have grown around the head to give the impression that it is being held, purposely by the tree, to give it protection.

The Bodhi tree, or sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) is known throughout Asia as the ‘Tree of Enlightenment’ and is easily recognisable in Thai paintings and artwork by its heart-shaped leaves.