Nov 15 2011
The correct name for this historic, attractive and unusual Chiang Mai temple is Wat Potharam Mahavihara, though locals generally use the name Wat Jet (or Chet) Yot, meaning the Temple of Seven Spires for its famous centre piece, a seven-spired chedi, or stupa.
According to the Thai Fine Arts Department, the wat was originally constructed in 1455 by the Lanna king Tilokkarat for his most revered monk, a certain Phra Uthamapanya Mahathera, but also importantly as a kind of medieval conference centre for a world Theravada Buddhist reunion that was held in Chiang Mai in 1477. (Good forward planning by Tilokkarat!)
This, the eighth world Tripitaka conference, was being held for the first time in Thailand so was a major prestige coup for the Lanna kingdom and the ruler himself. (Tripitaka is the Buddhist, Pali canon, thus it was a reunion of high profile religious leaders from places including Sri Lanka, Burma, India and the Khmer kingdomto discuss points of Theravada doctrine.) We would have liked to have seen the selection process and can imagine the organisers checking out public transport, participants’ accommodation and whether the bathrooms were clean or not.
The king also requested the planting of a sacred Boddhi tree which you can still see today in the temple grounds.
The main chedi is supposed to be a copy of one in India and so it’s not a typical Lanna style wat at all, showing, obviously, strong Indian influences as well as Mon ones and even Chinese designs in some of the decoration.
In the extensive temple grounds you’ll also find a chedi built by Tilokkarat’s son to house his dad’s ashes as well as the attractive old ordination hall plus numerous minor chedis and plenty of 15th century ruins too. (Oddly my spell checker keeps giving me Navratilova as an alternative to Tilokkarat but I don’t think she had anything to do with Lanna.) The grounds themselves are scenic and filled with flowering plants and mature trees, so it’s a picturesque spot indeed.
The temple was restored in the late 18th century and you can also see some evidence of more recent restorations and excavations (2002) in the grounds.
There’s even a coffee shop in the grounds, though we doubt that dates from the Buddhist conference and all in all it’s a very interesting temple to visit.
Wat Jet Yot is situated on the super highway — which allowed the 15th century delegates easy access to the train and bus stations — just past the Rim Kham intersection on Huay Kaew Road (see map). It’s conveniently placed close to the National Museum so you could combine the two, or include it as a stop-off on your way up to Doi Suthep, for example.
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