Ajahn Suthep was in my home monastery, Vivekavana Solitude Grove, in June 2011 giving a retreat here, as he does normally around twice a year, and I discussed my proposed trip to Chiang Mai with him, and asked where it would be possible to stay.
He showed me two Temples where he had contacts. One was a forest monastery outside of town, and one was Wat Sri Suphan, an old Temple on the edge of town. I looked for information on the places as I had never been to Chiang Mai before.
When I saw some photographs of Wat Sri Suphan I went no further, as it looked such a wonderful place to stay, and the Abbot was known to Ajahn as someone who was knowledgeable about Lanna culture and arts, which is just what I needed.
Although he had to go back to his own Temple in Kanchanaburi after the retreat, he very kindly agreed to come up to Chiang Mai and introduce me to Phra Kru Pitat Sutthikoon, the Head Monk at Sri Suphan, so I would be able to stay there, and make sure I was settled in OK.
Well that turned out to be very fortunate indeed as Phra Kru, who has been Abbot since 1992, was a very kind host, and was indeed the right person to be connected with, as he provided every facility I needed and even took me to some of the more out-of-the-way places in his van.
But even more than that, Phra Kru has been actively engaged in the promotion and, as Head Monk of a developing Temple, patron of the arts and crafts in his own district, which is in any case an old silversmith’s village.
He has also built up one of the finest Temples I saw while in Chiang Mai, and over the two weeks I stayed there I managed to get more photographs from that Temple than anywhere else I visited during the time I was in Chiang Mai.
The main Viharn, which was built in 1799, is a large building in typical Lanna style, which is decorated with some wonderful murals by Chaiporn Pongpak, mainly in red and gold, with the occasional green as highlight. They illustrate Thewadas, Temples, Chedis and various other designs.
Around the Temple are placed large silver relief plaques (they are actually made out of aluminium these days, as silver is just too expensive, but the craftsmanship is the same) which illustrate the last ten Jataka stories, and tell the Life of the Buddha.
At present Phra Kru is engaged in building a new Silver Ubosot, which is a major construction project expected to take around 20 years to complete (depending on many variables, like finance and other conditions).
I had the good fortune to see how some of the work was being done, and to meet some of the craftsmen, while I was there. Here is a photograph of a recently finished decoration, that was to go over the door to the Ubosot.
The two monks are the principal workers on the decoration, the younger layman is a skilled silverworker and their teacher, and the older man is the main lay supporter for the project. Just this piece alone took nine months to complete!
The Ubosot is still very much a work in progress, with around half of it done at this time (2011), a report on the work is available in a book published by Wat Sri Suphan in Thai, and I am trying to get it translated into English.
At present, thanks to Namfon Amornsurakarn, who helped me so much when I was in Chiang Mai, we have one section about the Vision of Wat Sri Suphan completed. It gives an overview of the history of the Temple and their present objectives. It can be found on the Sri Suphan page of my Photo Dharma website.
The Temple, besides being a patron itself, also gives room to a number of private craftsmen who are practising their art on the premises and also able to sell their works to interested parties. This way the Temple is acting as a major support for the community it serves.
Here are a small selection of photographs from the 132 I have now published online to give you an idea about the Temple, its art and the ongoing work that is still in progress there.
Phra Kru has very kindly offered to take me to Luang Prabang next year, so I am hoping that I will be able to return to the Temple and see how it is getting along at that time.
Main Viharn on a Rainy Day
Murals by Chaiporn Pongpak over the Window
The Great Emancipation
Ubosot with Storm Looming
Silver Plate in Golden Light