On the southern side of Chiang Mai, just beyond the moat in the area of Wualai and Nantaram Roads, lies a beautiful but little known temple called Wat Nantaram. Long ago, this temple was a focal point for the craftspeople who lived in the surrounding district. Among them were silversmiths, metal workers – who produced bells and Buddha images – and other skilled people who made lacquerware boxes, trays and containers.
In front of the main temple gate is a statue of Mother Earth. In Thai Buddhist belief, Mother Earth is known as Phra Mae Thoranee (แม่พระธรณี). Her most popular appearance is when she took the form of a young woman to assist Buddha towards enlightenment. According to legend, …
“The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment. (Source: Guthrie, Elizabeth (2004). “A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia”)
Thai farmers also believe that Mother Earth has the power to bring rain. Furthermore, it is believed that she has powers of protection, which is bestowed in many ways. In the past, before men went to war, they would ask for protection from Phra Mae Thoranee. Those who went into forest to catch wild elephants also invoked her protection from all dangers.
Wat Nantaram is constructed in typical Burmese style with gables, woodwork and lovely glass painted windows. A large sitting statue of Buddha welcomes devotees within. The temple comes to life during the annual festival, which draws a large number of both locals and tourists. The temple also has a school in the same complex.
In 1969, The Old Medicine Hospital was established with 10 in-patient beds in a two story building in the compound of Wat Nantaram. The Old Medicine Hospital was relocated in 1973 to its present location on Wua Lai Road in Chiang Mai.