The upcoming annual Inthakhin Festival in Chiang Mai during May 30-June 6 focuses on the worship of the city pillar to ensure the city and its inhabitants of abundant rainfalls for this year’s rice cultivation and highlights health and prosperity.
Inthakhin means “Pillar of Indra” and is the so-called “Lak Muang” that many other cities in Thailand have too. Actually, the tradition of Inthakhin worship in Chiang Mai originally goes back a long time, when the aboriginal Lawa people settled in the Mae Ping Valley and beyond. The Lawa are Mon-Khmer speakers and are related to the Mon of Central Thailand and Southern Myanmar as well as to the Khmer people in Cambodia. When King Mangrai from Chiang Rai founded his new city in Chiang Mai in 1296, he built his residence in the old town of the Lawa and carried on the worship of the city pillar, which was a kind of rock, on which was lying a white barking deer. In former times, the city pillar was brought by the God Indra from Tavatimsa Heaven on Mount Meru with the help of two Kumphan (giant) guardians to protect the city against enemies. Ideally, the pillar is located at the geographic center of the city in Wat Sadue Muang or Temple of the Navel, which nowadays is near the Three Kings Monument. However, as that temple fell in disrepair over the centuries, the Inthakhin Pillar was transferred to Wat Chedi Luang around the year 1800 in the reign of King Kavila.
Chiang Mai’s Inthakhin Pillar is now housed in its own special shrine called “Viharn Jaturamuk” which is always closed. Only during the Inthakhin Festival, which normally falls on the 12th night of the waning moon of the 8th month and continues until the 4th day of waxing moon of the 9th month according to the Lan Na Thai Calendar, the shrine is open. Then week-long ceremonies will take place and the city pillar can be seen. Men can enter the shrine inside, while women are not permitted to enter, but can see the pillar only from outside.
When entering into the gate of Wat Chedi Luang through the main entrance on Pra Pok Klao Road, the visitors can see in one line from east to west the temporary pavilion for the “Phra Fon Saen Ha” Buddha Image, which was ceremonially brought over from nearby Wat Chang Taem, the “Viharn Luang” behind and the brick “Chedi Luang” in the center of the temple compound. It is now on the left side of the main entrance in the south to see the Inthakhin pavilion located under a huge “Ton Yang” tree and near one of the Kumphan shrine. At the right side of the main entrance in the north is located the other Kumphan shrine and a wooden platform for the daily cultural shows to entertain the visiting people, who come in droves to do merit (“tam bun khan dok”) offering flowers, candles, and joss sticks.
- The pavilion of the city pillar is surrounded by four respective guardian statues, namely the “lion” (north), the “elephant” (east), the “tiger” (south) and the “hermit” (west). There are 32 bamboo trays outside the building, on which are put the offerings to the Inthakhin Pillar. In the center of the pavilion is an octagonal brick structure inlaid with colored glass and superseded by a “Standing Buddha” facing the east with two hands put across the chest in the so-called posture of “rampueng.”
- The temporarily erected pavilion for the “Phra Fon Saen Ha” Buddha Image (or the Buddha calling hundred thousand raindrops to come) is furnished with a service for water to pour over the statue. Around the pavilion are 18 bamboo trays, into which the people put joss sticks, candles, and flowers as an offering to the Buddha.
- The “Viharn Luang” was constructed in 1928 on the site of a ruined temple. Just behind the main entrance, a long table is placed, on which 108 small alms-bowls are placed for people to make alms-giving in terms of money by putting small coins into these alms-bowls. A set of coins costs 40 Baht. There are also the Buddha images in eight postures corresponding to the seven days of the week for lay Buddhists to worship one of the images according to their birthday (Wednesday has two images!).
- The “Chedi Luang” was constructed by King Saen Muang Ma in 1401 and completed by King Tilokarat in 1481, but partially destroyed by an earthquake in the year 1545. The pagoda was actually guarded by elephants. During the festival there are several stalls around the pagoda selling mainly food and drinks.
Furthermore, monks seat around the pillar at every evening and are performing “paritta” (protection) chanting, which is conducted in Lan Na Thai style. In the morning of the last day, 108 monks are invited for the closing ceremony and the following morning the “sueb jata muang” ceremony will be performed at the city gates, city center, and city corners. For visitors and tourists alike, there are many things to see within this week between May 30 and June 6, so don’t miss it.
Written by Reinhard Hohler (27.05.2019)