Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพราชวรวิหาร) is the most famous temple of Chiang Mai. It is located on Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. Rising 1676 metres above the city of Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep is one of the most revered religious destinations in Thailand. The temple dates back from the 14th century. Allegedly the famous naga staircase was constructed in 1557. Until about 80 years ago a trail through the forest was the only way to get to the temple. In 1934-1935 followers of Kruba Srivichai, the “engineer monk”, constructed a road leading up to the staircase.
The road was officially opened on April 30, 1935. A car containing Kruba and the mayor of Chiang Mai, Luang Sri Prakad, drove up to the Naga staircase. In 1996 a funicular cable car was constructed for those unable or unwilling to walk up the Naga staircase of 309 steps.
Why was Wat Prathat Doi Suthep temple built at this particular place? In the 14th century a monk from Sukhothai brought a relic of the Buddha to Chiang Mai on the request of King Kue Na (1355-1385) the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom. After the relic had broken in two the king had half of the relic, the bigger half, placed on the back of a sacred white elephant. It was decided to enshrine the relic in a new temple. The elephant would choose the location of the temple.The other half, the smaller part, was enshrined in Wat Suan Dok. The elephant then wandered off into the jungle and climbed up the slopes of Doi Suthep. According to the legend the elephant trumpeted three times and then died. It was decided to construct a temple at that particular spot. The construction started in 1383 although some sources mention 1368 as the starting date. Construction of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep started in 1383 according to some sources. Other sources mention 1368 as the date.
Within the temple complex are a number of pavilions, pagodas, statues and viharns. The pavilions contain the living quarters for monks. There is a small museum with ancient relics, photographs and old pieces of temple wares can also be visited. The Phra Ubosot or ordination hall is the place where the prayers take place. Striking a series of small bells in the complex is believed to bring good luck. Whenever there is wind around the atmosphere is filled with the sounds of temple bells adding to the tranquility and peacefulness of this beautiful place.
Probably the most photographed object is the gold plated chedi, that lies in the middle of a square marble tiled courtyard. The chedi reached its present height of over 16 meters in 1525 in the reign of King Muang Kaew (1495-1525). A railing surrounding the square base of the chedi encloses a walkway for devotional rounds of the chedi.Women may not enter this walkway. Parasols, symbols of royal regalia, have been placed at the four corners of the chedi. The courtyard took its present shape under Chao Kawila in 1805. It is lined by a cloister which contains Buddha images and murals depicting the life of the Buddha. In the middle of the east and west sides of the cloister are two ornate viharn. The inside walls of both are covered with murals. The murals of the eastern viharn show the legend of the elephant and the relic, while those of the western hall show the Vessantara Jataka. Devotees go to the western viharn to receive blessings and lustral water from monks sitting on a dais.
Every year on the eve of Visakha Bucha Day thousands of buddhists walk up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep features in most of our Chiang Mai programs.
This article will be regularly updated.
Frans Betgem, March 2017