Wat Chedi Luang
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Near the end of the 14th century, King Saen Muang Ma began construction on Wat Chedi Luang (Phra Chedi Luang) to enshrine the ashes of his father, Ku Na, but at the time of his death ten years later, it was still unfinished. It was finally completed during the mid-15th century under the reign of King Tilokarat. It was 90m tall until a severe earthquake in 1545 demolished the top 30m of the chedi and five years later, Chiang Mai fell to the Burmese so the temple was not rebuilt. Even at it’s present height of 60m, it remained the tallest structure in Chiang Mai until modern times. Each of it’s four sides has a grand staircase guarded by stone nagas (mythical serpant) and the staircase on the northern side, leads up to a giant gold statue of Buddha.
In the subsequent years, several viharns (assembly halls) were added to the temple complex, the largest of which was built in 1928 and houses a standing Buddha known as Phra Chao Attarot, that dates back to the late 14th century when construction of the chedi began. Round columns with bell shaped bases and lotus finials support the high red ceiling inside and Buddhist posters are placed along the walls between the windows, and cabinets with Buddha images and Bencharong ceramics line the walls.
The cross shaped hall to the south of the main viharn contains the city pillar. Statues in small shelters surrounding this building are homes of guardian spirits. Legends say that a hermit (whose image is in a shelter on the west side of the building) went to the God Indra to ask for protection for the city from enemies. On condition that appropriate offerings were made, Indra permitted two kumaphan (mythical human-beast creature) to carry the Inthakhin pillar from the Tavatimsa heaven to the city.
Other buildings in the compound include the Lanna campus of the Mahamakut Buddhist University – the northern campus for monks of the Thammayut sect, a reformist sect founded by King Mongkut, who was dissatisfied with the established Mahanikaisect in the late 1830’s. To the west of the chedi is a viharn with a reclining Buddha and the Sangkhachai Buddha.
Despite its ruined state, the chedi still has several Buddha shrines and remains an active place of worship frequented by saffron-robed monks and devoted worshipers.