The Founding of Chiang Mai

The Three Kings
The Three Kings

When looking for a site for his new capital, King Mangrai considered omens that indicated fate as much as rational concerns such as military defence and such. While searching, he would periodically halt and look for traces of images he had seen in dreams, or manifestations that informed him in some special way of the advantages or disadvantages of a place.

On one occasion, he came to a forest at the foot of Doi Suthep. While moving in an easterly direction around a hill, he arrived at a forest grove surrounded by a widening valley. Two white deer, a doe and fawn, appeared from within the grove and, without display of fear, set upon and drove off the dogs which the hunters had brought along. King Mangrai saw this as a favourable omen and interpreted it to mean that a royal mother and child would share the throne. His ministers advised him that the grove had been the home of many great rulers in the past. King Mangrai was greatly pleased and ordered the city to be established in that valley with the grove as the navel, or centre, of the city. He then invited his two good friends, King Ngam Muang of Muang Kingo and King Ruang of Sukhothai, to visit the site and help with the city planning.

These three kings had earlier developed good relations which they formalised in 1287 when they took vows on the banks of the Ing River not to oppress each other.

This was already after King Ngam Muang had made a pact of friendship with King Mangrai forestalling an attack by the latter against Kingo. That King Ruang (King Ramkhamhæng) of Sukhothai when they had both studied under the same master provided the final link of the basis for the three kings to make an alliance. The pact of friendship between the three kings enabled the Tai to expand their territory and ensured that they did not have to worry about each other. Inviting his two allies to review the city plan was the same as receiving their approval to establish the city.

The establishment of the city was based on seven auspicious signs unanimously agreed upon by the three kings. These were:

1. Two white deer, a doe and fawn, left the forest to the north of the city and came and settled in the grove where the city was to be established. This was interpreted to mean that people would come in large numbers to pay their respects.

2. Both deer had fearlessly attacked and driven off the hunters’ dogs.

3. While the three kings were inspecting the site for the new city, they saw a white mouse with five offspring come out of the grove and go into a banyan tree. This tree later became a symbol of the city and remained so until is was cut down during the reign of King Tilokarat.

4. The area to the west of the new city was a high mountain which gradually sloped down to the east. The high land preventing flooding was seen as auspicious.

5. From the site of the new city, the waterfall on Doi Suthep could be seen cascading down into the river. First it flowed north, then turned east from where it wound around to the south before flowing in a westerly direction encircling Wiang Kum Kam. This was considered fortunate for the people as it provided water for drinking and other uses.

6. To the north-east of the grove was a large lake. This was interpreted to mean that rulers from many different countries would come to pay their respects.

7. The Raming (Ping) River flowed from the bathing pond of the Lord Buddha (Ang Salung in Doi Chiang Dao) and passed by the eastern side of the city.

These traditional beliefs showed how the perception of fate played as much of a role in determining the site of the city as reason and logic. In rational terms there were several advantages to the siting of the city. Firstly, its location between the Kok and Ping River basins gave it a good strategic position for supervising smaller outlying towns. Secondly, its location on the north-south trading route on the Ping River made it suitable as a centre for trade and commerce. Thirdly, the large area near the Ping River was extremely fertile making it most suitable for a large agricultural community. Finally, the area gently sloped down from the west to the east and was permanently fed by a stream flowing from Doi Suthep. This, along with the large lake to the north-east, ensured a good water supply.

With his friends' approval, King Mangrai founded the new city. The day and time that work on the new city began (based on authenticated inscriptions stored in Wat Chiang Mun) corresponded with the 12th day of April, 1296. City planning was based on astrological theories recorded in an ancient manuscript that determined many aspects of the city layout such as the followers, the life span, the power, the glory, the foundations, the fortifications, the assembly points and inauspicious times.

Work commenced with the digging of moats measuring nine wah (one wah = two metres) and the construction of ramparts from the soil. Digging began at the eastern corner (Chæng Sri Phum) which was considered most auspicious. Bricks were made and placed on both sides of the earthen rampart and on top of the wall. Boundary markers were placed at the four corners. The rectangular shaped walled city was 900 wah wide and 1000 wah long. Together with construction of the king's palace and a market place, the work took a total of four months to complete. When it was finished, King Mangrai celebrated for three days and nights. Then, the three kings gave the city the name Nophaburi Sri Nakhon Ping Chiang Mai.

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