Standing at around 82 meters during its glory days, the chedi (or stupa) must have been the tallest structure in ancient Chiang Mai. A great earthquake in 1545 toppled the spire, reducing its height to 60 meters, but this brick chedi is still a marvel to look at.
Historical tidbitsKing Saen Muang Ma started constructing the chedi in 1391 to enshrine his father’s ashes. After 10 years of building it was still unfinished for the king has passed away. Building was later continued by his widow and the following kings. The chedi reached it final form in 1475.
The chedi was never rebuilt after the earthquake, but in 1900s restoration work was done (financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government). It was a controversial restoration work as some claimed the new elements added are not of Lanna style but of Central Thai style. (Lanna is a kingdom centered in present day northern Thailand from 13th to 18th century).
Around the temple grounds
The four sides of the chedi has a niche with impressive stairway guarded by stone nagas or mythical snakes (most of these are restored). There are several Buddha images (new additions during restoration work) in 3 of the four niches.
A beautiful viharn or prayer hall was built in 1928. It houses the standing Buddha image known as Phra Chao Attarot and dates back to the reign of King sane Muang Ma.
At the left side of the entrance to the temple grounds is the city pillar or “Spirit of the City”. It is enshrined in a small building next to a large ancient dipterocarp tree. It is believed that nothing bad will happen to Chiang Mai as long as this tree is standing.
A small shed located at the back of the chedi opposite the main viharn houses several interesting images including 30-foot reclining Buddha.
There are also images of Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra (Touching the Earth or Calling the Earth to Witness the Truth). This is said to be Buddha's hand gesture when he achieved enlightenment.
You also see an image of an interesting fellow there. Nope he is not Buddha, but an enlightened monk named Tan Pra Maha Kajjana. He was so handsome that other monks mistook him for Buddha. One other fellow thought if Tan Pra Maja Kajjana was a woman, he'd marry her. Such evil thought was a grave sin against an enlightened one, and this poor fellow turned into a woman. To avoid getting others into trouble, he decided to turn himself into an ugly fat monk
When to best shoot the temple groundsWat Chedi Luang is a popular site in Chiang Mai, so expect a lot of people during day time. But the temple ground becomes deserted, save for a few folks, when dusk falls. Its the best time to shoot as the chedi is lighted and contrasts nicely with blue evening sky.
I was able to shoot there as dawn as well. Though the temple officially opens at 6.30AM, the gate is always open [I think].