21 January 2014
Quite a mouthful, isn't it? Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Pronounced pretty much just like that, although the accent on the last word is on the first syllable - SOO-thep.
Anyway, the four of us met up, hired a taxi for a few hours, and went to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the Buddhist temple on the huge hill north of Chiang Mai.
It was quite a drive through Chiang Mai, Thailand's third largest city. Chiang (pronounced in one syllable, Cheeang or Chyang) means city, and Chiang Mai was the new capital founded in 1296 (Common Era). The population is about 1.7 million people (there are close to 67 million people in all of Thailand), and Chiang Mai is also considered an important cultural center of Thailand. There are over 30 major Buddhist temples in the old city alone.
So we drove under the usual gates that are tributes to the king, with the seal of the royalty and pictures of all the wonderful things the king has done. (Again, I'm not sure if these things have always been done, or if this is something this kind has instituted. I have to be careful who I ask that question, since things are a little tense with the demonstrations going on in Bangkok.)
The yellow and light blue flags are for the king and queen - the red/white/blue flag is the national flag for Thailand. Then each day of the week is assigned a colour, and flags are flown for various reasons. In the little grouping here, the yellow is for the king's birthday (he was born on a Friday), and the light blue is for the queen, who was born on a Tueday. Public universities or government offices might have bunting around the fence with the yellow and blue intertwined. The colours are all over, though we also saw some towns with purple, I'm not sure why that colour was used.
Anyway, some notable things about this temple: this was the first time we saw a special restroom for monks. Really. One for men; one for women; one for monks. Interesting!
Doi Suthep is the name of the hill on which the temple is built, as well as the name of the temple itself.
The reason the temple was built on this site is a great story: According to legend, this monk had a dream to go to a particular town and look for a relic. He goes to the town and finds a bone, which glows, has magic powers, and is said to be the Buddha's shoulder bone. The monk takes the bone to the local king. The bone doesn't show anyof it's special powers in front of the king, so king tells monk eh, keep it yourself. Another king hears of the relic, and tells the monk bring it to him. Monk does so, and the relic splits in two. Smaller piece of bone is enshrined at a temple. The larger piece of bone is placed placed by the king on the back of a white elephant, and the elephant is sent out into the jungle. The elephant climbs up Doi Suthep, trumpets three times, and dies at this site. This is interpreted as a sign, and the kind has the temple built at this site. (Sad for the poor elephant, though!)
So there are the usual multitude of Buddha statues, though some of these were more interesting than we've seen - the green one looks like glass rather than jade, but who knows. Then the white alabaster with little white jade figures, and maybe garnets or rubies in the embellishments. Plus a few large porcelain Buddhas.
And bells - this temple had more temple bells than we've seen elsewhere. Row after row of huge bells - it's supposed to be lucky to ring the bells, but you don't move the bell, you reach under and swing the ringer. There were also double decker bells, which was unique.
Plus more elephant embellishments than one usually sees in a Buddhist temple, although these elephants are obviously a tribute to the elephant who died finding this location for the temple.
A few of my favourites: the women who all posed reaching up holding the durians growing on the trees. (These are the stinky fruit that has been banned in numerous hotels in Asia.)
The little girl, maybe three years old, who rearranged the elephant and small Buddha figurines around the edge of the larger Buddha, looking as if she was playing with these like little toys, until she then put her hands together and bowed, happily doing her prayers now that the figures were arranged to her satisfaction.
And our driver, Ben - there were various shrines and statues along our drive, and at each one Ben would either put his hands together as in prayer and give a quick little bow, or he'd give a few honks of the car horn. Really, depending on the driving conditions (sharp curve versus straightaway), he'd vary his tribute to the statue or shrine. Well, or maybe the different shrines/statues required different tributes, I'm not sure.
We stopped briefly at a waterfall - this is dry season, so the river was low and the waterfall moderate. But there were wonderful butterflies, and it was good to spend a little time outside.
Okay, almost caught up with our time here - just another blog or two and we'll be set. More later!