Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Theravada Buddhist Temple perched on (and named after) Doi Suthep Mountain 1,300 meters above Chiang Mai. According to legend, the site for the temple was chosen by a white elephant that was carrying a holy and magical relic up the mountain. This relic had been originally enshrined at Wat Suan Dok before being split in two – One half was placed on the back of a white elephant, which proceeded to climb Doi Suthep. After three days of walking, the elephant reached a level piece of ground, trumpeted three times, circled three times, knelt down, and died. That relic was immediately buried at the site and then covered over by a 7m copper-plated Lanna style chedi in 1383 under King Kuena. Over time, the temple was expanded and embellished with more holy sites. The chedi reached its present height of over 16m in 1525 under the reign of King Muang Kaew and the courtyard, lined with Buddha images and murals, took shape under Chao Kawila in 1805. The gold-plated temple is modeled after Wat Phra That Haripunjaya in Lamphun.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was an important pilgrimage spot for the devoted, but turned into a major tourist attraction when the road was built in 1935. The faithful will ring the bells and gongs around the base of the outer sanctuary for good luck and then many will pray and meditate in the inner sanctuary. At the center of the inner sanctuary is the great 16m chedi – a railing surrounding the square base of the chedi encloses a walkway for ‘devotional rounds’ (no women allowed). Religious followers will also go to the western viharn to receive blessings and lustral water from monks sitting on a dais.