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Phra That Phanom, its related historic
buildings and associated landscape
Date de soumission : 02/02/2017
Critères: (i)(ii)(vi)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention
État, province ou région :
Nakorn Phanom Province
Coordonnées 16.89 105.72
Ref.: 6183
"Phra That Phanom" is located within the walled compound of the "Temple of Phra That Phanom" in Nakorn Phanom
Province, Thailand, about 600 meters west of the Mekong River. Believed by the people in the region to have been
built by Monk Maha Kassapa, a chief disciple of Buddha, to enshrine the Buddha's breastbone relics 8 years after
Buddha's Nirvana, this Stupa is regarded as the most ancient Buddha's Relics Stupa in the Northeast of Thailand and
in the Middle Mekong River Basin. Throughout the millennia, Phra That Phanom has been steadfastly venerated by
the multi-ethnic and multi-national populations living in all directions of the region.
Phra That Phanom, as revealed by archaeology, was first constructed as a square brick structure with intricate
carvings reminiscent of the Cham or ancient Khmer style sanctuary. This was further built upon, embellished, and
restored over multi-generations by different groups of devoted personalities from both sides of the River. In August
1975, the high and top-heavy Stupa, seated on the ancient crumbling brick base, collapsed in the week-long
rainstorm. Multi-disciplinary examinations and scientific tests, including soil tests and archaeological excavations,
were undertaken which dated the innermost brick chamber at the ground level of the Stupa to about AD 7- 8.
Among the debris of bricks, a big bronze casket was miraculously recovered, inside of which was found a multilayered set of gold cases containing and protecting the sacred Relics. A joyous celebration was held by the
government, attended by the Prime Minister of Thailand and crowds of people from all areas, before the Relics were
later ceremoniously re-enshrined in the Stupa.
The 1975-1979 restoration was conducted under the supervision of the Prime Minister of Thailand, and with the full
blessing of His Majesty the King and the Thai Supreme Patriarch. It enjoyed the widest support and cooperation from
the people at all levels. By using the original material as much as possible, but having its base strngthened by
modern technology and its regional symbolic ornamentation made by arts and crafts experts, the newly restored Phra
That Phanom was thus returned to its previous majestic perfection.
The restoration project was not only about the physical reconstruction, but more importantly it was a delicate
response to the spiritual and religious needs and sensitivity of the people who had, for many past generations
identified, with Phra That Phanom as their sacred property and a representation of the intangible Buddha. The
restoration was also a historic undertaking involving the commitment and collaboration of multi-ministerial committees
of advisors, experts, and technicians in all related fields, as well as artisans, craftsman and volunteered workers.
Funding for the restoration came from the government's budget and from the benevolent donations of individuals and
agencies at the national and international levels.
Phra That Phanom was registered in 1935 as an ancient monument by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand for
conservation and protection under the Ancient Monuments Act. To further safeguard its site, a boundary of about 4
hectares around the Monument within the front part or the "Buddha was Area" of the Temple of Phra That Phanom,
was added to the registration in 1979.
The ancient origin of Phra That Phanom is described in the palm leafed Chronicle of "Tamnan Urankathat" which
refers to the Buddha's visit to the Mekong region in his lifetime and his prophecy that Buddhism would greatly flourish
in this land. Despite its semi-mythical nature, the Chronicle has been acknowledged by modern scholars for its useful
and realistic accounts of ancient geography and social and political history of the Mekong Region.
The date of its first construction, as documented in the Chronicle to be 8 years after the Buddha's passing, was not
supported by the archaeological findings which indicated the earliest structure, excavated only at the ground level, to
be about 7-8th Century AD; but this dating was a not relevant issue to the worshippers of Phra That Phanom. What
matters most to the peoples in the region is that Phra That Phanom is now standing as a glorious and living sacred
monument in its original setting and cultural environment, well protected within the precinct of the Temple and being
celebrated regularly in accordance with the age-old traditions. The Stupa has thus continued to serve the function
and purpose as a centre of spiritual inspiration for the promotion of harmony and peace among the people in the
region. Furthermore, the architectural form and style of Phra That Phanom has become the prototype of numerous
other relics’ stupas in the outlining districts of Nakorn Phanom and in the nearby provinces. The image of Phra That
Phanom has also inspired many folk arts and contemporary designs.
Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle
Criterion (i) : Phra That Phanom represents the noblest and the most conscious form of Buddhist architectural and
artistic expressions in the Mekong region, in Thailand, and especially in the Northeast region of the country. The
Monument embodies the essence of Buddhism as interpreted and embraced by the people in the region since time
A creative architectural response to the undying faith and spirituality of the people, Phra That Phanom Stupa exhibits
a unique achievement, combining the traditional grammar of sacred representation of the ancient Chams and
Khmers, with the traditional elements of Buddhist Relics Stupa architecture and symbolism from India, while also
blending in the Mekong regional spirit as well as the local artistic ornamentations.
This achievement is mainly evidenced in:
a) the respect for the original natural setting of Phu Kampra, situated at the crossroads of the Mekhong, considered
sacred since ancient time;
b) the east-west orientation of the Stupa facing the Mekong River in the east with an ancient promenade linking the
Stupa to the River;
c) the preservation of the square brick base structure and its ancient decorative details including the regional heroic
d) the adherence to the ancient Buddhist architectural tradition and the religious decorum by retaining the key
architectural parts and symbolism of the ancient Buddhist Relics Stupas, including the circumambulation space, the
dome or the bell or the vase part (even though this part is designed with a new style of interpretation), the throne, the
Chattra or the umbrellas, as well as the enclosure walls with decorated gateways at the cardinal directions;
e) the high degree of local imaginative interpretations in the restorations and embellishments of the Stupa.
This Stupa has thus become the most distinguished and tangible symbol of the spiritual identity of the region, an
inspiration too many other Buddhist Stupas constructed later in Nakorn Phanom as well as in the greater Northeast of
Thailand. Phra That Phanom has furthermore inspired the design and creation of many local folk arts and crafts, such
as the "ancestor's relics shrine" commonly produced and used by the village folks in this region, and souvenir stupas
and motive for individual veneration. It has also been adopted as the major design of the Khon Kaen University's
Emblem and in Thai national stamps.
Criterion (ii): The tradition of building a stupa to posthumously honour a great personality at a crossroads was a
common practice among the ancient Hindus in India, and as such predated the Buddha's time. Following the
Buddha's advice, as cited in Mahaparinibbhana Sutta, his disciples represented by Brahmins and kings, as well as
Naga race and deities, divided the Great Teacher's relics and ashes among them after the cremation at Kushinara.
Each group built a stupa to enshrine the relics at a crossroads so that all people could access and worship. The
purpose, as foreseen by the Buddha, was to promote "the feeling of peace and calmness, happiness and wellbeing in
the minds of those who see them for a long time to come" ( › tipitaka ›, Mahaparinibhanna
Sutta, 27-31, translated from Phra That Phanom Stupa, together with the related religious buildings and its
associative ancient natural setting of Phu Kampra near the bank of the Mekong River, exhibit the interchanging of
values between the ancient Mekong's ethnic practices of nature and ancestor worship and the Hindu and Buddhist
beliefs that spread from India. This interchanging prolonged over a period of more than a millennium, starting from
about the 7th or 8th Century AD, and continues until today. It has resulted in the evolution and development of a
distinct regional style of architecture and arts in connection with "Pra That", or the Relic Stupa, within the middle
region of the Mekong Basin. The continued use and function of the Phu Kampra location as the sacred area related
to Phra That Phanom as well as its sociocultural linkage with the Mekong River and the communities who originally
were the designated "servants of Phra That Phanom" also testify to this important interchange.the Pali by Sister
Vajira & Francis Story© 1998)
Unfortunately, Buddhism declined in India around the 13th Century A.D, leaving a great number of Stupas as ancient
monuments to be later excavated by British officers and archaeologists. The seeds of Buddha's teachings, however,
were sown and blossomed wide and far, especially in the Mekong River Basin, as tangibly testified by a wealth of
sacred stupas in the area.
The splendid architecture of the Phra That Phanom and its style of ornamentation distinctly exhibit both the regional
traditional spirit of Mekong and the Buddhist values from outside. The architectural design form of Phra That Phanom
has in turns exerted extensive influences over the form and style of many contemporary relic s stupas in the
Northeast of Thailand, and has become a prototype of some contemporary Pra That or Relics Stupas in this area.
Many forms of folk arts and crafts and contemporary sacred designs in Thailand have also been inspired by the
image of Phra That Phanom.
The location of Phu Kampra, from geographical, socio-cultural and historical considerations, is certainly conducive to
the promotion of the interchanging of ideas and values of diverse groups of people since ancient time. The site of Phu
Kampa which is now about 200 m elevated area (Phu meaning a mound or a hill), was once a natural mound where
three of the Mekong tributaries used to meet before flowing into the sacred mother river, Mekong. This was where
people, especially travellers, merchants and local people from several ancient townships and kingdoms could
converge to trade and barter, interact and exchange ideas and beliefs, as mentioned in the Chronology of
Urankathat. The location was therefore unsurprisingly the chosen site of an earlier Cham-style Hindu sanctuary and
was subsequently transformed into the place of enshrinement of the Buddha's Relics which eventually evolved into a
uniquely regional style Stupa of Phra That Phanom.
Criterion (vi): Phra That Phanom is directly identified with Buddhist Literary work of the Maha Parinibbanna Sutta
and the ancient but living concept and practices concerning the veneration of the Buddha's Relics Stupa as a
representation of the Buddha and his teachings.
Phra That Phanom is also firmly associated with many mythical and historical beliefs inspired by the Buddhist literary
work of Tamnan Urankathat which is distinct to the Mekong region. One of these includes the credence that the
enshrinement of Buddha's breast bonerelics at this location was the expressed wish of the Lord Buddha who visited
the place in his lifetime and made many impressions of his footprint on certain areas he visited. The fact that
Buddha's will was carried out by Maha Kassapa Monk from India and resulted in the building of the first Stupa by the
5 regional kings significantly symbolizes the importing of the Indian concept and it being embraced by the regional
peoples as well as their ownership of the sacred Stupa from the beginning. This credence has led to many
subsequent restorations over generations out of faith and dedication of the regional people to the Buddha.
Phra That Phanom, being a living and potent Stupa, is also actively associated with many sacred Buddhist traditions.
After the collapse of this Stupa in 1975, for example, due respect was paid to the sacred nature of the Monument and
to the people's sense of ownership and their spirituality attached to the Stupa. Ancient sacred ceremonies were held
to ask for forgiveness from Buddha, to give spiritual support to the people working in the restoration project and to
promote calmness among the throngs of peoples who came to mourn the physical collapse of the Stupa. When the
sacred Relics were recovered, protected in layers of cases placed inside a bronze casket, a great celebration was
organized for 7 days and 7 nights by the government and the Temple, with the widest participation of the people in
the Mekong Region.
Phra That Phanom is also part of the worldwide Buddhist community and regularly hosts the universal Buddhist
celebrations according to the Lunar calendar. For example, the Makha Puja is annually held for three days and three
nights at Phra That Phanom on the full moon of the third lunar month (February or March), to commemorate an
important event of the "Four Assembly" occurred early in the teaching life of Buddha. This commemoration,
comprising both socio- cultural and religious activities, is attended by a multitude of devotees fluxing into the temple
area from all parts of the Mekong River Basin and the world. During this event, many Buddhist activities as well as
regional cultural expressions were organized, including meditation and observation of the 8 precepts, and the ethnic
dances and music in honour of Phra That Phanom by the villagers and local students.
Especially important and unique to the region are the celebrations related to the Buddhist myth and Mekong regional
interpretation. For example, an official invocation of "Phra Upakut" is organized every year by the Provincial
Authorities. Pra Upakut, a monk in the Buddhist legend, is highly venerated in the Mekong River Basin where he is
believed to be a living and practicing meditation under the River. The invocation is therefore to pay respect to him and
to invite him to come to the Temple to continue giving his protection to the Phra That Phanom Stupa. The tradition is
participated by the leaders of the communities of Nakorn Phanom, represented by the Governor himself.
Another traditional celebration, called the "Sattanaga Memorial", is annually organized by the Temple of Phra That
Phanom to make merit for the benefit of the 7 Nagas who faithfully protect the Phra That Phanom, from the time of its
first construction. This Sattanaga celebration, held on the 5th moon of the 11th month, before the breaking of the
Buddhist Lent, is specifically connected with the belief about the Nagas, a mythical multi-headed serpent mentioned
in many Buddhist scripts, and also in "Tamnan Urankathat". Being the world's 12th longest river with its source in the
high plateau of the Himalaya, the torrential Mekong River is believed to be the home to the wild and untamed Nagas,
who became a believer of Buddha’s teaching upon meeting the latter in this area,. This has given rise to many
cultural expressions on the theme of the Nagas, as seen in the rich ornamentations of architecture, as well as in
many intangible social cultural expressions of the region.
Floating of the lit-up boats is another important artistic expressions of the people of the Mekong River Basin. It is
related to the ancient Hindu practice of offering lights to the river and asking the sacred beings to protect the
travellers and the people living in the river basin. In Buddhism, the ceremony is held on the 15th moon of the 11th
month, to commemorate the return of Buddha from his journey to heaven to preach to his Mother. On this occasion,
all the gates of the three worlds are open so that all beings can listen to his Dharma. The activities for the ceremony
on this occasion at Nakorn Phanom include alms giving to the monks in the morning, food feast to the relatives at
noon, folk games and sports in the afternoon, chanting of mantra in the evening, and the colourful "Lai Rua Fai", or
the lighting of the boats and floats that are creatively built for the occasion, at nightfall.
Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité
The Integrity of Phra That Phanom is evidenced in the wholeness of the ensemble of
architectural and artistic representation of the Stupa, as evolved and restored over the millennia,
its related historical buildings and its original sacred setting called Phu Kampra. All these
elements are important attributes to the Outstanding Universal Values of Phra That Phanom and
have been preserved in their form and spirit, function and usage in the original setting throughout
the centuries in accordance with the traditional beliefs and the decorum of the Buddhist Relic
Phra That Phanom Stupa, its related historic buildings and its natural setting are key attributes to
the cultural values of this living sacred monument. The property is authentic as seen in the form
and design which have evolved based upon the previous structure throughout the centuries. The
location and setting are also authentic and spiritually maintained, as evidenced by the historical
source and by archaeology. Especially important are the purpose and
function of the Stupa and its related environs which have been strictly preserved and
continuously used by the people as a spiritual refuge. The physical substance of the property is
indeed enhanced by the calm and peaceful landscape of the Mekong River as well as by the spirit
of faith and devotion of the worshippers which have remained unchanged.
Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires
I. Sanchi in India, a Buddhist Stupa containing the relics if Buddha's disciples, and a World
Heritage Site.
Sanchi Monument has been inscribed as world heritage under the criteria (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), and (vi). Its stupa no. 1 in
particular was first built as a modest baked brick stupa, half the size of the present one, and subsequently enlarged in
the centuries later. The sanctuaries comprising several stupas and temples within the compound, located on a hill
visible from afar, were associated during its first phase with emperor Ashoka and his missionary son and daughter.
Built, restored and embellished further during many different periods from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD, it
was believed to contain the relics of the Buddha's disciples, and not of the Great Teacher himself, yet it received
generous individual donations for the many historical restorations.
The Stupa and the compound were later deserted for so many centuries, and its history of religious use and function
was long broken. There is at present no Buddhist spiritual connectedness with the communities around it, except for
the recent effort by the Sri Lanka Society. Without the community's genuine and constant use in accordance with the
original purpose, the sanctuaries and the Stupa now stands only as great archaeological remains, reconstructed into
impressive form and style by teams of British and Indian archaeological experts in modern time. Though it now
serves as a pilgrimage destination for Buddhist scholars and visitors from all over the world, it is a reconstructed
deserted site, and probably cannot in a foreseeable future return to its original function as in the past.
Phra That Phanom on the other hand certainly received the concept and tradition of the Buddha's Relics Stupa from
India, though it also exhibits its own regional creativity and adaptation. The history and records of development of
Phra That Phanom show that the people in the Mekong Basin took full ownership of the Stupa very early on, and
integrated the external belief concerning the Buddha's relic veneration into their regional cultural identity. The many
restorations of the Phra That Phanom Stupa and its compound area were always carried out by regional people from
different places in the region who undertook the restoration voluntarily, with the wide participation of the people out of
their humble dedication and deep respect to the Stupa that represents the Intangible Buddha. Generous donations
out of devotion have been received throughout the years, especially during the 1975-1979 restoration after the
collapse of the Stupa in the rainstorm.
Being a living Buddhist monument, its connectedness with the communities in the Mekong region is strongly present.
Religious ceremonies and popular celebrations attended by the people in the regional areas are always a part of the
cultural heritage associated with Phra That Phanom. The Stupa is never regarded as archaeological remains.
Renovation and embellishment over the generations were carried out, not only to maintain the architectural form and
ornamentation of a sacred Stupa and its environment, but more importantly to render the Stupa its continuous
purpose and function as a sacred and potent Stupa, as a place to inspire peace and happiness in the minds of the
people, and to serve the spiritual needs of the populations in the region. The Stupa and its related historic buildings,
though smaller in scale when compared to the Indian and Sri Lankan style of Buddhist monuments, is however
proportionate and in perfect harmony with the geographical and cultural environments of the Mekong region which
originally inspired the creation of a relic stupa at this site.
II. The Statue of Liberty, USA, a World Heritage Site.
The Statue of liberty has been inscribed as a world heritage under criteria (i) and (vi).
It is a masterpiece of the human spirit, a physical gift from France to the United States of America, a product of
collaboration between the sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi and the engineer Gustave Eiffel. The Statue is not associated
with any religious faith but is symbolic of the social and political value of liberty, peace and hope, highly celebrated in
France and the USA since the late 19th Century, and as such it is a potent monument.
Phra That Phanom on the other hand is built to honour Buddha and his teaching. The Buddhist values encompass,
among many other things, great compassion to all and constant concentration of the mind, which the people of the
Mekong region accepted from India more than a millennium ago. Homage to the representation of the Buddha, the
Great Teacher, serves to inspire peace and awakening of the minds and to alleviate the suffering of the people, made
possible only through their own merit making and good deeds, mindfulness and meditation.
The Stupa also expresses, through its architecture and arts, the very sense of cultural identity of the people in the
Mekong Region. The regular celebrations organized for Phra That Phanom relate to the Buddhist fellowship
worldwide, and also to the regional popular beliefs and to their intangible expressions. Phra That Phanom, in its
current architectural form and artistic style, was not a creation of one or two persons, but a product of regional
communities’ collaboration in response to the different situations and needs at the different times over the centuries,
leading to a distinct evolution of Relic Stupa architecture. The Stupa's liveliness and its spiritual potency have also
been sustained and extended far beyond the area mainly due to the continued steadfastness of the faith of the
III. Cologne Cathedral, Germany, a World Heritage Site.
Cologne Cathedral has been listed as the world Heritage under criteria (i), (ii), and (iv).
Built first in the 13th Century and continued in several stages throughout the successive 6 centuries, it has lost the
original architectural context, but the faith in Christianity has been retained. It is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture
perfectly conceived and executed in all parts so that can be considered "sui generis". An urban ensemble has been
created around it since the 19th Century. Pra That That Phnom similarly exhibits the same strength and endurance of
faith in the Buddhist tradition. The Stupa is also a masterpiece of a Buddhist Relics Monuments. Built, restored, and
embellished over the centuries by devoted personalities if the region, the Stupa has evolved into a unique and distinct
architectural and artistic expression of the people in the region. Unlike any other Stupas in other countries in the
world, the restorers have shown humble respect to the traditional decorum of classical Buddhist stupas, while they
also have successfully combined into the Monument important symbolic regional elements which are the identity of
the Mekong River Basin. Having stood the test of time, wars and natural calamities, it has endured and can also be
considered a Sui generis. The Phra That Phanom is as living as the Cologne Cathedral and enjoys the supportive
association with the communities surrounding it.
In addition, Phra That Phanom has a traditional sacred connection with its natural setting of Phu Kampra situated at a
crossroads of the mighty Mekong River. Lastly, the regional form and style as well as the legend of Phra That
Phanom has inspired the construction of many relic stupas in the Northeast of Thailand.