9 May 2023

Step inside Canberra's first and only Thai Buddhist temple ahead of its long-awaited opening

| James Day
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The entrance to the ornate golden temple with a bed of lavender in front.

The front entrance to the new section of Wat Dhammadharo, Canberra’s first and only Thai Buddhist temple. Photo: Tip Muangsaen.

If you’ve ever driven along Ginninderra Drive and wondered what that large golden spire poking out above the trees is, you would not be alone. The stupa, not spire, is Lyneham’s own Thai Buddhist temple, also known as Wat Dhammadharo.

The temple was originally established in 1993, but a major expansion has been underway for the past 13 years. Project manager Tip Muangsaen has recently submitted the final inspection request to the ACT Government, with hopes the temple will open its doors later this year.

Wat Dhammadharo’s construction has been completely self-funded, aside from a few philanthropic donations. According to Tip, it is the centre of the Thai community in Canberra and the biggest temple of its kind in Australia.

Through years of food markets, festivals and other fundraising events, the temple was put together largely by volunteers, many of whom are not of Thai heritage at all.

“This temple has been built from the foundation by chicken and satay,” Tip told Region.

Alongside its daily services, the temple holds Thai language classes every Saturday, which Tip says “allows the little children of mixed marriages to learn and embrace the culture”.

The school of Buddhism the temple follows is called Theravada, otherwise known as the ‘School of the Elders’. It is the oldest form of the religion and is most popular throughout Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Every day at 10:30 am the temple welcomes visitors to the morning service and invites them to bring homemade food for the monks who live on site. For those who intend to bring something from home, the monks are not allowed to eat raw meat or fish, with cooked food being preferable. Given there are ten banned meats, however, Tip recommends salad as a safe option.

Throughout the newly constructed temple are intricate graphics on the columns. These were all designed, made and meticulously imprinted by Tip, who is also a professional interior decorator.

One notable contribution to the temple’s design is former King of Thailand Rama IX, who altered the final design of the pagoda’s roof to display nine stupas. He wanted to thank the city that hosted his son, the incumbent King Rama X, as a student of Duntroon during the early 1970s.

While the building works are not quite complete, the temple welcomed visitors last month for Songkran, Thai new year, which took place from 13-15 April marking the end of the harvest season.

On 15 April, Wat Dhammadharo hosted a food festival for Songkran, with hundreds of Canberrans turning out to visit the temple and share food. The holiday is akin to Christmas for many Thai Buddhists, in that it is a time for food and family, but it is understood as a day of remembrance when one reflects on their ancestors.

After lunch on the third day, you are expected to present a floral arrangement to your eldest relative and pour water into their palms so they can forgive you with their blessing.

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