Sri Suphan Temple Revives Tradition
A Tale of Silver & Saints
On the southern side of Chiangmai City, just beyond the moat in the Wualai Road area, are three temples - Wat Sri Suphan, Wat Nantaram and Wat Muensarn. At one time, long ago, these three temples were focal points for the many craftspeople that lived in the surrounding district. There were silversmiths producing all manners of decorative and personal items of silverware, metal workers who were adept at casting bells and Buddha images, plus skilled people who crafted lacquerware boxes, trays and containers. It was an enclave of industry, talent and crafting skills. The three temples were at the centre of the local peoples' spiritual needs and also provided schooling to the children so that they might have a better start in life.
As often happens, many craftspeople needed extra space and began to move away from Wualai Road. Foundry workers, from just outside the walls of Wat Muensarn, transferred to the Hangdong area while others, skilled in lacquerware, moved from Wat Nantaram to new handicraft villages in Sankampaeng. And so the district was slowly denuded of many of its workers and crafting skills. Nowadays, the temple of Wat Sri Suphan is trying to do something about the loss of talent by restoring the qualities which make a temple the center in every Thai person's life care, support, concern, schooling, education and spiritual guidance. It is a very worthwhile endeavour. Wat Sri Suphan, joined by Wat Muensarn and Wat Nantaram, have developed a community awareness program part of, which is the rejuvenation of the silver crafting industry.
When visiting, it is also interesting to take a look around Wat Sri Suphan and discover what the abbot and the monks are doing today. The temple itself is very old (built 1495-1515) but it was destroyed and looted several times when Chiangmai was under Burmese occupation. Close to the main Wiharn is a large stone tablet that is at least 500 years old. The language inscribed on the tablet is Faak Kham which is very ancient and pre-dates the languages of Lanna and Kham Muang. Inside the temple, the richness of color in the ceiling and carpets are the perfect setting for the murals painted by two visiting artists, from Australia and United Kingdom, who worked alongside Thai artists during the months it took to bring the murals to life.
In the temple compound, the old tradition of teaching skills is once more available. Master craftsmen freely give of their knowledge, talent and time to demonstrate and teach silver-smithing (actually, the metal is usually a nickel mixture as silver is too soft for hammering). Harking back to the bad old days of frequent Burmese occupations of Chiangmai (when skilled Thai artisans and craftspeople were hauled off to Burma as captive slaves), a present day master craftsman, Khun Direk, has ancestors who lived in Burma for many a long year. At the moment, Khun Direk is at Wat Sri Suphan teaching students who are mostly in their twenties. Student numbers swell during school holidays when local children and young people are eager to learn a bit of crafting. But not all students are local as two young Japanese women, from Kyoto and Okinawa (also studying the Thai language at Chiang Mai University) are busy enriching their lives. Everyone is welcome to experience something of ancient Thai handicrafts and metal smithing.
Last but certainly not least, the Abbot and monks at Wat Sri Suphan are very involved in the Sangha Metta Project which is a program for HIV+/AIDS awareness and education. It is a program of Buddhist care and compassion (evident many Buddhist Temples in, and beyond, Thailand) which is supported by both UNICEF so many, many people call at Wat Sri Suphan for all sorts of reason. It's an interesting place to visit. And you will be warmly welcomed at any time.