The Wat Mahathat is one of the medieval Buddhist temples that comprise the World Heritage site of Ayutthaya, an ancient city steeped in history. It’s home to what is perhaps the city’s most photographed, iconic, and haunting sight: the Buddha head in tree roots.
A sandstone Buddha with a mild, merciful smile, the head sits perfectly positioned at the foot of a tall bodhi tree. Its roots, tentacular and vein-like, seem to swallow the Buddha head but fails to shroud its face, as if intentionally avoiding sacrilege.
Made in the 1600s, the statue is believed to have been decapitated by the Burmese invaders in the 18th century, who also purposefully defaced and mutilated a large number of the effigies in Ayutthaya to enrage their devout Buddhist enemies.
Deserted and left to rot, the head lay in the ruins among the dirt and weeds for year after year, until the bodhi tree started to grow on the spot, its roots lifting the Buddha’s head and keeping it upright—a miracle, or so some say.
Know Before You Go
The “Buddha head in tree roots” is located near the entrance to the Wat Mahathat, the first thing you’d see if you started your tour clockwise. Remember to be respectful; when taking pictures of the head, you are advised to squat so you wouldn’t look down on the Buddha.