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Tue 28 Mar 2017
The Emerald Buddha
Written by Thanapol Chadchaidee   
Tuesday, 27 February 2007 18:02

The city of Bangkok (or Rattanakosin) was established by King Rama I as his capital in 1782. Being determined to observe the tradition of constructing a Buddhist temple in the compound of the Royal Palace which has been practiced since the Sukhothai Period, King Rama I (Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke) had the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (or Wat Phra Kaew) constructed in order to install the Emerald Buddha which he had taken from Vientiane in Laos. The construction took two years to complete and the famous image was then moved from the Thonburi Capital to the present location in 1784.

The Emerald Buddha is actually carved from a large piece of green jade. The lap of the image is 48.3 cms. wide and the height, including the base, is 66 cms. It is in a seated position with the right leg resting on the left one. However, there is no clear evidence to prove from where the image originated or who sculpted it but it first appeared on record in 15th century in Chiang Rai. Judging from its style, it seems to be from the Chiang Saen Period.

It is said that lighting struck a pagoda of a temple in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and a Buddha image covered with stucco was found inside. The image was then kept with the abbot who later removed all the stucco and found the Emerald Buddha.

At the time, the town of Chiang Rai was under the rule of the King of Chiang Mai. The King wanted to bring the Emerald Buddha to Chiang Mai but he didn't succeed. Thus, the Buddha image was allowed to remain in Lampang for 32 years until 1468 it was taken to Chiang Mai by King Tiloka.

When the King of Chiang Mai passed away in 1551, the Emerald Buddha was taken to Laos by Prince Chaichettha who succeeded his grandfather (King of Chiang Mai) and ruled Chiang Mai for one year, but the Prince decided to go back to Laos to succeed the throne of his father. The Emerald Buddha thus remained in Laos since then.

In 1778 during the reign of King Taksin of Thonburi, General Chakri, who later succeeded King Taksin as Rama I, captured Vientiane and brought the Emerald Buddha back to Thailand. With the establishment of Bangkok as his capital, the Emerald Buddha was installed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and has been the palladium of Thailand ever since.

King Rama I had two royal robes made for the Emerald Buddha, one to be worn in summer and one for the rainy season. Later King Rama III added another one for winter. The three robes are still solemnly changed at the beginning of each season by His Majesty the King.

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This story comes from "Essays on Thailand" by Thanapol Chadchaidee. It is used here with his permission. The book contains 60 essays about Thailand written in Thai and English.