29 Aug The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Recognised as one of Asia’s top landmarks, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, is located in the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok’s old city area and is a highly recommended attraction for all tourists.
The Grand Palace was built after King Rama I ascended the throne as the founder of the Chakri Dynasty in April 1782 and has undergone several restorations and renovations over the years. Consisting of several buildings with different styles of intricate architecture and design, Wat Phra Kaew is also home to Phra Kaew Morakot – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
As you approach the entrance to the temple and ascend the stairs, you catch your first glimpse of the Buddha sitting cross-legged in a meditative position; clothed in gold and radiating serenity. About 66cm in height, the statue is carved from a single piece of semi-precious green stone, believed to be jade rather than emerald, and is ornately decorated with elaborate carvings and inlays, making it one of the most highly revered Buddha images in the country.
The Legend of the Emerald Buddha
Dating back to the 15th century, legend has it that the statue originated in India, where it was foretold that it would bring prosperity to any country in which it lives. It made its way through history to northern Thailand in the Lanna kingdom where it was discreetly hidden for protection. One tale of its discovery tells that lightning struck the stupa at the Bamboo Forest Monastery, later renamed Wat Phra Kaew where it was kept, only to reveal a Buddha covered with plaster to the monks living there. The Buddha was then placed in the abbot’s home that later noticed that plaster on the nose was flaking off, revealing a green base. The abbot removed all the plaster to discover a Buddha made of green, which became known as Phra Kaew Morakot or the Emerald Buddha.
In Thailand Emerald simply means green in colour.
The Emerald Buddha remained in Chiang Mai until 1552, when it was taken to Luang Prabang, then the capital of the Lao kingdom. Some years earlier, the crown prince of Lan Xang had been invited to occupy the vacant throne of Lanna, and when he returned home years later he took the much-revered Buddha with him. From 1564, the Buddha would stay in Vientiane for over two hundred years.
In 1779, the Thai General Chao Phraya Chakri captured Vientiane and took the Emerald Buddha to Siam, which was to become Thailand. It was installed in a shrine close to Wat Aruni. Chao Phra Chakri later took it across the river to its present home in Bangkok, the new Grand Place, and it has remained here ever since.
The Grand Palace
Scattered in the temple grounds are the most interesting and opulently carved sculptures, including the mythological animals, fierce-looking giants standing guard at the gates, six pairs of bronze lions and stone figures from China. On the inside walls are extensive mural paintings portraying scenes from the famous “Ramayana”. It is the longest wall painting in the world. As interesting fact about this temple is that there are no monks living in it, unlike other temples. Despite the crowds that come to visit, the temple retains a sense of peace about it.
All visitors to the Grand Palace grounds must observe a modest dress code; no shorts, short skirts, vests of sleeveless T-shirts are allowed. You would do well to include a scarf to cover your shoulders with. As with most temples, you will be asked to leave your shoes outside before entering and to bear in mind that you feet should never be pointed in the direction of the Emerald Buddha.
Address: Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Opening Times: Daily from 08h30 to 15h30