"Wat", literally means temple. Ever since the ancient times, Wat has played a significant role in many aspects of Thai society, artistically, educationally, morally, and socially.
In a Buddhist Wat, the most important building is called “Ubosoth”, a place where religious rites or services are performed to the Buddhists on important occasions, such as on Wan Pra, or other religious days. Next importance to “Ubosoth” is “Sala Kara Parianya”, - a place where the Buddhists usually assemble for merit-making, such as giving food to the priests, praying, or attending sermons, if these are not done in “Ubosoth”. Besides, we find a few small “Salas”, which serves as resting-places for those who go to church, and rows of buildings, mostly in wood, which serve as the dwellings of the priests.
Another commonly seen architecture of Thai Temples is a “Chedi” or pagoda, a cone-shaped structure with a lofty spire. Its spire mostly ornamented in gold was purposely built to enclose the sacred relics of the Lord Buddha. Some Chedis were built up by kings or wealthy nobles simply in commemoration of their deceased wives or relatives, and contained only Buddhist images or some or other sacred symbols.
Socially, Wat has been, from the old days, a gathering point of people on important religious days or festivals. Not only for merit-making, people go to the temple for amusement as many kinds of entertainment such as lakhon (classical Thai dance drama) or like (Thai folk opera). Young men and young women are also granted a chance to talk to each other openly.
Artistically, Wat houses an excellence of arts; be it paintings, sculptures, and architecture. Most of Thai finest artworks can be seen in the temples throughout the country. Wat is also served as a center of education in the old days when education was restricted only to Thai male and when modern educative system has not emerged yet. The monks gave not only intellectual but also moral education to Thai boys.
Even today, a lot of schools are still found within the temple's area. In the moral point of view, Wat is the place where people usually go for spiritual appeasement. Usually, lay Buddhists go to the temple to offers alms-making to the monks and attend the sermons whereby they believe to refrain from their self-gratification and to contribute peace in mind.
(excerpt from asia-discovery.com
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