Finding peace in northern Thailand

Lampang’s ancient temples are a good place for Buddhists to make merit

published : 18 Feb 2021 at 04:00

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Horse-drawn carriages wait for passengers at the entrance gate of Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang. The temple was built in the 13th century to house Buddha relics, which are stored in its bell-shape stupa. The large vihara or Viharn Luang is made of wood and has old and fading murals telling the story of the past lives of Buddha. Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang is located in Koh Kha district about 18km from the city. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

Next Friday will mark the Makha Bucha, also known as Magha Puja Day, another important day for Buddhists. It falls on the Full Moon day of the third lunar month in which 1,250 enlightened monks (or arahant) gathered to listen to Buddha teach his principles known as Ovadha Patimokha more than 2,500 years ago. The teaching roughly consists of three major concepts: do good, abstain from bad action and purify the mind.

To observe the day, Buddhists normally go to a temple to make merit. One of my favourite places is Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang in Lampang province, about 600km north of Bangkok. The old temple is known as one of the most beautiful temples in the North. Locals believe that the temple is designated for people who were born in the astrological Year of the Ox — which is this year — because the temple was built and completed in the Year of the Ox.

Some compare the temple to a well-preserved art gallery, with its old Lanna architecture and designs. (Lampang was part of Lanna Kingdom, one of the ancient Siamese kingdoms, founded by King Mangrai in the 13th century.) The Viharn Luang or main hall is unique. The wooden structure was built in 1476 without walls and has dozens of large wooden pillars fully covered with shining gold lacquer patterns. The pavilion houses a seated principal Buddha sculpture called Phra Chao Lan Thong as well as 500-year-old murals painted in Lanna style. The art depicts the story about the last 10 lives of Buddha.

Another highlight is the old Lanka-style bell stupa or chedi, which contains Buddha’s relics, or phrathat, in the Thai language. According to folklore, Buddha once visited the site and donated his hair, which has been kept in the stupa together with his relics, part of his right forehead and neck bones. During important Buddhist holidays like the coming Makha Bucha, people visit the temple to perform a wian tian candle ceremony. Adherents walk around the stupa three rounds while holding a lit candle and three incense sticks to pay homage to Buddha, his teachings and the enlightened monks.

Another old temple that has outstanding architecture is Wat Pong Sanuk Nuea located in Muang district. The highlight is the wooden vihara called Viharn Phrachao Phan Ong. It was built in the form of a pavilion with a three-tiered roof, reflecting the mixed designs of Lanna, Myanmar and Chinese arts. The structure houses four seated Buddha images on a platform and is decorated with a relief of animal sculptures including elephants, nagas, singhs or mythical lions, and eagles on its base. The temple also has a museum that displays a collection of Tripitaka boxes. Be reminded that while wandering in the temple, you may come across some friendly dogs and an unfriendly big black one in the area. Be careful.

Before leaving Lampang, don’t forget to check out the ceramics, a well-known product of the province. Choices of ceramic factories are plenty including Dhanabadee Ceramic Group, which also has a museum to show visitors the history and process of making ceramic rooster bowls. Another site worth visiting is the Ban Thung Chi Royal Project initiated by HM Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother in 1996. It is located in Muang Pan district, about a 30-minute drive north of the city.

The project is open for the public to see every step of ceramic kitchenware production or join a ceramic workshop that can be arranged for group visitors in advance. The site also supports about eight handicraft groups including woodcarving, sewing and weaving. The centre helps create jobs for up to 1,400 people most of whom are from ethnic groups in the area.

Their handmade products are available at affordable prices at the souvenir shop inside the royally-initiated project.

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