Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara is a historic royal temple and one of Chiang Mai’s most ancient temples. It was formerly the heart of Lanna’s Kingdom. The existing Lanna style chedi had been rebuilt several times. It was considered one of the most essential features of ancient Chiang Mai, measuring sixty meters across the square base.
The construction of big stupa began in the 14th century when King Saen Muang Ma (the 7th monarch of the Mangrai dynasty) intended to bury his father’s ashes here. However, after ten years of construction, it remained unfinished, and after the king’s death, his widow continued the construction.
Wat Chedi Luang Chiang Mai means the Temple of the Biggest Chedi of Chiang Mai. However, the word Luang can be interpreted not only as biggest, but also as main. Therefore, an alternative name for this attraction is Temple of the Main Chedi of Chiang Mai.
Due to structural issues, it was not completed until the second half of the 15th century, during the reign of King Tilokaraj (the 9th monarch of the Mangrai Dynasty). The Buddhist temple stood 82 meters tall and had a 54-meter-wide base. It was the largest structure in the Kingdom of Lanna at the time.
After an earthquake in 1545, the top 30m of the structure collapsed. Soon after, in 1551, the Emerald Buddha was relocated to Luang Prabang (and only then, in 1779, to the famous Wat Arun, before concluding its journey in 1784 at Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, where it still stands today).
In 1928, the Dhamma of Phra Upali Kunupamajarn (Chan Sirichando) and Kaew Nawarat (36th and last ruler of the Kingdom of Lanna and Prince Ruler of Chiang Mai) restored the ancient ruins of Chedi Luang. At the same time the Viharn Luang was built.
Chan Sirichando was a famous monk who served as the previous abbot of Wat Chedi Luang and was instrumental in the restoration of the chedi in 1928.
He was also active in educating Buddhists. Therefore, even one hundred years later, there is still much literature published in Thailand based on the practice and study of the Dhamma in accordance with his precepts.
One of the most famous books is Ways Of Meditation Practice And Teaching Dhamma Of Phra Upali Kunupamajarn republished by Mahamakut Buddhist University in 2008. Unfortunately, it is only available in Thai.
A viharn is a building housing a Buddha images. There are several varieties of construction. For example, viharn luang – is a viharn at the end connected to the stupa or pagoda.
The main entrance contains a stunning Naga stairway going up to the massive chedi, which is one of Thailand’s most gorgeous Naga statues.
Furthermore, Phra Chao Attarot, an amazing standing Buddha eighteen cubits tall with the right hand uplifted in Abhaya mudra, was constructed by King Tilokaraj’s mother, Tilokachuda, in 1411 during King Rama V’s reign.
In Buddhism and other Indian religions, the Abhaya mudra is a gesture of reassurance and safety that dispels fear and grants divine protection and bliss. The palm of the right hand is facing outwards and is held upright. This is one of the earliest mudras found on Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh images.
The great pagoda began to be built in 1391 during the reign of Phaya Saen Mueang Ma. The pagoda was initially created 80 meters high and 56 meters wide with a square base. Its forms were designed in the traditional Lankan style.
In the 15th century, Chiang Mai became Southeast Asia’s most important center of Buddhist philosophy, preaching, and chronicling. At that time, there was an active movement in Chiang Mai to strengthen the Theravada, and new Theravada communities were established, whose influence became dominant. Direct Lanna-Lankan religious ties expanded, and the missionary activities of Lankan and local Theravada preachers in the Lanna kingdom intensified.
For several decades the royal throne of Chiang Mai was settled by the great King Tilokaraj (reigned 1441-1487). During this time, dozens of major Buddhist monasteries were built, hundreds of stupas and other religious buildings were erected, and thousands of Buddha statues were cast.
Twenty-eight elephant statues were placed around the chedi. According to religious superstitions, the elephant statues were supposed to strengthen the city, bring good luck to the city’s inhabitants, and bring peace to the kingdom of Lanna.
Also, in the past, the eight elephants were worshipped because of the belief of the locals that these elephants would have the power to protect the city. Each of these eight elephants has its own name.
When an enemy invades the kingdom, the sky will darken, and a thick fog will descend on the land. Unable to find their way around, the invaders will be frightened and flee. The name of the first elephant is “Mek Bang Wan,” which means “clouds of mist that obscure the day.”
When invaders approach an army of defenders of a city, although the enemy has hundreds of thousands of brave warriors, it will cause intoxication and forgetfulness. Unable to control their minds, the invaders will be disorganized and mentally broken and leave the battlefield in a hurry. The name of the second elephant is “Kom Pon Saen,” which means “oppressing and terrifying an army of a hundred thousand.”
When the enemy invades, even though the troops are many and hundreds of thousands of swords, knives, machetes, and sharp pikes, the enemy cannot come close to inflict pain. The enemy will only have broken will and flee. Hence the name of the third elephant is “Daap Saen Daam,” which means “one hundred thousand swords.”
When the enemy starts a fight, even though he has a brave army, long sharp swords, and hundreds of thousands of spears, he can not pursue the city’s defenders. The only thing left for the enemy to do is to disperse and flee the battlefield. Hence the name of the fourth elephant, “Hok Saen Lam,” which means “one hundred thousand spears.”
When the enemy invades, even with a large number of troops, hundreds of thousands of guns cannot harm the inhabitants of a city. Hence the name of the fifth elephant is “Bpeun Saen Hae Long,” which means “one hundred thousand firearms and cannons.”
When invaders invade, although they have a massive army with hundreds of thousands of crossbows, they cannot do harm and must leave the battlefield. The name of this elephant is “Naa Mai Saen Giiang,” which means “one hundred thousand crossbows.”
When the enemy dares to invade the city, even if the army consists of one hundred thousand fighting elephants, they cannot enter the city, even if the elephants try to force them to do so, after which panic will overtake the enemy, and they will retreat. Hence the name is “Saen Keuuan Gan,” which translates to “one hundred thousand embankment blocking the way.”
When the enemy comes to invade the city, it will be as hot as if there were a burning fire all around. The enemy will not want to burn alive and flee the battlefield in agony. That’s why they called it “Fai Saen Dtao” which means “one hundred thousand burning flames.”
After exploring the viharn and walking around the chedi, you will find a reclining Buddha, 1.93 meters high and 8.70 meters long. Although no one knows the exact date of this sculpture, legend has it that this statue of Buddha was placed during the construction of the chedi in the 14th century. So, presumably, this statue is more than 600 years old. In 2020, it was restored, and it now has a very beautiful look.
The pillar is believed to have been constructed by King Mangrai at the city’s establishment on April 12, 1296, at Wat Sadue Mueang, also known as Wat Inthakhin on Inthawarorot road. In 1800, Lanna King Kawila moved the city pillar to its current place within a shrine on the temple grounds of Wat Chedi Luang.
Lak Mueang, which literally translates to “city pillar” in Thai, can be found in almost every city in Thailand. Usually kept at what is known as a shrine (Thai: ศาลหลักเมือง), which is also believed to be the dwelling place of Chao Pho Lak Mueang (เจ้าพ่อหลักเมือง), the city spirit deity.
As part of Chiang Mai’s 700th-anniversary celebrations, the local government approved a decision by the Fine Arts Department to begin a project to preserve Wat Chedi Luang in the early 1990s. The Fine Arts Department contracted with the Sivakorn Engineering Company. The project cost was estimated at 35 million Thai Baht, or approximately US$1.4 million at the exchange rate.
The reconstruction was supported by funding from UNESCO and the Japanese government. Nevertheless, the reconstruction has provoked mixed and contradictory feelings among some Chiang Mai residents. Many locals are homesick for the chedi’s pre-reconstruction look.
The fee is 40 Baht for adults, 20 Baht for children. The temple remains free to visit for Thai people.
Wat Chedi Luang open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM.
Chedi Luang was built by order of King Saen Muang Ma, the 7th king of the Mangrai dynasty and reigning prince of Chiang Mai, to bury his father’s ashes.
Much later, in the temple grounds, with the support of the deeply respected monk Chan Sirichando and Kaew Nawarat, the last ruler of the Lanna Kingdom, other temple buildings were built, such as Vihara Luang, a meditation hall surrounded by cells and an altar with a Buddha statue.
Although it is often mentioned that the construction of the chedi began in 1391, this is an approximate date. No one knows the exact date. Nevertheless, there are chronological discrepancies in the historical records.
For example, the 600th anniversary of the Chedi was celebrated in 1995, as if the construction had been completed in 1395. But since we know that King Saen Muang Ma died in 1401 and Chedi was completed only in 1481, we can definitely say that this date is incorrect.
Wat Chedi Luang is a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is used as a place of worship and also as a historical site for cultural events, such as temple fairs and religious ceremonies.
If you come to Chiang Mai and explore the local attractions, you can rent a motorbike from us, in case you have experience riding a motorcycle. Do you know how to ride a motorcycle? Do you have a motorcycle license? Then we are waiting for you! Don’t forget to check out the other routes in Northern Thailand. See you!
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