Sharing the Story of “Wat Phumin” through the lenses of Architecture, Mural Paintings, and Beliefs
We explore the mystical and majestic “Wat Phumin,” the significant temple and cultural heritage of Nan province for over 400 years. The temple’s history, design, architecture, signature moral painting, and associated beliefs are definitely worthwhile to discuss.
“Nan” is a small town situated near Nan River. Historical records indicate that the town was established during the mid-18th Buddhist century. It has endured the test of time over many eras, starting at the Muang Lang – Woranakorn period, progressing to the Lanna Kingdom, and finally concluding at the Rattanakosin era. The Lanna Kingdom is especially interesting, since it led to the establishment of numerous culturally significant monuments in Nan during the period. These include the Wat Phra That Chae Haeng Pagoda, the Wat Suan Tan Pagoda, the Wat Phra That Chang Kham Pagoda, and “Wat Phumin.” Situated in Baan Phumin, Nai Wiang Subdistrict, Wat Phumin represents the “heart” of the Nan people. The locals love and protect the temple, since it portrays architectural beauty, majestic mural paintings, and unique history and beliefs. The temple is undeniably one of the unique charms of Nan province.
Wat Phumin: The 400-Year Pride of Nan
Phra Chao Chedha Bhut Phrommin, the 40th and 41st ruler of Nan, established Wat Phumin in the year 1596 during his 6th year reign. This was during the Lanna period, making the temple 424 years old (as of the year 2020.) The origin of the temple’s name is found in the northern kingdom manuscripts: “Wat Phumin’s original name is ‘Wat Phrommin’ – to honor the ruler of Nan. As time progressed, the mispronunciation of the temple led to its current name of ‘Wat Phumin.’”
Thailand’s Priceless, Majestic, and Unique Architecture which Cannot be Found Elsewhere
One of the key components of Wat Phumin is the Ubosot (ordination hall) and Vihear (chapel) which share the same building. The building’s tetrahedron design is assumed to be Thailand’s very first. All four sides of the building have wooden doors with graceful carvings, designed by Lanna craftsmen. The roof is supported by 12 pillars made of teak wood, which are coated with lacquer and gold to portray intricate designs of flowers and elephants.
Two Naga (Great Serpent) statues can be found on both sides of the steps leading up to the northern Ubosot entrance. The serpent statues stretch all the way to the Ubosot and Vihear, as if supporting the temple’s structure. This design is inspired from ancient Buddhist beliefs, that Buddha descended from the heavens on a glass staircase provided by angels and supported by two Nagas.
An archway lies in the middle of the steps, connecting the two sides of the temple. According to ancient beliefs, lovers who walk 3 laps around the temple clockwise through this archway will be blessed with a successful marriage life. Moreover, visitors who conduct a similar ritual will have the opportunity to revisit Nan.
“Hoob Taem” – the Famous Masterpiece whispering the Love of Nan
Upon entering the Ubosot, one shall notice graceful mural paintings on all 4 sides of the wall. The locals refer to the painting as “Hoob Taem” – all of which reflect the Tai Lue artistic style. The mural paintings are inspired from the life of Buddha, folklore, and the ancient lifestyle of Nan locals. These paintings were completed at the major renovation of the Ubosot during the reign of Chao Anantavoraritdej, the 62nd ruler of Nan and the 12th ruler of the Tin Mahawong Dynasty – approximately during the years 1867 – 1874.
The most captivating and famous mural paintings are known as “Pu Man, Ya Man” and “Nang Siwai.” The masterpiece was done by “Nan Bua Pin,” a local Tai Lue artist. The artist exhibits a unique artistic style with the use of modern colors, such as red, blue, black, and dark brown. “Pu Man, Ya Man” portrays the image of a man and a woman whispering to each other – giving the painting the nickname of “Whispering the Celebration of Love.” By observing the clothing and hairstyle of Pu Man and Ya Man – the man and woman in the painting – most believe that Pu Man is Burmese while Ya Man is Tai Lue. The name of the painting also suggests the nationality of the characters. The term “Man” refers to Myanmar. Moreover, “Pu” and “Ya” refer to “adult man” and “adult woman,” respectively. The lovers are most likely married, since ancient culture prohibits men and women from any form of physical contact prior to marriage.
The image of “Nang Siwai” is also graceful and charming, characterized by soft colors and delicate designs. Nang Siwai is a character from the Story of Chandakumara in the chronicles of Buddha. The mural painting features the image of a beautiful young lady with a bun. She is placing a flower in her bun, a contrast with her deep black hair. She wears golden earrings and a cloth around her neck, which hangs like a cloak covering her back. Her chest bare, she wears another cloth resembling the local Nan design to cover her lower body. Priceless, incomparable beauty.
The Chaturaphak Buddha – The Sukothai Art of Faith
At the center of the Ubosot lies the Chaturaphak Buddha image, which serves as the center of Buddhist faith for the people of Nan. The four golden Buddha statues are posed with the attitude of subduing Mara and exhibit the Sukhothai design. The ears and noses of the statues reflect the influence of Lao arts. Positioned on a base, the Buddha statues are faced towards the four entrances of the building. The backs of all four statues are positioned at the center of the Ubosot. Locals believe that those who seek blessings from the Buddha must walk one lap around all four statues, praying to the one which they feel most comfortable and connected with.
The Majestic Temple and National Heritage Featured on Thai Banknotes
Besides images of kings, Thai banknotes feature monuments and culturally-significant national heritages. Wat Phumin was printed on the left of 1 Baht banknotes (Versions 1-3). On the right of the banknote lies the image of King Rama VIII wearing the Chakri royal uniform.
Wat Phumin serves as the main tourist attraction of Nan, exhibiting majestic and complete architectural, sculptural, and artistic beauty. We invite you to follow the history of Wat Phumin on your next visit to Nan. Experience the wonders of the temple with your own eyes.