March 14, 2016
The city and province in northeast Thailand got its name from the monks who saw life come from a dead tree
When: The full moon day of the 6th lunar month
Where: Phra That Kham Kaen Chedi Khon Kaen Northeast Thailand
The city (and later province of Khon Kaen) acquired its name from this ancient Laotian style Chedi which sits some 27 kms from the provincial capital in the grounds of Wat Chetiyaphum, the actual date of construction is believed to be prior to 1783.
Temples across Thailand have been used for eons as both a spiritual heart of a village plus a central meeting place, fairs in all their different guises have played a major part of these rural communities for the same period.
During the annual Phra That Kham Kaen Fair, many thousands of people visit both the temple and the Chedi to make merit and pay homage to the Stupa and the Buddha relics held within it.
Picture shows the Khon Kaen Seal
The fair is a time of joy when local people have the chance to sell and buy each other’s agricultural products and handicrafts and to take part in, or simply to admire time honored cultural and musical performances.
Phra That Kham Kaen is historically an important and highly revered Chedi for the people of the province, so much so that it features prominently on Khon Kaen’s provincial seal, the reverence and importance of the Chedi is believed to come from an ancient legend.
The legend of the Tamarind Tree
The folk story goes something on the lines of; a former Khmer King ordered 9 senior monks to take relics of the Buddha to be enshrined in the soon to be finished, newly built Chedi of Wat Phra That Phanom, in Nakhon Phanom province, (approx. 295 kms northeast of Khon Kaen).
The monks on their way to the Wat, camped overnight near the stump of a dead tamarind tree on which they rested the religious relics. Some time later when they eventually arrived at the Wat Phra That Phanom, they found that the Chedi had already been completed and were unable to add the relics they had been carrying.
The downcast monks returned home travelling the same route as before, on returning to the site of the Dead Tamarind Tree, they found that as if by a miracle the tree was blooming again, sprouting new branches and leaves.
Seeing this as a good omen, they chose to build a Chedi over the stump and to enshrine the relics they had been faithfully carrying. The name Phra That Kham Kaen Chedi literally means ‘The Stupa of Tamarind Heartwood’
The Laotian Style Chedi
The Phra That Kham Kaen Chedi, is believed to be the first substantial structure built in the area, long before the founding of Khon Kaen town. The main city was moved six times until in 1879 it reached its modern location at Nuang Kaw.
The golden, Lao style Chedi is topped with a multi tiered, ceremonial umbrella, with the whole structure sitting on a square stone base. The ends of the multi tiered roofs are adorned with golden chofa. The chofa is generally believed to represent the mythical creature Garuda, half bird and half man, who are the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu.
Other buildings on the grounds include an ubosot (Ordination hall), a small and simple structure with a beautifully painted front gable. Its entrance is flanked by two multi tiered ceremonial umbrellas. There is also a viharn (assembly hall), the entrance to which is guarded by two white lions.
Other interesting stuff
Khon Kaen (ขอนแก่น) is one of the four major cities of Isan, also known as the “big four of Isan”, the others being Udon Thani, Khorat, and Ubon Ratchathani. It is the capital of Khon Kaen Province and the Khon Kaen District. Khon Kaen lays 450 km north-north-east of Bangkok
Why Nine Monks? The number 9 (‘gao’), is thought to be lucky in Thailand because, when pronounced in Thai, it sounds like ‘moving forward’ also ‘gao’ is the word for ‘rice’ and ‘let’s go eat’ (gin gao!)……is something Thai’s would always consider a good thing.
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