Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Big Stupa) is an impressive ruined temple in the center of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.
History of Wat Chedi Luang
King Saen Muang Ma (r.1385-1401) began construction on Wat Chedi Luang in 1391 to hold the ashes of his father, Ku Na. The building was expanded by later kings, reaching its final form in 1475.
It was then given the great honor of housing the Emerald Buddha, the holiest religious object in Thailand (now kept in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok). At this time, Wat Chedi Luang rose to a height of 84m (280 ft.).
A century later, a severe earthquake (1545) toppled part of the great spire. The Emerald Buddha was kept in the chedi for another six years, then moved to Luang Prabang (in present-day Laos) by the king.
Five years later, Chiang Mai fell to the Burmese. The temple was never rebuilt, but even at its post-earthquake height (60m) it remained the tallest structure in Chiang Mai until modern times.
Several viharns were added to the temple complex in subsequent years; the largest viharn was built in 1928.
What to See at Wat Chedi Luang
The ruined brick chedi of Wat Chedi Luang now rises to about 60m in height. Its base is 44m (144 ft.) wide. It has four sides, each with a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform.
Despite its ruined state, the chedi still has several Buddha shrines and remains an active place of worship frequented by saffron-robed monks.
The large viharn (assembly hall) next to the ruined chedi was built in 1928. Its impressive interior, with round columns supporting a high red ceiling, contains a standing Buddha known as the Phra Chao Attarot. Made of brass alloy and mortar, the Buddha dates from the time of the temple's founder, King Saen Muang Ma (late 14th century).
Next to the entrance is a great Dipterocarp tree, one of three revered as protectors of the city. Legend has it that if this tree falls, a great catastrophe will follow.
Also protecting Chiang Mai is the city pillar or "Spirit of the City" (Lak Mueang), which is enshrined in a small cross-shaped building next to the tree. The pillar was moved here from its original position at Wat Sadoe Muang in 1800.
Sharing the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang is another temple, Wat Phan Tao. Its wooden viharn has beautiful carvings around the door and rooflines and contains a large reclining Buddha.