Thursday, November 5, 2009

Temple of the Emerald Buddha - Bangkok


It is the Indian connection of the Emerald Buddha that made me put Wat Phra Kaew in the must see list of Bangkok. This temple, considered the Mecca of the Buddhists is housed in the Grand Palace. So beautiful is the architecture with golden spires and glittering mosaics that it is easy to get lost admiring the details in the 98.5 hectares compound.

The idol is 66cm tall and 48.3cms wide at the lap. It is dark green in color and we saw it wrapped in a golden robe, since it was the rainy season. We were told the idol is wrapped in three different costumes at the start of the three seasons the rainy, the winter and the summer. The King of Thailand is the only privileged person in the country to carry out this duty. The actual material is probably jasper quartz or nephrite jade and not emerald.


The history of the idol is interesting. Wiki mentions: The Emerald Buddha was created in India in 43 BC by Nagasena in the city of Pataliputra (today Patna in Bihar, India). The legends state that after remaining in Pataliputra for three hundred years, it was taken to Sri Lanka to save it from a civil war. In 457, King Anuruth of Burma sent a mission to Ceylon to ask for Buddhist scriptures and the Emerald Buddha, in order to support Buddhism in his country. These requests were granted, but the ship lost its way in a storm during the return voyage and landed in Cambodia. When the Thais captured Angkor Wat in 1432 (following the ravage of the bubonic plague), the Emerald Buddha was taken to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Laos and finally Chiang Rai, where the ruler of the city hid it.

This it seems is a legend. The mudra (hand gestures with a religious meaning) of the idol resembles the images of Buddha in Southern India and Sri Lanka; it is only this fact that adds some credibility to the legend.


Historians have a different story. Records mention, the idol is believed to have been carved in Northern Thailand not earlier than fifteenth century. According to reliable chronicles: The Emerald Buddha first appeared in 15th century in Chiang Rai and based on its style it seems to be from the Chiang Saen period. It is said that lightening struck the pagoda of a temple in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and a Buddha image covered with stucco was found inside the temple. The statue was left with the abbot of the temple who removed the stucco and found the Emerald Buddha under it. Read more here.

At Wat Phra Kaew, the idol was placed high up on a pedestal and photography is not allowed from inside. So one has to position himself/herself outside and zoom in to the image over the heads of the worshippers and visitors. My shots aren’t doing actual justice in capturing the brilliance of the image, nevertheless…

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