Unusual and historic
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th August, 2017
The correct name for this historic, attractive and unusual Chiang Mai temple is Wat Potharam Mahavihara. Locals however generally use the name Wat Jet (or Chet) Yot, meaning the Temple of Seven Spires, after its famous centrepiece, a seven-spired chedi.
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 mediaeval 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 all places across the Theravada Buddhist world, including Sri Lanka, Burma, India and the Khmer kingdom to discuss finer points of 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 bodhi 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 is not a typical Lanna-style wat at all, showing strong Indian as well as Mon influences 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 an attractive old ordination hall plus numerous minor chedis and plenty of 15th century ruins. The grounds themselves are scenic and filled with flowering plants and mature trees, so this is 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 is even a small exhibition and though we have never seen it open you could probably ask a monk for the key if you were interested.) This is a very interesting temple to include if you’re up this way, especially if you are heading to the National Museum, which is nearby.
Wat Jet Yot is situated on the super highway just past the Rim Kham intersection on Huay Kaew Road. 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. Tuk tuks and songthaews can also take you here.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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