Thailand, the Land of Smiles, is also sometimes referred to as the Land of Buddhism. Almost 95 per cent of the population follow the Theravada school of Buddhism. Thai men become monks at some point in their lives. People from all over the world travel to Thailand and even learn Thai just so that they can study Buddhism.
In Phuket itself, there are 29 temples, of which Wat Chalong is the largest and most revered. The temple complex is located about eight kilometres from Phuket town, and is a worthwhile visit just to observe and understand how Buddhism permeates everyday Thai culture and thought. The actual name of Wat Chalong is Wat Chaiyathararam (wat means temple). It was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century and is dedicated to two highly venerable monks, Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Cho Chuang, who led the locals against an uprising by Chinese tin miners in 1876. Many innocent people suffered and were displaced by the rebellion, and the monks aided the injured with their knowledge of traditional medicine and provided a place of refuge to the ill. After the rebellion was put down, even King Rama V bestowed Luang Pho Chaem with the title of Phra Kru Wisit Wongsacharn.
Today, the vast temple grounds are occupied by several religious structures, including a 60-metre stupa known as Phra Mahathat Chedi, which is said to hold a bone splinter of the Buddha, a gift from Sri Lanka. The tower, its exterior adorned with delicate fine carvings, is made up of three levels. The first two levels house statues of the Buddha in various postures, representing different activities and phases of the Buddha’s life (in fact, there are seven specific postures that correspond to seven days of the week, including an eighth one for Wednesday night for the god of eclipses). On the walls, intricately painted murals depict the life and teachings of the Buddha. On the third and highest level of the stupa, a glass chamber contains the sacred bone relic of the Buddha. There, devotees pray and contemplate Buddhist precepts and teachings.
The rest of the temple complex, which architectural style comes from influences from southern, central, and northeastern Thailand, is made up of smaller buildings as well as a main temple with the statues of Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Cho Chuang. These statues are covered with gold leaf as a sign of respect by devout locals who come seeking good health, good luck, and wealth. It is wonderfully meditative to observe the devotees and even partake in the rituals of offering candles (representing the path of light), lotus flowers (representing purity), and sweetly scented joss sticks.
As you wander around the rest of the temple compound and the beautifully landscaped gardens, perfumed by fragrant incense, take a moment to ponder your very own journey. The way to end suffering and attain enlightenment, said the Buddha, is by practising the Noble Eightfold Path, which includes correct thought, correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood, correct understanding, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct concentration—certainly lessons well worth keeping in mind.
Chaofa Road (West) Chalong, Phuket
Open from 7am to 5pm, daily
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