The Emerald Buddha

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Visiting the Phra Phuttha Maha Mani Rattana Patimakon, or simply, the Emerald Buddha, is a highlight of any visit to Bangkok. Nearly lost among the glitz and glamor within the temple and in the surrounding courtyard, I barely noticed it in my first visit, and even found it difficult to keep my eyes rested upon it during later visits. There are so many details in the photograph that I still didn’t notice with my bare eye.

The Emerald Buddha by any other name would still look as green and sit as peacefully, but if it were called the Jade Buddha, it would be a more accurate name. The gold clothes that adorn the Buddha are changed three times a year to suit Bangkok’s three seasons, summer, rainy, and cool[er] (still hot for a boy from Nova Scotia!) In the photo above, he is wearing his beautiful, gold robes for the cool season. During the summer months, he’s dressed more like a statue you might see in a Thai restaurant, adorned with elaborate shoulder, head, and chest pieces, arm bands, bracelets, and anklets. And for the rainy season, he is dressed much more humbly, with the simple robes of a monk. At the beginning of each season, the King personally changes the robes during a ceremony for the occasion.

~ Journey of the Emerald Buddha ~

Legend states that the Emerald Buddha was carved in India in 43 BC. After remaining there for three hundred years, it was taken to Sri Lanka to escape civil war. Then, in 457, it was sent to Burma for a time, to support the growth of Buddhism there. On the return voyage, the ship was thrown off course by a storm and landed in Cambodia. When the Thais captured Angkor Wat in 1432, the Emerald Buddha was taken to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Laos, and finally Chiang Rai, where it was hidden.

According to some art historians, though, the Emerald Buddha is carved in the style of the 15th Century Chiang Saen, meaning it originated in Lannathai, the ancient Northern Thai kingdom.

The two accounts join at this point, when a temple pagoda in the northern-most province of Chiang Rai was struck by lightning, exposing the statue hiding inside. When it was dug out, the people assumed it was made of emerald, and named it accordingly.

The king wished to have it enshrined in his capital, in Chiang Mai, but each time they tried to transport it the elephant carrying it veered off toward Lampang. This was taken as a divine sign and the Emerald Buddha stayed in Lampang until 1468, when it was finally moved to Chiang Mai.

But its journey wasn’t nearly finished there. In 1552, it was taken to Loas, first to the former capital, Luang Prabang, then, in 1564, to the new capital of Vientiane.

In 1779, Vientiane was taken by the Thai General Chao Phraya Chakri and the Emerald Buddha was returned to Siam, in the city of Thonburi, the short-termed capital. In 1784, after becoming King Rama I, he moved the Emerald Buddha to its current home in Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

With such strong apparent travel Khamma, it leaves me to wonder how long it will stay there?!

5 responses »

  1. Yes, its history goes through India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, but now it is, for me, the supreme symbol of Thai racism.

    You know, any Thai can see this Buddha image for free. Foriegners, even long-time residents that pay tax and have a Thai family (its very difficult if not impossible to get citizenship) have to pay.

    Buddists can see this image for free, but only Thai Buddhists. Foreign Buddhists have to pay an entrance fee. Foriegn Buddhists, even ordained Buddhists in non-Thai robes, have to line up and pay.

    Muslims can see this image for free, if they are Thai. Christians can see this image for free, if they are Thai. But if you are a non-Thai Buddhist, with ten years in Thailand, with Thai children, with a Thai work and residence permit, paying Thai taxes – you have to pay. Because you are not Thai.

    Imagine that in America. Imagine a cathedral open and free to holders of US passports, but charging a steep entrance fee to holders of other passports. It’s racist and that cathedral would be a symbol of racism.

    The Emerald Buddha is, sadly, a symbol of racism.

  2. I agree that it doesn’t seem quite just. I have been Tere many times n Tere is really no way in but to pay the steep entrance fee and all I want to do is offer my respects.

  3. The Ancient Northern Kingdom, Chiangmai rai, Chiangmai Mai was all a part of LAN Na kingdom and they are all Laos or Ai Lao aka Tai Lao. Emerald Budhha Belong to Lao People but Siamese stole it from them, making Siamese prosperous with Buddha blessing and disastrous to Lana and Laos people.

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