Wat Phrathat Haripunchai is one of the most famous (and most holy) temple complexes in northern Thailand. It is believed to have been founded by Queen Chamathewi in the grounds of her palace, sometime in the 8th century.
A Wat is a Thai Buddhist temple or monastery. In most cases it is not just one building, but a collection of buildings, shrines, and monuments within a courtyard that is enclosed by a wall.
A Viharn is a sermon hall. It is usually the busiest building in a Wat and open to everyone (provided the visitor behaves according to the temple etiquette (you must be properly dressed, take off your shoes before entering a building and behave quietly) Just like the Bots (ordination hall), Viharns hold an altar and one or several Buddha images.
Behind the central viharn is the ancient much revered Chedi (stupa or pagoda), Phra Borommathat Haripunchai, the religious center of the temple. The Tourism Authority of Thailand gives the height of the chedi as 46m and places the origin about a thousand years ago, with a major restoration in the 15th century giving it its present shape.
At each corner of the square pedestal are Mon style Buddha figures and in the center of each side a shrine to the Buddha. The area around the shrines is fenced off and notices request women not to enter the enclosed section.
At the eastern end of the complex is the Viharn Phra Jao Than Jai and next to it the temple museum. The viharn houses a crowned Lanna style Buddha figure (Phra Jao Than Jai) with a line of yellow robed Buddhas standing behind. On the walls are a series of murals, including graphic representations of heaven and hell.
To the right of the viharn is an old red-brick stepped chedi, similar in style to the Suwana Chedi at Wat Chamathevi. Seated Chiang Saen style Buddha figures are placed at each corner. Finally, to the south of the Chedi is a Mondop covering a large Buddha footprint set.
Lan Na art and architecture refers to two distinct styles from two distinct ethnic groups in Northern Thailand. The first is that of the Mon people who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Tai and the latter refers to the period after 1300 with the arrival of the Tai Yuan (Khon Muang.
In the Mon controlled part of Thailand, there was the Dvaravati Kingdom of the central Chao Phra Valley and to the north was the Mon Kingdom of Haripunchai, the capital of which was the town Haripunchai now called Lamphun.
Mon Haripunchai architecture is distinct in form and serves Buddhist functions. The better examples are, Wat Chamatewi in Lamphun, the Chedi of Wat Phya in Nan, Wat Chedi Ched Yot in Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Si Liem built in Wiang Kun Gam (1300), the Suwanan Chedi at Wat Phra That Haripunchai in Lamphun (9th C.)and the brick chedi at Wat Pasuk in Chiang Saen (1295).
Mon Haripunchai sculpture is unique in style with no images of Hindu deities unlike the art elsewhere in Thailand. This Buddhist art is in stone, terracotta, stucco and bronze. The facial features are distinctly styled and the mode of dress is Indian, (9th –10th C. Pala-Sena style of north eastern India). The facial features include curly hair, well proportioned bodies, prominent eyes, incised moustaches and neck wrinkles typically not Thai as we understand today’s ethnic features of the local people. The art style was influence by Pala in India. Good examples can be seen at the National museum at Lamphun, Wat Phra That Haripunchai and Wat Chamatewi (both in Lamphun).
Lan Na style more commonly refers to that of the Tai Yuan who conquered the Mon Empire. Over 700 years, it has taken various forms and to some also includes the work made during the 218 years of Burmese occupation. Variations in style emerge between Chiang Saen, Nan, Phayao, Chiang Mai and other regions. This Lan Na style was originally influenced by the Indian Pala style as seen at Wat Chedi Chet Yod in Chiang Mai, then with Khmer subject matter, such as the mythical creatures, Kala, Naga etc. The ethnic Tai influences vary also between the Tai Lao, the Tai Lue and Tai Yai etc.
When the Burmese conquered Lan Na in 1556 the local artisans lost their patronage and major art projects ceased. We then see the introduction of a Burmese style into the region for the next 218 years and these examples are regionally scattered depending upon the pattern of Burmese occupation.