Wat Ku Tao, the Shan Temple

Wat Ku Tao, the Shan Temple

Wat Ku Tao aka Wat Weruwanaramwiharn is a Buddhist temple in Tambon Sriphum in Chiang Mai, next to the municipal stadium. “Weruwan Wiharn” means temple building in the woods.

Wat Ku Tao, 1952. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

Aerial photo of the stupa, 1952. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

The Watermelon Stupa

Wat Ku Tao has a highly unusual chedi. People probably constructed the chedi in 1613 to hold the ashes of Prince Saravadi (1578-1607), the first Burmese overlord of Chiang Mai.

The name, Ku Tao, derives from the northern Thai word ‘Ku’ which means a place that contains ash and bones after cremation. ‘Tao’ means melon or ash.

The unique design of the pagoda is allegedly inspired by designs found in Yunnan Province, China. Traders and migrants who came from that area probably came up with the design. The series of five diminishing spheres comprising the body of the pagoda represents the five Buddhas of the present age. The chedi is also known as the “Watermelon Stupa”.

Just outside of Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai province there is a ruined temple named Wat Ku Tao as well.


The older picture of the temple

This is probably the oldest picture of the temple. Dr.Joseph Rock either took the picture or is the person on the picture. Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884 – 1962) was an Austrian-American explorer, geographer, linguist, and botanist.

Temple tower with photographer

The Watermelon Stupa in 1920. Source unknown.

Wat Ku Tao 1950

Wat Ku Tao 1950. Source unknown. Boonserm Satrabhaya probably took this photograph.

Chedi of old temple

Chedi Wat Ku Tao. picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya. Date unknown.

Picture of Buddhist temple

Date unknown. Chiang Mai-based Japanese photographer Morinosuke Tanaka probably took this photo. Oliver Backhouse sent me this beautiful photograph.


More old photos of the temple

Another unique picture shows the standalone Watermelon Stupa.

Old Buddhist temple chedi

Stupa of Wat Ku Tao. Source and date unknown.


Old chedi of a Buddhist temple

1964. Picture courtesy of Kermit Krueger.
















The Poy Sang Long Ceremony

Nowadays it is one of the two Tai Yai (Shan) temples in Chiang Mai. The other is Wat Pa Pao, north of the moat. Both these temples are the location of the yearly Poy Sang Long ceremony which usually takes place at the end of March or the beginning of April.

The festival is essentially Shan or Tai Yai and means “ordaining the beloved sons”. Young boys from 7 to 14 years old go to the temple to be ordained as novices. They will learn the tenets of Buddhist teaching and the self-discipline required of a monk. After the ordination, they will stay in the monastery for a period of time that can vary from a week to many months or more. Usually, a large group of boys are ordained at the same time.

In 2016 Poy Sang Long at Wat Ku Tao took place on March 25, 26 and 27. On Sunday, March 27 there was a big and very colorful parade.

I took below picture of the Watermelon Stupa in 2013.

Wat Ku Tao

Wat Ku Tao, 2013. Picture by Frans Betgem

This is the location of Wat Ku Tao:

Updated, March 14, 2021

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