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On the southern side of Chiangmai City, just beyond the moat in the area of Wualai and Nantaram Roads, 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 many of its workers and crafting skills were reduced. 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 Khaam which is very ancient and pre-dates the languages of Lanna and Kum 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.

The newly built main shrine, Bhote or U-bosote, has an outer structure made of silver which offers us a spiritual symbol. Silver represents Yin Energy and is activated and charged by the Moon. Earth is Yin Energy also and our creative mother. Our Moon, However, is Yin energy that represents our very old, wise and respected grandmother. When we are aware of the symbols in the world around us we may read all parts of our life and come to know our own Buddha nature. Most religious functions especially ordination services and prayers take place here.

This Bhote with its Buddha image represent a great love in each family. There are many types of love of the Earth. It also represents the love that women may have for Buddha and how deeply each female may feel Buddha in her nature. Consider your own grandmother and how she is free to love her children, her grandchildren and each generation that succeeds her.

The arts and crafts of Siam have a long tradition dating back onto the distant past. There are always 10 groups or divisions (Sib Mu) of artists who carry on their activities __ drawing, engraving, sculpting modelling, figuring, molding, plastering, lacquering, beating and turning. In fact all details, require a total of 29 different craftsmen. Their Majesties King and Queen have long supported vocational study, training, and traditional arts respectively. The Royal School of Arts and Carafts, “Kanjanabhisek School”, was founded in the Grand Palace almost 20 years ago. Princess Sirindhorn has looked after these projects for 2 separate colleges __ Female and Male. There were cooperations between the director of the Royal School and Wat Sri Suphan to preserve the local heritage of arts and crafts, at least 2 groups __ drawing and beating.

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 occupation of Chiangmai (when skilled Thai artisans and craftspeople were hauled off to Burma as captive slaves), a present day master craftsman, Khun Kamolpan, is at Wat Sri Suphan teaching monks, novices and students. Student numbers swell during school holidays when local children and young people are eager to learn a bit of crafting.

Monk Chat is an interactive support group and a place where monks and lay people have an opportunity to sit down and talk together about Buddhism philosophy, monks, life, meditation, culture, etc. Meditation is a way to calm the mind and body. It leads to awareness that people have to live with. Monk Chat and meditation sessions offer on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday at 17.00 - 19.00 and 19.00 - 21.00 hours respectively.

Wat Sri Suphan local communites and government agencies have organized
the Month of Folk Heritage of Arts and Crafts from 2nd April to 2nd May 2008.
Readers are welcome to visit.

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