Wat Pong Sanuk, the award winning temple
Table of Contents
Wat Pong Sanuk: introduction
After Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, this is the second most important temple of Lampang. It allegedly dates back to the time of King Anantayot, ruler of the Hariphunchai Kingdom and the founder of Khelang Nakorn. He was the son of Queen Chamadevi, the first ruler of Hariphunchai.
It is the site of the “sao lak muang”, the city pillar of Lampang. This was erected in 1857 during the reign of Chao Worayanrangsiratchatham. The temple used to be called Wat Sri Chom Khlai, Wat Chiang Poom, Wat Don Kaew, and Wat Phayao. The temple shows Lanna and Chinese-Burmese influences. It houses also the Phra That Sri Jom Krai, a highly revered Buddha statue.
Visiting Wat Pong Sanuk
The compound consists of Wat Pong Sanuk Nua (North) and Wat Pongsanuk Tai (South). The chedi and the viharn on the mound are the main attractions of the temple, for which people come. They are in Wat Pong Sanuk Nua. Local people call the Mound (Mon Doi) on which the chedi and the Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong are located “Wat Bon” or “Upper Wat”. The temple is famous for the restoration project of the Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong, for which it received an award of merit from the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Reliquaries of the ruling family of Lampang
There are many other structures and things to see at Wat Pong Sanuk. There are several other viharns, a number of museums and also the reliquaries of the ruling family, the Na Lampang branch of the Chet Ton dynasty.
During almost all my visits the temple was very lively. There was construction going on and monks were engaged in different activities such as cleaning, moving objects and so on. It is not the tidiest temple in Lampang. At quite a few places there were construction materials, food and some trash laying around.
Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong
The “pièce de résistance” of Wat Pong Sanuk is without a doubt the Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong (translated: the viharn of the one thousand Buddhas). There is no evidence of when they constructed this viharn. The first time it appears in records is 1886, when a monk named Kruba Annochithamma jindamuni initiated a conservation project. After this restoration project they renamed the temple Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong. It’s original name seems to have been Viharn Mee Yod.
The viharn probably dates back more than 120 years ago. It is an outstanding example of the quality of traditional Thai artisans and shows the close links Lampang maintained with culturally related areas in Yunnan (China) and Shan State (Burma). Excavation of the foundation and the basement of the viharn revealed at least three layers of the ancient basement that date back about 300 to 500 years, according to local archaeologists. The design of the Viharn Chatumuk Buraphachan at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai is based on the design of the Viharn Phra Chao Ong.
A Conservation Project involving the public
During World War Two the compound sustained some damage. Another restoration took place in 1957 but this consisted more of repairing damage than a total restructuring. In 1980 the temple was registered as an ancient monument of Northern Thailand.
The Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong combines Lanna, Burmese and Tai Lue (Xishuangbanna) styles. It is on a brick mound built up to represent Mount Meru, the center of Buddhist cosmological concept. This viharn is the only of its kind in Thailand and is thus unique.
Woralun Boonyasurat stated that this viharn belongs to the temple, the local community and to the Thai society. Therefore the conservation project required adequate public involvement, not only the involvement of experts and other professionals.
An award-winning Conservation Project
The Conservation project was a success because it was a cooperation between the local community, monks, a professional photographer, traditional craft persons, local authorities and academic advisors. All stakeholders were able to give their input and opinions. That was what convinced UNESCO to grant the award of merit from the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Sources of this article
I have often visited this temple over the past few years. I have also consulted these books and articles:
These are some of the sources I consulted:
Information at the temple on plaques and in the museum
Woralun Boonyasurat, The restoration of the Viharn Phra Chao Pun Ong (Viharn of the one thousand Buddhas) at Wat Pong Sanuk, Lampang province: a proposed model for sustainable conservation practice. Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 2009.
Sarassawadee Ongsakul, History of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2005
Michael Freeman, Lanna, Thailand’s Northern Kingdom, Bangkok, 2001
Hans Penth, A brief history of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2000
David K. Wyatt and Aroonrut Wichienkeeo, The Chiang Mai Chronicle, Chiang Mai, 1998
Some facts about Wat Pong Sanuk
Wat Pong Sanuk is located at 60 Pongsanuk Road, Wiang Nue Sub-District, Muang District of Lampang Province.
There is no entrance fee to this temple. It is open every day from 0600 until 1800
See below map:
Frans Betgem, June 2021