Luang Phor Chaem

Luang Phor Chaem

by Jun Wei

Wat Chalong is a Buddhist temple that has a rich history in the area of Phuket. Wat Chalong is also the biggest and most ornate of Phuket’s 29 Buddhist monasteries. The architecture is typical of wats found throughout Thailand. Wat Chalong is associated with two guru monks, Luang Phor Chaem and Luang Phor Chuang, both of whom were famous for their work in herbal medicine and tending to the injured. During the tin miners’ rebellion of 1876 they mobilized aid for the injured on both sides. They also mediated in the rebellion, bringing the warring parties together to resolve their dispute. Statues honoring them stand in the sermon hall (viharn). Many Thais would come to Wat Chalong to get blessings from the monks  and receive a good luck charm in the form of a string tied around the wrist, which they believe protects them from injury and illness. Luang Phor Chaem is very well-respected by the people living in Phuket and they believe that Luang Phor Chaem will protect them from danger.

Luang Phor Chaem was born in BE 2370. During the 19th century, Phuket was an island that was the important centre of the industry due to the influx of wealth brought in through tin-mining and many chinese labourers flocked to the island as a result. In BE 2419 which was during the reign of King Rama V, Wat Chalong came under threat from the Ang-Yee Rebellion - A large mob of rioting immigrant chinese tin-mine workers that had been rampaging across the island. When tin-mine owners refused them the opium, they had grown accustomed to become incensed. A small group of Ang-Yee seized the provincial hall and started killing innocent people. The locals were terrified as they were all unsure where to go. Should they stay and fight or should they run away? They then decided to escape to Wat Chalong to look for Luang Phor Chaem to tell him the imminent danger. 

Luang Phor Chaem told the locals : "I have been here for a long time and I am staying". Hearing this, the people decided to stay and fight off the Ang-Yee. As a buddhist monk, he could not physically fight the Angyee but he rallied the people to fight back whenever the chinese attacked. The fighting was fierce and the Chinese even breached the temple wall at one point, and this breach can be seen at the temple till today. They succeeded in doing and later with the help of soldiers the rebellion was put down.

To show appreciation, King Rama V bestowed upon Luang Phor Chaem the title of “Phra Kru Wisit Wongsacharn”. He invited Luang Phor Chaem to Bangkok in order to promote him as the regional Abbot of Phuket and its surrounding provinces.

These days, almost everyone knows who is Luang Phor Chaem Wat Chalong. A statue of Luang Phor Chaem alongside Luang Phor Chuang can be seen in the temple main hall. Many devotees up till these days still go there to stick gold leaf to these statues as a part of paying respect to the two famed abbots.

Luang Phor Chaem’s walking stick is the miracle of many stories. Apparently it had many healing qualities. It is currently in the possession of the current abbot of Wat Chalong. One of the stories happened to be related to one of King Rama V’s wife. One of King Rama V's wives was cured of acute stomach ache by its touch. The most amusing story about Luang Phor Chaem walking stick concerns a local girl who was so desperate to get healed that she solemnly vowed to gild his privates if he would get rid of her stomach pains. He healed her but she forgot about her promise. Thai people believe that breaking a promise can bring evil upon people and sure enough, she fell ill again. When her parents found out about her foolish oath. They approached Luang Phor Chaem and out came the walking stick and Luang Phor Chaem sat on it in such a way that it protruded from his robes. The girl gilded it with gold leaves and was subsequently cured. This occurrence was the talk of the area for a while and resulted in many people from as far away as Penang to visit Wat Chalong.

While travelling back from his audience with King Rama V, Luang Phor Chaem and his entourage stopped for the night at a temple in Chumpon. He insisted on staying in the unprotected main hall instead of a safer inner room, saying that even though they may be robbed, the thieves would not get far with their loot. It was exactly as he said: the thieves came in the night and took all the monk’s valuables. Later that morning, the shamefaced thieves returned, bearing their loot and saying that the further away they went the heavier the stolen articles had become.

Luang Phor Chaem passed away in BE 2451 at the age of 81. However, his devotees find out that his total wealth amounted to 50 Satang. Hence many devotees from other provinces of Thailand and even from Malaysia heard about this news and travelled to Phuket to pay their respect to Luang Phor Chaem. His funeral was also the biggest ever held funeral in Southern Thailand.

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