There are many tourist attractions around Chiang Mai, but
nothing compares to a visit to the ancient city of Lamphun, the capital of a
province which is only 26 km south of Chiang Mai. The town was founded in
the 7th century within the fertile valley of the Mae Ping and borders the
Mae Kuang in the east, which in turn flows into the Mae Ping further south
in the west.
Queen Chamadevi memorial in Hariphunchaiya.
Like Chiang Mai, which was founded by King Meng Rai in
the 13th century, Lamphun has the remnants of an old city wall and a moat.
The busy main street cuts the sleepy town into two halves. Towards the
center is ‘Wat Phra That’ Hariphunchai, the holiest temple in northern
Thailand. Being the town’s largest building complex, a 51m high golden
spire dominates the relatively flat profile of Lamphun with its small side
alleys, principal shops, the market and government offices. As most visitors
arrive by bus from Chiang Mai along a yang-tree lined highway, they will
enter the compound from the west side, though the main entrance is in the
east, guarded by a pair of colorful lions.
Chamadevi of Hariphunchaiya with her twin sons, named Mahantayasa and
In the time of the Buddha, the Enlightened One predicted
that 1200 years after his parinibbana or death (traditionally in 543 B.C.),
a great city named Hariphunchaiya would be established in the country of
Samadesa or Muang Ping. By flying through the air with 500 disciples, the
Buddha arrived at the west bank of the river and put down his alms bowl to
mark the location of a chedi for several bone relics.
step pagoda in Wat Chamadevi is built as a five-step laterite pyramid,
showing Khmer influence with 60 standing terracotta Buddha images in niches
in three rows on all four sides, dated to the 8th and 12th centuries
An aboriginal Lawa hunter offered him a betel nut and
therefore was to be reborn as King Adittaraja in the future. Before flying
back to India, Buddha left a hair relic which was encased in an urn and
placed in a cave south to where he sat. Consequently, the sacred place was
guarded by a black crow until the coronation of Adittaraja in the 11th
century who recovered King Asoka’s urn (King Asoka from India distributed
84000 relics in the 3rd century B.C.) and started to build the golden chedi.
Phra That’ Hariphunchai, the holiest temple in northern Thailand.
In the local tradition of the Lawa, the aboriginal people
in northern Thailand, Pu Sae and Ya Sae were the cannibal parents of Ruesi
Suthep, an eremite. When Buddha visited the area, they both had to stop
their aboriginal habit of eating people and follow Buddha’s teaching
instead. Their son even stopped eating meat altogether and became a
While Suthep now lives as a spirit on Doi Suthep, his
parents live nearby on Doi Kham, the golden mountain. The temple there was
erected by Queen Chamadevi of Hariphunchaiya, who is also the guardian of
the hair relic of the Buddha.
Now, it is very important to know that Ruesi Suthep, with
the help of some other eremites, founded the city of Hariphunchaiya in the
middle of the 7th century in the form of a conch shell model in order to
replace a city which had been washed away in a flood as the result of the
misconduct of its king.
Therefore, he invited his adoptive daughter who was born
in a lotus to rule the new city. After having sent her on a raft down river
to the king of Lavo, accompanied by 500 monkeys, the girl became a princess
in Lavo (modern Lopburi) and was finally consecrated as Queen Chamadevi of
Hariphunchaiya, seated on a heap of gold, also bringing back with her 500
monks and many more other professionals. After a long journey of seven
months and seven days after reaching the city, she gave birth to twin sons,
called Mahantayasa and Anantayasa. Later, both princes had to fight on the
back of a magic elephant against one Milakkharaja and his 80000 soldiers.
The Milakkharaja was the chieftain of the Lawa tribe
named Vilangkha who wanted the civilized Mon queen for his wife, but was
refused. He couldn’t even throw a spear from Doi Suthep into the city
walls, because Chamadevi tricked him into wearing a hat made from her
undergarment. She even went so far as to send him a gift of betel that the
queen had secretly smeared menstrual blood on the leaves. Polluted by her
menstrual blood, Vilangkha was finally killed by his boomeranging spear.
Anyhow, as it came that Vilangkha had twin daughters, later both of them
were married to her sons.
As Mahantayasa was installed ruler of Hariphunchaiya at
the age of seven, his twin-brother Anantayasa asked his mother for a kingdom
of his own. With the help of Ruesi Suthep and a hunter named Khelanga a new
city was created (modern Lampang). After that, the queen mother visited
Anantayasa in Khelanga for more than six years, living half of that time in
a city of her own (Lampang Luang). Finally fallen homesick, she returned to
Hariphunchaiya to die within two months at the age of 92 according to the
Chiang Mai chronicle.
After the funeral cremation of Chamadevi, her remains
were placed in a golden urn and taken to the western outskirts of the city.
Today, there are two chedis in Wat Chamadevi or Wat Kukut. One is built in
bricks on an octagonal basis (Mon style), the other is built as a five-step
laterite pyramid, showing Khmer influence with 60 standing terracotta Buddha
images in niches in three rows on all four sides, dated to the 8th and 12th
From 1200 on, the Khmer military power disappeared in
central Thailand and Lamphun’s golden time continued, before Khon Muang
people under King Meng Rai conquered the town at the end of the 13th century
(1281). King Meng Rai also brought Lamphun’s palladium to Chiang Mai, a
crystal Buddha statue, which is now in a vihan at Wat Chiang Man. With the
founding of Chiang Mai in 1296, the political influence of Lamphun was
eclipsed, but the of Queen Chamadevi never ceased.
For further information about the “Wonders of 3
Cultures” event in Chiang Mai November 28-30, contact Reinhard Hohler, a
travel consultant on the Greater Mekong Sub region, by e-mail