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Thai Buddhist temple dazzles in Raynham

Design connects East and West, architect says

 State Senator Marc R. Pacheco of Taunton said it was an honor to have such a grand structure as the 110,000-square foot Wat Nawamintararachutis in Massachusetts.

Zack Wittman

State Senator Marc R. Pacheco of Taunton said it was an honor to have such a grand structure as the 110,000-square foot Wat Nawamintararachutis in Massachusetts.

RAYNHAM — Chanting monks in saffron robes stood beside dark-suited state legislators under a colossal golden Buddha statue to mark the opening Sunday afternoon of what might be the largest Thai Buddhist temple in the world outside of Thailand.

Yes, the largest. Yes, in Raynham.

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The 110,000-square foot facility, called Wat Nawamintararachutis, or the NMR Meditation Center, has a meditation room, residence halls for monks and visitors, a courtyard, a museum-library, and multipurpose rooms. Builders say it is the biggest temple outside Thai borders.

Been Z. Wang, the building’s architect, said influential Thai Buddhist abbot, Phra Promwachirayan, approached him years ago with a vision for a temple. Promwachirayan had developed other Thai Buddhist temples, or wats, in the United States before.

“He wanted to build this temple. It was always his vision and his dream,” Wang said. “He wanted to bring the East to the West.”

Eight years and countless sketches later, the $60 million facility’s white walls and 180-foot golden spire gleam in the sun. The style is not exclusively Thai. Instead of curved roofs, Wang said, he tried to incorporate gables, a New England staple, into his design.

“It really is a temple for everybody,” Wang said. “It’s not just for Thai people. It’s not just for Buddhists.”

On Sunday, camera flashes went off over the shaved heads of monks as Thai media converged to see the culmination of a days-long opening for the temple. Organizers said thousands of people had passed through the complex.

Senator Marc R. Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, and Representative Angelo L. D’Emilia, a Bridgewater Republican, offered citations for the Buddhists from both chambers of the state Legislature.

Pacheco had visited Thailand in 2004, but D’Emilia told a crowd of dozens of monks and spectators that he had never been. “Now I don’t have to go as far, I can come right here to Raynham,” he said.

In an interview after the ceremony, Pacheco said the leaders of the center “see this as a way in which they can open up the Thai culture and the Thai Buddist religion to America.”

Raynham has virtually no Thai population. The monks chose the town because the land was large enough — about 55 acres — and compared with other Massachusetts sites, it was relatively close to Cambridge, the birthplace of Thailand’s current king.

The monks built the temple to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in 1927. His father, Prince Mahidol of Thailand, had been studying medicine at Harvard and living in a Brookline apartment, where the family remained until 1928.

The Thai government financed about $18 million of the project, and donations funded the rest, according to Joy Marzilli, a Thai woman who moved to the United States to do postdoctoral research at the University of Rhode Island. Marzilli, 53, who now lives in Narragansett, R.I., gave tours at the temple earlier this week.

Pacheco said it was an honor to have such a grand structure in Massachusetts. “It becomes a site where people will want to visit, not just the Thai Buddhist community, but people in general are extremely curious, very interested in learning more about the Thai Buddhist religion and culture,” he said.

Curiosity brought Claire Cote, 81, of Raynham, and Theresa Sweeney, 84, of Stoughton, to the temple Sunday. White marble tile and gilded light fixtures kept them there long into the afternoon.

“It’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sweeney said.

Cote said she met people from Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand while touring the building. Even though she has visited Greece, London, and Rome — including the Sistine Chapel — Cote said she never saw anything quite like the temple. Cote, who is Catholic, said she plans to return.

Maria Dias, 55, and Celina Melo, 18, both of Stoughton, took in the ornate third-floor temple Sunday. A massive Buddha figure presides at the front beneath a bright red ceiling decorated with golden sunburst designs. “It’s like being in another country,” said Dias, who works up the street from the center. “It’s definitely something to come see,” Melo said.

Wang, the architect, said builders used materials from across the world to create the complex. The center features limestone from Jerusalem, concrete panels from Canada, Italian roofing tiles, and light ornaments from Thailand, he said. The many Buddha figures throughout the facility are also from Thailand.

Joseph R. Pacheco, chairman of the Raynham Board of Selectmen, said reception for the temple has been positive.

“The only real comment I’ve heard is that it’s massive,” he said. “Outside of that, people understand religion is a big thing and at the end of the day, this is a place of religion, a place of worship, and you can’t treat it any differently. The people of Raynham understand that.”

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson. Claire McNeill can be reached atclaire.mcneill@globe.com or on Twitter @clairemcneill.
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