Temple of the Emerald Buddha Bangkok

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Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Wat Phra Kaeo information

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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaeo, is the most sacred structure in the Kingdom and the repository of the spirit for all the Thai people. The history of the Emerald Buddha itself dates back more than 600 years and also represents the struggle of the Thai people to maintain their independence from foreign aggressors

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Temple Emerald Buddha grounds When King Rama I established Bangkok, or Rattanakosin, as his capital in 1782 he added the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the eastern section of the Royal Grand Palace in order to install the Emerald Buddha. During its two hundred year history the Chapel, Wat Phra Kaeo, had undergone several renovations, restorations, and additions. The Royal Chapel thus incorporates no less than two centuries of Rattanakosin craftsmanship which is an expression of the essential entity of the Thai people.

A visit to Bangkok is not complete without a visit to this very important Temple, Wat Phra Kaeo. We will show you the many spectacular buildings along with a history of the Emerald Buddha itself which we hope will give you a better understanding of Thai history and its people. The related stories listed below are just some of the many spectacular building and monuments inside the grounds of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

History of the Emerald Buddha

It is not know for sure when the Emerald Buddha was carved however judging from the appearance and style one could conclude it was carved in Northern Thailand not much earlier than the fifteenth century. On the other hand, the Emerald Buddha, which is in an attitude of meditation, looks much like some of the Buddha images of Southern India and Sri Lanka. This attitude of meditation has never been popular in other Thai carvings of Buddha images so one might assign the origin to one of the aforementioned countries.

According to reliable chronicles, lightning struck a Chedi in Chiang Rai province of Northern Thailand in 1434 A.D.and a Buddha statue made of stucco was found inside. The abbot of the temple noticed that the stucco on the nose had flaked off and the image inside was a green color. He then removed the stucco covering and found the Emerald Buddha which is in reality made of green jade.

At that time the town of Chiang Rai was under the rule of the King of Chiang Mai, King Samfangkaen, as people flocked to view and worship this beautiful Buddha image. The King then decided to move the image to Chiang Mai. He sent out an elephant three times to bring the Emerald Buddha to Chiang Mai but each time the elephant ran to the city of Lampang instead of returning to Chiang Mai. The King thought that the spirits guarding the Emerald Buddha wanted to stay in Lampang so it was allowed to remain there until 1468. Then the new King, King Tiloka, had the Emerald Buddha brought to Chiang Mai. According to Chronicles the image was installed in the eastern niche of a large stupa at Wat Chedi Luang.

The King of Chiang Mai in the mid 16th century had no sons. His daughter was married to the King of Laos and born one son named prince Chaichettha. After the King died in 1551 the prince, at the age of fifteen, was invited to become the King of Chiang Mai. However when his father died, the King of Laos, King Chaichettha wanted to return to his own country. In 1552 he returned to Luang Prabang, then the capital of Laos, and took the Emerald Buddha with him. He promised the ministers he would return to Chiang Mai but he never did nor did he send back the Emerald Buddha. In 1564 King Chaichettha was chased out of Luang Prabang by the Burmese army of King Bayinnaung and took the Emerald Buddha with him to his new capital of Vientiane. The Emerald Buddha remained there for 214 years.

When King Rama I was still a general during the Thonburi period in 1778 he captured the town of Vientiane and brought the Emerald Buddha back to Thailand. With the establishment of Bangkok as the capital, beginning the Rattanakosin period and the Chakri Dynasty, the Emerald Buddha became the palladium of Thailand and has been here ever since. On the 22nd of March 1784 the image was moved from Thonburi to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Two seasonal costumes were made for the Emerald Buddha by King Rama I, one for the summer season and one for the rainy season. King Rama III (1824-1851) had another costume made for the winter season. The ceremonial changing of the costumes takes place three time a year and is done by his Majesty the King.

The Assembly or Ordination Hall

This large hall was construct by King Rama I. King Rama III commanded that the walls be redecorated with with stucco mouldings, gilt and decorated with glass mosaics. The six doors of Garuda on the Assembly Hall are each guarded by a pair of Khmer-style lions. Although the lions have been very much restored it is believed that they belong to the Khmer Bayon style period of the early 13th century. This is the hall, called the Ubosoth, that contains the Emerald Buddha.

At the base of the Ordination Hall are Garudas holding Nagas. Garuda is the King of birds and mount of Vishnu, one of the greatest Hindu gods. Naga is the King of serpents and enemy Garudas holding Nagas of Garuda. The motif of Garuda holding a Naga is believed to have the power to chase away evil spirits.

Inside the Ordination or Audience Hall are several murals. In this mural the Earth Goddess is wringing out the water accumulated from deeds of merit that Buddha had performed in his previous lives and this drowned out all of Mara's Army (evil).

According to the life of Buddha before his enlightenment Mara came and asked the the Earth Goddess Buddha what right he had to attain enlightenment in his life and bring people out of their ignorance. The Buddha replied that in his past lives he had accumulated enough merit to attain enlightenment in this life.

The Buddha then changed his attitude from meditation to that of subduing Mara by placing his right hand on his right knee calling the Earth Goddess from the ground who drowned the whole Mara Army by wringing out her hair. The Buddha then continued out his meditation until he arrived Supreme Enlightenment.

The alter containing the Emerald Buddha also contains other interesting Buddha images. The two large standing crowned Buddha images were cast in bronze in 1841 by King Rama III and dedicated to King Rama I and King Rama II. They are around 3 meters high and in the attitude of calming the ocean and covered with gold and precious gems.

Another interesting Buddha image on the alter is a small image called Phra Samphutta Pani and was created by King Rama IV while he was still in the monkhood in 1830. In front of Phra Samphutta Pani is the smaller victory Buddha.


Sala Rai (Pavilions)

At intervals surrounding the Assembly Hall are twelve open marbled floor pavilions and built during the reign of King Rama I in the 18th century.

Scholars sat and chanted Jatakas (stories of previous lives of Sakayamuni Buddha) on important days in the Buddhist calender. The tales were chanted in relay from pavilion to pavilion.

Phra Mondop (Repository of the Royal Golden Addition of the Buddhist Cannon)

temple This building was built by King Rama I that replaced the original building that was destroyed by fire. The original Canonical Library was surrounded by water which was customary at the time to prevent damage to the manuscripts by fire and termites. Ironically, the original building was destroyed by fire on the day of its inauguration caused by fireworks. However, the manuscripts and the mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet that contained them were miraculously saved. The King had the pond filled in and built a high platform to house the first fully revised edition of the Buddhist Canon of the Rattanakosin Era know as the "Royal Golden Edition". The revision of the scriptures was one of the first tasks undertaken by King Rama I on his accession to the throne.

The four pairs of demons that stand guard on top of the stairways, a pair at each entrance, are the work of the King Rama I period and regarded as the most perfectly proportioned of all existing classical sculptures of Rattanakosin craftsmanship. The floor of the Phra Mondop is lined from wall to wall by a woven mat from strips of pure silver.


Prasat Phra Thep Bidon (Royal Pantheon)

The Royal Pantheon was constructed during the reign of King Rama IV in 1855. He intended to place the Emerald Buddha here but the building was not completed until after his death. His successor, King Rama V, considered the building too small to accommodate the congregation at royal ceremonies so the Emerald Buddha was not placed in this building. A small gilt stupa belonging to King Rama IV was placed there instead.

In 1903 the gilt stupa and part of the edifice were destroyed by fire. King Rama VI repaired the building as the Royal Pantheon of the Chakri Dynasty. he then installed life size statues of the five preceding kings, those of King Rama VI, VII, and VIII were installed later. The Royal Pantheon is open to the public each year on April the 6th, the anniversary of the founding of the Chakri Dynasty, to pay homage to their past sovereigns. The name Prasat Phra Thep Bidon means "The Shrine of the celestial Ancestors".

Phra Si Rattana Chedi (The Main Stupa)

This main Stupa was erected by King Rama IV in 1855 and regarded as the most sacred in the Royal Chapel. In the hollow interior is a smaller stupas containing sacred Buddha relics. King Rama V had the exterior covered with golden mosaic tiles imported from Italy. This stupa was built in imitation of one of the three stupas at Wat Phra Si Sanphet which was the Royal Chapel in the old capital of Ayutthaya.


Phra Wihan Yot (The Spired Chapel)

This building was erected by King Rama III. The mother of pearl doors of the front entrance are of early 18th century Ayutthaya craftsmanship. The ancient stone seat of the 13th century King Ram Kamhaeng of Sukhothai (the first Thai Kingdom) who is known for the first Thai alphabet is kept here. The superstructure covered in colorful ceramic pieces resemble the traditional multi tiered Thai Crown.

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