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Camadevi Monastery Museum

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Date published: Friday, 30 March 2012 08:22
Date modified: Friday, 30 March 2012 08:27

Working Group Participants: Ms. Piangthida Serisuthikulchai, Mr. Santipharp Khamsa-ard, Ms. Lyda Tuy, Mr. Nhan Lam, Ms. Yunci Cai (Intern),
Dr. Paritta Chalermpow Koanantakool (Resource Person), Prof. Peter Davis (Resource Person), Dr. Rasmi Shoocongdej (Resource Person)

Background of Camadevi Monastery and the Legacy of Khuba Srivijay (Text from English Language Working Group Brochure)

“This beautiful monastery is named after Queen Camadevi, a powerful ruler who founded the Haripunchai Kingdom in the 7th century. This became the most powerful Mon centre in the North of Thailand and survived for hundreds of years as a centre for learning and trade. Queen Camadevi was the daughter of the King of Lopburi and legend suggests she was invited to Lamphun by Buddhist monks; you can see her story in the illustrated panels in the temple. According to legend the principal stupa, known as Ku Kut in northern Thai, (meaning ‘the stupa with broken tip’) was built by the son of Queen Camadevi in order to store her ashes, her mirror, comb and the remains of her favourite elephant. The stupa is the oldest surviving example of its type. It has a simple square base with five tiers, every tier containing three Buddha images on each side of the square. You can see another smaller brick stupa at the side of the main temple building; it was created in the 12th century.

During the extended period of warfare with Burma much of Lamphun was abandoned and the stupas and monastery fell into disrepair. Camadevi Monastery was rebuilt again during the early 20th century by the eminent monk Kruba Srivichai.

Kruba Srivichai was born on the 11th June 1878 in Ban Pang, a small village in the Li District, of Lamphun Province. 1878 was the year of the Tiger and in the Chamadevi temple you will find this symbol in many places. He was initiated into the Buddhist Order as a novice when he was 18 years old and was given the novice name of ‘Srivichai’. In 1899, Novice Srivichai was ordinated at Ban Hong Luang temple in the Ban Hong District of Lamphun; he rapidly became revered by local people because of his strict observance of Buddhist practice, intelligence and diligence. He became a strict vegetarian and people began to call him ‘Kruba’, meaning that he was a learned and experienced monk. He became the Abbot of Wat Ban Pang when he was 25 years old and devoted himself to rebuilding the temple in a hilltop location which is the current site of the monastery. Kruba Srivichai is especially remembered for his work in promoting Buddhism; this included the copying of several famous scriptures, a very expensive undertaking. However, much of his energy was devoted to building new temples. Altogether he was responsible for overseeing the creation of 107 of them in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Phayao, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Sukhothai and Tak. He also built the road to the famous temple of Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai and a bridge over the Ping River connecting the provinces of Chiang Mai and Lamphun.

The Camadevi Temple was the last building erected by Kruba Srivichai and is one of the reasons why his life is celebrated and remembered here. Although the stupas had survived the ravages of time, the original temple had been destroyed. It was in 1936 that the work began to create a new building and a stream of faithful followers came to assist in ever increasing numbers. In less than a year the temple was completed, a remarkable achievement. A celebration – poi luang – was organized and lasted for 15 days and 15 nights, the greatest ceremony that had ever been seen in Lamphun. Following the erection of the temple more people began to settle around the site and Lamphun grew in size; the temple remains a very important site for the local community who are actively involved in the many ceremonies that take place. Kruba Srivichai is deeply loved by local people because of his work for the Camadevi community and many people turn to him for help and support in times of need.

Kruba Srivichai became ill when working at the Camadevi temple and asked his followers to take him back to Wat Ban Pang. He travelled there in January 1938, a huge procession of followers accompanying him on the journey. The Saint of Lanna died at Ban Pang on the 20th February 1938, also in the year of the Tiger. When the news reached the Royal Palace in Bangkok, King Rama VIII ordered that his royal craftsmen build the funeral pyre. He also said he would sponsor the funeral as a royal cremation. Local politicians consulted with people and monks of the town about moving the body of Kruba Srivichai from Ban Pang Temple to Camadevi Monastery so that the cremation could be held in Lamphun where more people would be able to attend. His body remained at Ban Pang for four years and was kept at Camadevi for another three years before the cremation took place on 21 March 1946. The cremation was preceded by a merit-making ceremony that lasted for 15 days and nights, and it was attended by huge numbers of followers from all over the country. Before, during and after the cremation ceremony people attempted to secure relics from the funeral pyre; afterwards the ashes were divided into six portions to be preserved in different provinces. Two portions were kept in Lamphun, one at Ban Pang Temple, the other at Camadevi Monastery, where the ashes are contained within the white stupa erected in his memory.”

Fieldwork Process and Key Findings

Through their interviews with the Abbot and a group of local residents and their review of existing secondary sources during the first few days of fieldwork, the working group learned about the history and significance of Camadevi monastery which is summarized above.  Moreover, speaking to the main operators of the Camadevi museum, the Abbot and Ms. Wilay, the group learned that the core objectives of the museum were to educate the local community and younger generations about Lamphun’s local history and culture, with an emphasis on the life history and teachings of Khuba Srivijay. Towards this end, the museum featured mural paintings representing traditional livelihoods and ritual practices and festivities, as well as a collection of archival photographs of Khuba Srivijay. Other objects in the museum collection included Buddhist amulets, religious sculptures, architectural ornaments and household objects.

When it came to the inventory of intangible cultural heritage, the working group faced a challenge because the monastery featured so many expressions of intangible heritage, mostly related to Theravada Buddhist belief, ritual and practice. However, through their consultations with the Abbot and local residents, the group concluded that the most significant and distinctive element of ICH for this site was the legacy of Khuba Srivijay.

The group chose the legacy of Khuba Srivijay as their element because through their interviews, they recognized that the local community had a very strong attachment to the venerated monk, who was now regarded as the Holy Saint of Lanna. They also recognized that the Camadevi monastery was one of the most important sites of ritual veneration and commemoration of  Khuba, on account of the fact that the monastery was the last to be built by Khuba Srivijay, and also because it was the location for his funeral ceremony and the site of the interment of his remains. The working group also learned that several of the most important annual ritual events held in honor of Khuba Srivijay, including the Van Payawan on the 15th of April (Kruba),  Song Nam Kruba Day on 16 April (Kruba), and the Birthday Anniversary of Kruba Srivichai on 11 June took place at Camadevi monastery.

Over the course of their research, the group discovered that there was already a considerable amount of documentation about Khuba Srivijay written by local historians and specialists, and many of these books and secondary materials were available in the monastery’s library.

Nevertheless, what was absent in these materials was local beliefs, narratives and concepts related to Khuba Srivijay. Furthermore, these materials did not convey how these living local meanings, values, beliefs and practices associated Khuba Srivijay were inscribed in the spatial landscape of Lamphun, i.e. how rituals and memories were inscribed in the landscape of Camadevi monastery and other monasteries in Lamphun also built by Khuba Srivijay and his followers.

In terms of the photo documentation of Khuba’s life in the Camadevi museum, the description in the labeling is in Thai and offered only limited information about the significance of the photo image or its relationship to the monastery.

With regards to strengths in the community, the working group found that the legacy of Kruba Srivichai is very strong and firmly embedded within the community. The people in the community are actively involved in all local festivals celebrating Khuba Srivichai, and the Abbot is very active in developing activities to further his legacy, especially in terms of creating a new museum dedicated to him. Another strength is that there are other local experts (K.Narain, Ajarn Srilai etc.) who give their time and energy to the ICH project and the museum. In addition, there are tangible resources to build upon, such as the Chamadevi Museum, the Library, the collections, objects and books in community ownership. Furthermore, other sites in Lamphun connected to the legacy of Khuba Srivichai give this element of ICH a wider dimension.

In terms of challenges, the working group found that the Camadevi monastery and museum operators faced a lack of human resources and limited capacity (technology, interest, interpretation) for managing the museum and activities to support intangible cultural heritage. There were some skillful people involved in the monastery’s activities, but more were needed for the projects to be sustainable. Another challenge in terms of generating young volunteers is that the new generation is fixated on Korean popular culture and not interested in their own culture and local history.

Project Outputs (Recommendations for Safeguarding ICH)

Based on their findings, the working group offered a number of recommendations to support the safeguarding of ICH related to the legacy of Khuba Srivijay. In terms of promotion and outreach, the working group recommended that the interpretation for the museum and monastery be enhanced for visitors by including more labeling (i.e. for photographs as well as important structures and architectural elements on the grounds of the monastery), particularly labeling in English fo foreign visitors. With regards to intergenerational transmission, the group recommended that the monastery develop a strategy for encouraging greater participation by younger people in museum activities, including management and interpretation. The group also recommended that the monastery develop the network between the museum/monastery and other communities/practitioners/monasteries/museums which share the legacy of Khuba Srivijay. Finally, they recommended that the museum keepers continue to use new media to document and promote multiple narratives and practices associated with Khuba Srivichai, and to include these media in museum exhibits and archives.

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