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The Journey of Emerald Buddha Statue

By Devik Balami at
The Journey of Emerald Buddha Statue

Another name for Emerald Buddha is Phra Kaew Morakot which is made up of a semi-precious green stone. The name - Emerald Buddha didn't come from the material used to make the Buddha statue but instead it came from the color of the statue and that is green. The statue's broadest width in it lap is 48 cm while the height is 66cm. The Buddha is portrayed in the seating position with the right leg resting on the left one and in Dhyani Mudra posture. The Buddha has three different sets of attire for three different seasons- summer, winter and rainy season. The two attire for summer and rainy seasons were made by Rama I and the last one for winter season was made by Rama III. The clothes are only changed by King or Crown Prince of Thailand in a very special occasion in the 1st Waning of lunar months 4, 8 and 12 which happens around March, August and November as according to the solar calendar. Even though it is Antique Buddha Statue and it has also been recorded that the material is different from what the statue is used to be made from, the statue has not been analyzed to determine its exact composition or origin. Since this kind of Mudra posture is not popular in Thailand so it is thought to be originated in India or Sri Lanka. The sculpture has a long history of its discovery in the 15th century. It has been housed at different places and currently, it is housed at Wat Phra Kaew in Bankok.

Legends associated with the Buddha.

The source of the creation of this Antique Buddha Statue is unknown till date but there are legends about this statue. The legend of the Emerald Buddha is related and mentioned in the number of sources like Jinakalamali, Amarakatabuddharupanidana, and in particular Ratanabimbavamsa or the chronicle of the Emerald Buddha which is written in Pali Language by Brahmarajapannia in the 15th century. According to the legend, it is written that the Emerald Buddha was created in India 43 BC by a saint called Nagasena in the Pataliputra City which is known as Patna in today's context. The legends says that Lord Vishnu and Indra, a Hindu god helped Nagasena to make the sculpture. The sculpture was placed in Pataliputra for three hundred years after its creation, it was then taken to Ceylon, the historical name of Sri Lanka, with the objective to save the sculpture from civil war.

Later, King Anuruth of Burma asks for Buddhist scriptures and sculpture from Ceylon, the historical name of Sri Lanka, in order to support Buddhism in his country. His request was granted and was taken the scripture and sculpture in Burma in Ship. But the ship lost its way in a storm and landed in Cambodia. It was then placed in the Angkor Wat. Thais captured Angkor Wat in 1432. It was in this moment that the Emerald Buddha was taken to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Laos by Thais and then finally to Chiang Rai. It was then hidden in the city until it was found in 1434.

Journey of Emerald Buddha from Chiang Rai to Bankok

In 1434, a lightning struck in a stupa in Wat PaYia, which is also known as Bamboo Forest Monastery, in the Chiang Rai. The monastery was later renamed as Wat Phra Kaew. The destruction made by the lightning revealed a Buddha covered with stucco. Then the Buddha was placed in the abbot's residence. He noticed that stucco had flaked off in the nose area which reveals a greenish color inside. The abbot then removes stucco completely and found a Buddha Statue which was made up of a green semi-precious stone. Later, it was known as Phra Kaew Morakot.

Later King Sam Fang Kaen of Lanna wished the Buddha Statue in his capital, Chiang Mai and it was transported with the help of elephant which insisted on going to Lampang instead of Chiang Mai. The behavior of the elephant was thought to be a divine sign so the statue stayed in Lampang in a specially-built temple for the next 32 years. It was then transported to Chiang Mai by King Tiloka in 1468. The Buddha statue was placed in a niche in a large stupa called, Chedi Luang where the statue remained until 1552. After that, the statue was then taken to Luang Prabang, the capital of the Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang.

King Setthathirath of Lan Xang had to move to Vientiane, a new capital due to Burmese attacks in 1564. King Setthathirat had also taken Emerald Buddha along with him and therefore the Buddha statue was housed in Haw Phra Kaew and stayed there for the next 214 years.

In 1779, the Thai General Chao Phraya Chakri captured Vientiane. He took the Emerald Buddha to Siam. He made a new capital in Thonburi, Siam where he installed a shrine for the Emerald Buddha. Chao Phra Chakri took over the reins and founded the Chakri Dynasty of Rattanakosin Kingdom. He then adopted the title of Rama I and constructed the new Grand Palace in Bangkok. He also ordered to construct Wat Phra Kaew within its compound. The Emerald Buddha was then placed in Ubosoth of the Wat Phra Kaew temple complex on 22 March 1784.

This was the long history of Emerald Buddha till it was housed in Wat Phra Kaew temple. Earlier the Buddha used to take out of the temple and paraded in the streets to relieve the city of various calamities but this ritual was discontinued during the regime of Rama IV thinking the calamities were caused due to germs, not because of evil spirits or displeasure of Buddha.