Phra Upakhut, the Protector
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Phra Upakhut, the Protector
In many temples, in North Thailand, you will see a statue of Phra Upakhut (พระอุปคุต) aka Phra Buakhem(พระบัวเข็ม). It is an image of a monk in a sitting pose. He turns to the right and looks upward or to his side. With his left hand, he holds a bowl. His right hand is slightly inside the bowl and covering it. He is the protector against evil and the symbol of purity. Those are the reasons many people worship this monk. He is sometimes sitting in a pond, a sign of purity, or one a lotus flower. At Wat Rong Suea Ten, the Blue Temple, in Chiang Rai he is sitting in a fountain.
The story of the monk
I have found different stories of the lives of this monk. He was an arhat who was praised by the Buddha for his magical powers.
Before the Buddha entered Nirvana, he asked Phra Upakhut to remain alive until the coming of the Maitreya, the future Buddha. Buddha asked him to protect the Buddhist religion and the teachings of the Dhamma.
King Ashoka and Phra Upakhut
Other sources mention that Phra Upakhut was a monk from the ancient city of Patna in India and lived after the Buddha during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (268-232 BC).
After Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism he started constructing countless stupas and temples to house the relics of the Buddha. The devil threatened to interfere but Phra Upakhut came to the rescue. That is more or less the story in my own words. This earned him his reputation as the protector.
Moreover, the monk had reached a state of mediation that was higher than any other monk: enlightenment and freedom from suffering. Theravada Buddhists believe the monk is alive and amongst us.
Worshipping of Phra Upakhut in Thailand
I have seen images of Phra Upakut in North Thailand in many places. It seems statues of the monk appear more in Shan and Burmese temples than in Thai temples, correct me when I am wrong. I have seen images of Phra Upakhut at the Shan temples Wat Muang Pon and Wat Tor Pae in Khun Yuam district, Mae Hong Son province. I noticed an image of the monk at Wat Phra Non in Mae Hong Son town as well. Other well known temples where Phra Upakhut appears are the aforementioned Blue Temple and the Wat Phra That Phu Kao in Sob Ruak (Golden Triangle).
The Thai and the Burmese Wat Upakhut in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai, there were two temples next to each other named after him: the Burmese and the Thai Wat Upakhut. The Burmese temple was demolished in the late 1950s, allegedly because people were not taking care of the temple anymore. The Buddha Sathan building is now at that location, on the corner of Thapae and Charoenprathet Roads. The Thai temple is still there on the corner of Thapae and Changklan Roads.
Wat Upakut, Temple of the ProtectorWat Upakut in Chiang Mai is on the corner of Chang Klan and Thapae roads. It is not a temple that is on the itinerary of most tourists, even though it is very close to the Night Bazar. Guide books don’t mention this temple, which is a pity. It is a beautiful temple with a viharn, ubosot and a white chedi. According to a resident monk the temple was built about 130 years ago. Every year there is a ceremony at the temple, named Peng Pud Day (วันเป็งปุ๊ด). At midnight on this day many people come to the temple to pay their respects to the monk.
Phra Upakhut images at the temple
There are several Phra Upakhut images. The most important image is in a small house in the middle of the temple. The temple is also a center of social activities in the neighborhood. We have often had meetings with the samlor drivers of Chiang Mai in the meeting room of this temple.
Finally, Wat Upakhut is a unique temple. As far as I know it is the only temple in North Thailand dedicated to this monk.
References for this article
I have been on the lookout for Phra Upakhut for quite a while and regularly visit Wat Upakhut in Chiang Mai. This Facebook page had some information. Wikipedia is always a good source of information.
The location of Wat Upakhut
The temple is on the corner of Chang Klan and Thapae Roads. This crossroads is also known as the Upakut intersection.