Wat Chedi Luang, the big stupa

Wat Chedi Luang, The temple with the big chedi

History of Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang (lit. temple of the big stupa) is a Buddhist temple in the old city of Chiang Mai. The current temple grounds were originally made up of three temples — Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin.

Here are two fantastic old pictures of the temple. The first is undated. The Austrian-American explorer, geographer, linguist and botanist Joseph Rock (1884-1962) visited Chiang Mai in 1934 and made a great picture of the temple.

The construction of the temple started in the 14th century. The seventh monarch of the Mangrai Dynasty (1292-1558) was King Saen Muang Ma, a son of King Kue Na. His father named him Saen Muang Ma, which means `a hundred thousand cities come’ because he was born during the time of great prosperity in the Lan Na Kingdom. King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there.

Wat Chedi Luang. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

Date unknown. Probably in the 60’s. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

Construction of the great pagoda

He constructed the great pagoda in the centre of the city of Chiang Mai in 1391. At this time, he had been in power for 16 years, and was 39 years old. He was not able to finish the construction of the pagoda during his reign. It was the Queen who constructed the upper part of the great pagoda, installed its spire and gave it its finishing touches.

Wat Chedi Luang. National Archives Bangkok.

National Archives Bangkok. Date unknown.

Probably due to stability problems it took until the mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of King Tilokaraj. It was then 82 meters high and had a base diameter of 54 meters. At that time it was the largest building in the Lanna kingdom. In 1468 the statue ofthe Emerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche. In 1545 however the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake. Not long after that disaster the statue of the Emerald Buddha was moved to Luang Prabang in 1551.

Restoration of the ruined chedi

In the early 1990s the Fine Arts Department reconstructed Wat Chedi Luang. UNESCO and the Japanese government together funded the reconstruction. Not everyone liked the result of the reconstruction. Some claim elements of Central Thai temple architecture crept in. Others don’t like the new look of the chedi and prefer how it looked before the reconstruction, overgrown with vegetation.

For the 600th anniversary of the chedi in 1995, they placed a copy of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade in the reconstructed eastern niche. The icon is named official Phra Phut Chaloem Sirirat, but is commonly known as Phra Yok.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang. Date and source unknown

King Kawila moves the City Pillar

Also on the temple grounds is the City Pillar (Lak Mueang) of Chiang Mai, named Sao Inthakin.  Upon the establishment of a new city people have to construct a City Pillar. This is an old Thai tradition. King Kawila moved the City Pillar from nearby Wat Sadeu Muang, the original location, to Wat Chedi Luang in 1800. He also planted three dipterocarp trees there, which are supposed to assist the City Pillar to protect the city. A festival in honor of the City Pillar is held every year in May and lasts 6–8 days.

In a wihan near the entrance to the temple is the Buddha statue named Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha), which dates back from the late 14th century. On the other side of the chedi is another pavilion housing a reclining Buddha statue.

Wat Chedi Luang, 1972. Picture by Nick DeWolf.

Wat Chedi Luang, 1972. Picture by Nick DeWolf.

Dutch photographer Don Oppedijk visited Chiang Mai in 1981 and made below pictures.

Below are pictures I made during Songkran in 2013 of the reconstructed Chedi.

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Wat Chedi Luang, April 13, 2013

More information on the temple on the Chiang Mai a la Carte website. On this site you can also find several tours that feature the temple such as the magnificent temples of Chiang Mai.

Updated: June 3, 2018

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