One of Sukhothai’s most magnificent sites, Wat Si Chum houses a massive seated Buddha image with a set of gold-tapered fingers reaching towards the earth, each as tall as a full-grown person.
Seated at the centre of a towering brick-and-mortar wihaan built in the shape of a four-sided mondop with three-metre-thick walls, the Phra Atchana Buddha image stretches for more than 11 metres across at the waste. The calm and resolved facial expression reflects an atchana, a wise person who simultaneously maintains great strength and composure.
The right hand’s graceful fingers reach towards the earth as the key part of the Subduing Mara posture, depicting the moment when the Buddha remained steadfast in his meditative run to enlightenment as Mara’s demonic armies attempted to topple his concentration. This is the most common posture seen in Buddha images in Thailand, and Phra Atchana is possibly the most stunning depiction of them all.
The Buddha image fills in almost the entire interior of the roofless hall, making it difficult to capture the whole thing in a single photographic frame. From the outside, only the image’s face and headdress are visible through a narrow passage that serves as the only entrance. A great sense of drama is created as you notice the Buddha’s face from afar and then watch its body slowly emerge while moving through the narrow passage.
Though little is left of them today, the wihaan’s upper sections feature 700-year-old murals and engravings depicting scenes from the Jatakas, stories from the Buddha’s previous lives. A stairway reaches the upper interior walls and it’s believed that a person would have climbed these before yelling down to crowds from a concealed position, making it seem like the Buddha was speaking to them.
Phra Atchana is hands-down the most impressive Buddha image found in Sukhothai, but there’s not much else to see at Wat Si Chum. You could wander into the adjacent working temple of the same name before continuing east to Wat Phra Phai Luang or west to Wat Saphan Hin.
How to get there
To get here from the central zone, head west from the northern gate and before long you’ll see a sign pointing right (north) up a side lane, with Wat Si Chum found at the end. Alternately you can head north from the central zone on Highway 1113 and take a left (west) to Wat Phra Phai Luang, and then continue a bit further west along a back road to Wat Si Chum. It takes around 15 minutes to bicycle here from Wat Mahathat. Admission is 100 baht, which also gets you into Wat Phra Phai Luang.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 15th June, 2016.