The Wat Si Chum temple, located in the north zone of the Sukhothai Historical Park outside the walled city, is known for its mondop with a large image of the Buddha partially visible from outside. The temple’s name translates to “temple of the Bodhi tree.” Bodhi trees can be found in many temples throughout Thailand because it was under a Bodhi tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. An ancient stone inscription discovered in the mondop of Wat Si Chum provides information about the Sukhothai Kingdom’s founding.
A mondop and a viharn are part of the 13th-century temple. In front of the mondop stands the viharn, or assembly hall, of which only the base and rows of pillars remain.
Phra Achana Buddha image
The roofless mondop structure houses a massive Sukhothai-style Buddha image known as Phra Achana. The brick stuccoed idea is in the Subduing Mara mudra, also known as Bhumisparsha or “calling the Earth to witness.”
The Phra Achana is Sukhothai’s largest Buddha image, standing 15 meters tall and 11 meters wide. The Sukhothai-style image with a serene facial expression takes up the entire interior space of the mondop. The image can be seen from the outside through an opening in the center of the mondop that shrinks in size towards the top.
“He who is not afraid,” says Phra Achana. The name of the image is derived from a stone inscription discovered during excavations at Wat Si Chum. The image’s right hand is covered in gold leaf, which was applied by Buddhist devotees who came to pay their respects to the Buddha. The Thai Fine Arts Department restored the image in the 1950s.
Slate slabs engraved with scenes from the Jataka tales
The roof of the mondops building is crumbling to pieces. Hidden within the mondop’s three-meter-thick walls is a stairway leading to the building’s summit (off-limits to visitors). Scenes from the Jataka tales, stories about the Buddha’s past lives, were engraved in slate slabs and hung from the stairwell ceiling in the 14th century. Those interested in learning more about Buddhism could make their way up the winding staircase and study the various depictions of the religion’s teachings. The slabs have been relocated to the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum for safekeeping.
Legend of the speaking Buddha image
The image of Phra Achana is also referred to as “the speaking Buddha,” which is the translation of its other name, Phra Pood Dai. A significant number of wars were fought with the Burmese during the reign of King Naresuan, which took place in the second half of the 16th century.
There was a time before a battle when the King wanted to boost the morale of his troops, according to a legend. On his orders, one of his soldiers climbed the confined staircase inside the mondo that enshrined the Buddha image. The other soldiers were unaware of the ascent, so the soldier was able to deliver a speech to the other soldiers. The confined space had poor acoustics, and the fact that the person speaking could not be seen led the soldiers to believe that an image of the Buddha was the one who was communicating with them. According to a different legend, the Burmese armies ran away in terror when they got close to the image.