Out of all of Lampang’s numerous temples, Wat Sri Chum is my favourite not only because of its charm and Burmese architectural style, but also because of my past associations with this temple – the abbot, monks and teachers in particular. During the early ’80s, my research assistant and I spent many hot afternoons interviewing people here. So engrossed with our research at times, we often forgot what time it was, once finding ourselves locked inside the temple’s compound after the caretaker went home with the only key. To this day, neither of us can remember how we got out in the dark of night other than scaling the high temple gates.
Wat Sri Chum was the most impressive of the 31 Burmese style temples in Thailand and most probably the largest. The original temple gets its name from the surrounding Bodhi (Banyan) trees in the surrounding compound. In the northern Thai language, it became Wat Sri Chum. The Burmese call this temple Nyaung Waign Kyaung.
In the late 19th century, a wealthy Burmese teak trader named “Big Boss” U Maung Gyi, (who is believed to be of mixed Burmese – Chiang Mai/ Shan background) and his Shan wife (see photo below), gained permission from the Governor of Lampang to build a larger temple. Together with other Burmese community members, they raised enough money to pay for a group of skilled craftsmen from Mandalay to construct the main temple structures reaching completion in 1901. Unfortunately, a fire in 1992 destroyed much of these original wooden structures, particularly the main viharn (prayer hall) and usobot (ordination hall). The viharn has since been restored, using craftsmen once again brought from Burma, who tried to recreate the original from photographs.
Next to the ordination hall is the golden chedi (stupa) that enshrines Buddha’s relics brought from Burma in 1906. The stupa, erected in 1948, was constructed in Burmese and Mon (Peguen) styles. The refectory house, or eating hall , at the far end of the central courtyard was built in 1950. It’s an attractive wooden building since converted to the office of the Chief Abbot Ministry on the upper floor and an English school on the ground floor. It is here where we first met Alexander, the Burmese Indian English teacher originally from Rangoon, who was a minefield of information on 19th century Burmese-northern Thai teak trade.
Below are a few photos taken on a recent visit to Lampang in 2006, after the restorations.
Below is a video tour of a few of the main temples in Lampang, the last of which is Wat Sri Chum:
Text and photo copyright © Marti Patel / http://www.sanuksanuk.wordpress 2010