The Drama of Inthakin

After annexing the different communities in the Yonok region to the Ping River Basin area to form the Lanna Kingdom, in 1296, Phaya Mangrai discovered an area where the topography was most suited for establishment of a new city. The area that pleased Phaya Mangrai had formerly been the site of other communities such as Wiang Chat Rin, Wiang Suan Dok and Wiang Nophaburi.

Legend tells that Wiang Nophaburi, whose name Phaya Mangrai appended to the name of the new city, Nophaburi Sri Nakhon Ping Chiang Mai, was established by nine wealthy Lawa families. A tutelary pillar, known as Sao lnthakin, was erected on the advice of a forest hermit. The Suwanna Kham Daeng Legend records that:

The Inthakin tutelary pillar is a sacred pillar which the god Siva told the demon to dig up and take to the city of Wiang Nophaburi where it should be enshrined to protect against enemy attack. The inhabitants should pay regular respect to the pillar with offerings of rice and flowers. They should also look after the two demons. After some time the people became negligent in their duties and left the area unclean. The two demons thus decided to take the pillar and return it to its place of origin. After the demons had removed the pillar the town became disorganised and oppressed by the enemy. A mendicant went and sought help from the god lndra. Lord lndra told him to cast a large pot and mould male and female images of every type of animal existing in the world and place one pair of each type in the pot. He should also mould images of people of one hundred and seven different languages which he should place in the pot and bury it beneath the earth. Above it he should construct a tutelary pillar and worship it as though it were the real Inthakin Pillar. In this way the city would be free from danger.

This legend of the lnthakin Pillar plays an important role in proving the founding of the city of Chiang Mai and is the origin of the annual tradition held to pay respect to the city pillar. Having founded the new city, Phaya Mangrai asked the Lawa of the history of the Ping area and was advised to pay obeisance to the lnthakin Pillar and to enter the city from the north. His acceptance of the traditions of the original inhabitants of the area may have influenced him in adding the name Nophaburi to the name Chlang Mai.

Furthermore, these beliefs had a bearing on the city being lost to the Burmese during the reign of Phra Mekuthi. The people of Chiang Mai believe that one of the reasons the Burmese were able to conquer their city was because Phra Mekuthi, during his reign, forbade his people to respect the lnthakin Pillar.

A little over five centuries later, in 1800, Lord Kavila, then ruler of Chiang Mai, restored and renovated the somewhat decaying pillar and moved it from Wat lnthakin (near Three Kings monument) to Wat Chedi Luang, placing it under a large gum tree in a building with four gable ends. Legend has it that if this gum tree should ever fall, Chiang Mai will fall with it.

The Inthakin Pillar as it stood in 1800 measured 130.5 centimetres (51.4 inches) tall, its base 576 centimetres (226.9 inches) in circumference. The pillar was carved from teak and had a gold leaf covering. At the base of the pillar were inscribed four Buddha images, facing north, south, east and west to symbolise the complete protection of the city. Today the original pillar is encased in a concrete decor, and only one large Buddha image is visible.

According to the old lunar calendar followed by the Northern Thai people of long ago, the week of the Inthakin ceremony begins on the 12th day of the waning moon of the eighth month and continues until the 3rd day of the rising moon of the ninth month. The week’s events take place at Wat Chedi Luang where the Inthakin Pillar is housed.

In the past, the first morning of lnthakin was witness to an official from the temple visiting the markets of Chiang Mai with a large basket, announcing that the week of lnthakin had come and that anyone who wished to make merit could contribute goods either then by placing them in his basket or later by visiting the temple. As time went on, however, this practice became obsolete.

In the afternoon, an important Buddha image called ‘Fon Saan Haa’ (literally translated, ‘One Hundred Thousand Drops of Rain’) is taken from Wat Chedi Luang and paraded around Chiang Mai city while the local people sprinkle it with lustral water. The belief behind this is that those who take part in the ceremony will be blessed with good health and that rain will fall in the right amounts and at the correct seasons. The parade ends at Wat Chedi Luang where the Fon Saan Haa Buddha Image is placed for worship by the people during the seven days of lnthakin.

The crux of lnthakin, however, revolves around a ceremony called ‘Tam Boon Khan Dok’. Twenty-eight bowls are placed on woven bamboo mats in the forecourts of the temple, each bowl symbolising one of the twenty-eight Buddhas believed to have walked the earth (the belief in twenty-eight Buddhas is not prevalent among all Buddhists and is mainly confined to the ‘Prahm’ section of Buddhism). After worshipping the lnthakin Pillar and the Fon Saan Haa Buddha Image, the people place flowers, candles, and incense sticks in each of the twenty-eight bowls. Each evening of the lnthakin Week, a monk chants prayers and sprinkles lustral water, blessing each of the twenty-eight Buddhas separately and in order. At the end of each day’s ceremony, the bamboo mats are covered with candles, flowers, and joss sticks, giving off a mystical aroma that suits well the attitude of reverence reflected in the people’s faces.

But lnthakin is not all serious. During each day of the entire week, much of the night is spent in festivity, shows and games. Folk performances, such as the playing of the saw Thai classical instrument, the dancing of the Lance Dance, the Sword Dance, and the Muang Dance, and many other hard to find shows such as mock sword fights are given.

After seven days, on the 4th day of the rising moon of the ninth month, the drama of lnthakin draws to a close. One hundred and eight monks gather to chant the final blessing on the city pillar. A merit making ceremony follows, in which food and other living necessities are given.

And so the curtain fails on yet another world-class performance. The actors and actresses return to their normal ways of life, the century old script of lnthakin memorised and embedded in their hearts. Under an old gum tree in Wat Chedi Luang, the Inthakin Pillar stands secure — falthful witness to over seven hundred such Tam Boon Khan Dok lnthakin ceremonies.

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