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The Emerald Buddha Origins and History (Continued from previous page)

  • With Ayuddhya so thoroughly destroyed, Taksin set up his new capital of Thonburi on the western side of the Menam Chao Phya, south of Ayuddhya. While Taksin set about the task of expanding his territory, one of his most accomplished generals also made a name for himself on the battlefield. A long-time associate of Taksin's, Chao Phya Chakri was victorious in the majority of his battle campaigns; one of his few defeats took place at Phitsanulok in 1776. Due to famine and a lack of supplies, Chao Phya Chakri was forced to abandon Phitsanulok to the Burmese. According to W.A.R. Wood,
  • During this invasion Maha Sihasura expressed a desire to meet Chao Phya Chakri, whom he had found to be the toughest of his antagonists. A meeting was arranged, and the Burmese General, himself a very old man, was astonished to find that Chao Phya Chakri was only thirty-nine years of age. Maha Sihasura prophesied that Chao Phya Chakri was destined to wear the crown; a prophecy which came true approximately six years later.[14]
  • It should be noted that 'Chakri,' which designates the present dynasty, is a title rather than a family name. The title Chao Phya Chakri is found at various times in the history of Thailand. It is conferred upon a high-ranking military officer, who, upon accepting the title, will drop the name given to him at birth. The Chao Phya Chakri who served King Taksin was one of King Taksin's top military commanders. In 1778, he subdued Vientiane and removed the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane, taking it to Thonburi.
  • When Taksin acquired the Emerald Buddha, he placed it in a building near the site of Wat Arun, an action that has, curiously, been overlooked by many historians. The Emerald Buddha remained in Thonburi until Taksin's death. Alleged to have become insane, Taksin was removed as king and put to death by Chao Phra Chakri, who in turn ascended the throne. When Chao Phra Chakri assumed the title Rama I, he moved the site of the capital across the Menam Chao Phra to its present location in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha also traveled across the river, very likely accompanied with pomp and circumstance. To house the image, Rama I constructed Wat Phra Keo.
  • After Rama I's ascent to the throne in 1782, he proclaimed a celebration to mark the site of the new capital. The dynastic chronicles note that the three-day celebration and festival also honored the Phra Sirattanasatsadaram Temple that housed the Emerald Buddha. Flood comments:
  • At the conclusion of the celebration, Rama I renamed the capital city to accommodate the name of the Buddhist statue of Phra Phuttharattanpatimakon; Krungthepmahanakhon Bawonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharattanaratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman-awatansathit Sakkathattiyawisanukamprasit. This was to be the capital city that housed the Buddhist statue Phra Mahamanirattanapatimakon, made of the finest, most beautiful crystal. The statue indeed enhanced the honor of the king, who himself established this capital city of Krungthepmahanakhon.[15]
Wat Phra Keo.  
  • The temple of the Emerald Buddha known in Thai as Wat Phra Keo is the most famous and perhaps the most beautiful wat in Thailand. The official name of Wat Phra Keo is Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram, which translates into "the residence of the Holy Jewel Buddha." Wat Phra Keo was built in 1784 by King Rama I and was constructed at the same time as the Grand Palace, which shares the grounds with Wat Phra Keo. Since its foundation in 1784, Wat Phra Keo has never been allowed to fall into decay.
  • The bot, or chapel, of the Emerald Buddha contains three small chambers on the west, twelve salas --four on the northern and southern sides and two on the eastern side and western sides. A tower, or belfry, is located on the south end of the structure, and there is also a small bot on the south-eastern corner next to the bot that houses the Emerald Buddha. The bot of the Emerald Buddha was constructed according to the standard plan of the majority of Thai temples but with the specific purpose of housing the Emerald Buddha.
  • The image of the Emerald Buddha sits upon an elaborate multi-terraced altar that is the focal point within the bot. The upper part of the altar, which was built during the original construction of the temple, rests upon a base added by King Rama III; on either side stand two images of the Buddha, said to personify the first two kings of the Chakri dynasty.[16]
  • The bot of the Emerald Buddha has not changed much since its construction, though its wood-work was replaced by King Rama III and King Chulalongkorn. The beautiful doors and windows of the bot, as well as the copper plates that cover the floor, were installed during the reign of King Mongkut. The wall paintings representing the universe according to Buddhist cosmology and the various reliefs depicting the various stages of the Buddha's life were partly restored under Rama III. The three chambers on the western side of the Bot were constructed by King Mongkut. The northern most chamber (Phra Kromanusorn) contains images of Buddha in remembrance of the kings of Ayuddhya, and the wall murals were painted by In Khong, a famous painter of the nineteenth century.
  • Perhaps due to their highly visible location at Wat Phra Keo, the best known Thai paintings are of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana. Originating in India well over 2,000 years ago, the Ramayana is a literary epic dealing with a reincarnation on earth of Visnu, destined in his rebirth to rid the world of demons. The Ramakien was written during the reign of Rama I (1782-1809). The 178 mural panels depicting the Ramakien at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were also created during Rama I's reign and have received extensive restoration up to the present time.
  • While elaborate and colorful, the Ramakien murals also serve a didactic purpose, exemplifying virtues such as honesty, faith, and devotion. The story relates how the king of Ayuddhya, beset by the intrigues of one of his wives, banishes his son Rama to the forest. Rama is the reincarnation of Visnu on earth, and his beautiful wife Sita is the reincarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. The beauty of Sita comes to the attention of the ruler of Langka (Sri Lanka), the great demon Ravana or Tosakan. He kidnaps Sita and Rama, along with his brother Laksmana, must call upon Hanuman the White Monkey to help free Sita. In their devotion to Rama, Hanuman and his monkey army agree to attack Langka. It is also Hanuman who ultimately discovers and destroys Ravana's key to immortality by removing Ravana's heart from a box and allowing Rama to kill the demon.
  • Hanuman's loyalty is rewarded by Rama who builds a city in Hanuman's honor. According to the Ramakien, the site of Hanuman's new city was decided by the landing place of a magic arrow fired by Rama, and the boundaries of the town were determined by the circumference made by Hanuman's tail. According to Rita Ringus, Hanuman was reward with the city of Lopburi.[17] Today, Lopburi is the site of a festival honoring the monkeys residing at an old Khmer temple. Each year, these monkeys receive a bountiful buffet of fruits and vegetables.
  • After fourteen years of captivity in Langka, Sita was forced to prove her chastity through an ordeal by fire, in which she completed unharmed. Yet Rama remained unconvinced of his wife fidelity, and his suspicions were reinforced when he found a drawing of Ravana beneath Sita's bed. Rama's anger forced Sita to move to the forest where she gives birth to Rama's son. In succeeding years, Rama and his son, unaware of their relationship to each other, battled for control of the kingdom. In time, a recognition and understanding occurred, and father, mother, and son were finally united to live happily in Ayuddhya.
  • The story of the Ramakien is an elaborate and important part of the art-works displayed at Wat Phra Keo. While the origin of the Ramakien is Indian, the story has been assimilated by the Thai, and is known by the majority of the people of Thailand. Along with other works of art, the presence of the Ramakien murals reinforce the importance and meanings associated with the Emerald Buddha, which watches over all things associated with being Thai.
  • Continuing with the description of the bot of the Emerald Buddha, Rama I also placed twelve salas around the bot. Each contains fascinating remains brought from various regions, such as Cambodia and Java. Indeed, it was within one of these salas that the famous inscription of Ramkamhaeng resided, until it was moved to the National Library in 1924.[18]
  • A sala on the western side of the bot contains an important bronze image of a rusi, or hermit, said to have the power to healing the sick. The small chapel on the southwestern corner (Phra Gandhararaj) and the high belfry were both built during the reign of King Mongkut.[19] The buildings on the platform to the north of the Bot are occupied by a library and another small chapel in the northwest corner. The focus of this northern collection of structures is the Mahamandapa, a square pavilion erected by Rama I on the site of the ancient library, which was destroyed by fire upon its completion. This pavilion was built for the purpose of housing sacred scriptures and was restored by King Mongkut. The platform or terrace upon it which it stands was enlarged by King Mongkut.
  • At the same time, Mongkut also constructed the stupa Phra Sri Ratanachetiya, the building of which was completed by King Chulalongkorn, who adorned it with gold-colored tiles.[20] Also begun in 1855, the pantheon was originally planned as a special chapel for the Emerald Buddha but was later found to be too small for ceremonial purposes. Notton comments that the pantheon was renewed in 1903 after it had been partly destroyed by fire. During the reign of Rama VI, the king placed statues of his five ancestors in the pantheon to be worshipped at certain times of the year.
  • On the northern part of the terrace is a model of Angkor Wat that was begun by King Mongkut and completed by King Chulalongkorn. In the northeastern corner of the courtyard, the library, with its beautiful exterior and elaborate interior, was built by Rama I for storing sacred books. The magnificent bookcases of the library were made of lacquered wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, at the request of Rama I.
  • Besides all the structures that compliment Wat Phra Keo, there are also several guardian figures of more recent workmanship, bronze images of lions, elephants, oxen and monkeys. The nine towers standing in a row on the eastern side of the temple ground were erected by Rama I. The colors of the glazed tiles with which they are covered are different for each tower and correspond with the colors of the nine planets. Wat Phra Keo is clearly an appropriate showcase for the palladium of Thai society.
Description of the Emerald Buddha.  
  • The Emerald Buddha sits in the virasana position, a Yogic common meditation position for seated Buddha images in most of Thailand. Dorothy Fickle notes that "especially in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, including Thailand, the right leg merely lies on top of the left leg in the 'hero pose' or virasana."[21] This contrasts with the 'adamantine' pose in which the legs are fully crossed, with each foot resting on the opposite thigh. The Emerald Buddha itself sits under a canopy on a high-tiered pedestal decorated with gold leaf.
  • The Emerald Buddha is 66 centimeters high, and its lap measures 48.3 centimeters.[22] The image has a round based, top-knot which is smooth, terminating in a dulled point marking the top of the image. The face of the Emerald Buddha has a gold third eye inset above its pronounced eyebrows. The eyes of the image are cast downward giving the image a placid appearance. The nose and mouth are small, and the mouth is closed. The ears are elongated, indicating the figure's divine status.
  • The torso of the image sits in an upright posture with smooth, rounded shoulders, an unpronounced chest, and a slightly protruding belly. The torso also appears to wear 'wet' drapery, with the robe clinging smoothly to it. The elbows of the statue almost rest on the thighs. The hands rest on the lap with the up-ward facing right palm resting in the palm of the left hand. This is the Dhyanamudra position indicating the 'Buddha of the West'. The Emerald Buddha was carved resting upon a platform, while this base itself rests on a gold lotus blossom.
Craftsmanship and Other Aspects
  • According to Hiram Woodward, the Emerald Buddha is an aerial image, associated with Indra's heaven.[23] The image has sometimes been linked to the Phra Sihing Buddha, which is a 'watery' image of Sri Lanka origin. It is possible that the Emerald Buddha was crafted in Sri Lanka, however, most art historians point to other locations of origin, with no general agreement.
  • Speculation on the craftsmanship has stirred controversy in the past. King Mongkut issued a declaration that the Emerald Buddha was made of jade and concluded from this that the stone used for the image had been brought from China. Challenging King Mongkut's interpretation has proved unpopular. For example, when one art historian contended that two famous Thai Buddha images, Phra Sihing Buddha and the Emerald Buddha, "were not as commonly thought, from India but were locally made," he was strongly criticized for causing confusion and undermining the fame and authenticity of the images.[24]
  • Surprisingly, Subhadradis does not provide an illustration of the Emerald Buddha and says nothing of its origins in his text on the subject. The renowned scholar of Thai art, Hiram Woodward, also makes no stylistic observations about the Emerald Buddha in his 1997 study. Lingat ascribes the image to the Chieng Saen School of the late fourteenth century and suggests that it may have been hewn out of a stone found in the Nan province, which has been analyzed as a variety of quartz.[25] Le May also feels that the Emerald Buddha is clearly of local manufacture and probably belongs, as Lingat suggests, to the Chieng Saen School.[26] Le May states that he is familiar with the greenish stone found in the Nan region, attributing his knowledge to the stone Buddha images available for purchase at local markets.
  • Basing his argument on stylistic grounds, Jean Boisselier contends that the image was probably not carved in Lanna. He notes that according to one tradition it arrived from Sri Lanka, while another says it came from South India. Yet, says Boisselier, art historians are not in the position to draw any definite conclusions about such an origin.[27] He believes that the Emerald Buddha is probably made of jasper, which is not a gem stone and which usually appears in the colors red, yellow or brown. It is worth noting, however, that the color green does not seem to be a feature of jasper.
  • Both Chieng Rai and Chieng Mai are along the trail that led from the Salween estuary into south-west Yunnan Province in China. Breazeale notes that the overland trade along this trail is very old and presumably pre-dates the founding of Chieng Rai. Despite some rapids, Chieng Mai was a relatively easy contact down-river with the gulf. Given these geographical links and the established fact that Chinese-style celadons were produced in the Sukhotai kingdom, Breazeale feels it is not inconceivable that the stone used to create the Emerald Buddha was brought to Lanna from a quarry in China or South Asia and that the sculptor likewise came from elsewhere.
The Significance of the Emerald Buddha.  
  • In Thailand, images of the Buddha, particularly stone or gem images, have long been associated with having special powers. Buddha images have also long served as objects of veneration and worship. They appear on small tables and altars in homes, schools, and temples; they are found in police courts where people are required to take oaths; various organizations make their pledges before them; and they appear in the committee rooms of provincial capitals where officials gather for services on national holidays. Kenneth Wells points out that "whenever a chapter of monks performs a ceremony, as at a funeral of an important person or laying a cornerstone of a great building, an image of the Buddha is usually present and a sacred sincana cord is often attached and held by chanting monks."[28]
  • Images of the Buddha are brought out from their respective sites, to be carried in procession at times of drought. At Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram in Northern Thailand there is a priceless topaz Buddha image the size of a small table lamp which is used on occasion for a rain-making ceremony. Chieng Mai also houses two small images believed to possess rain-making powers. One of these Buddha images is made of quartz crystal and the other is made of grey stone said to be of Indian craftsmanship.
  • Buddha images were also brought out in procession during times of plague or epidemics. The Emerald Buddha itself has served to ward off the effects of epidemics. In the cholera epidemic of 1820, for example, the Emerald Buddha was taken from Wat Phra Keo and carried throughout Bangkok in both land and canal processions. Lingat notes that the 1820 epidemic was the worst in the history of Siam:
  • Corpses which there was no time to burn were heaped up in the monastery 'like stacks of timber' or else left to float about in the river and the canals. The people fled in a panic from the capital; the monks deserted the monasteries, and the whole machinery of government was at a standstill. The king even released the royal guard from their duties in the palace. There were great ceremonies of propitiation; the Emerald Buddha and the precious relics kept in the monasteries were taken out in procession through the streets, and on the canals of the city, attended by high dignitaries of the Church who scattered consecrated sand and water. The king and the members of the royal family maintained a rigorous fast. The slaughter of animals was completely forbidden, and the king caused all supplies of fish, bipeds, and quadrupeds, offered for sale, to be bought up in order that they might be liberated. All criminals, except the Burmese prisoners of war, were released from prison. The scourge abated at last after taking 30,000 victims within a few months.
  • Rama IV brought an end to the custom of removing the Emerald Buddha during times of epidemic for fear that it could suffer damage Also, Rama IV hoped that people would realize that diseases are caused by germs, not by evil spirits or the displeasure of the Buddha. After that point in history, a sacred cord was attached to the image so that ceremonies could take place outside of the temple on its behalf, without moving the image. By contrast, the Phra Sihing Buddha image, which is today located in the Buddhaisawan Chapel near the National Museum in Bangkok, is still removed from its site for short periods of time. During the Songkran festival in April, the Phra Sihing Buddha is taken out onto the Promenade Ground in front of the museum, where worshippers can sprinkle it with a few drops of water as a merit-making gesture.
  • Chao Phra Chakri is believed to have collected over twelve hundred Buddha images from around the country while serving under King Taksin. These images were brought to Bangkok and installed in temples that were built when Chao Phra Chakri ascended the throne. After being crowned Rama I, the new king installed a regnal image at the Royal Chapel, The Phra Chai Buddha. Seated on an elaborate pedestal beneath a five-tiered umbrella, this 'Lord of Victory' image is depicted in 'the touching the earth' mudra and holds a fan before his face, which, as Dorothy Fickle points out, suggests the manner of a monk in Thai society.[29] The function of the Phra Chai image was to ensure victory in the field of battle for the ruler, thus it accompanied the king on all his military excursions.
  • It is believed that the older the image is, the more potent its power. In a temple containing several Buddha images, one or two in particular may be venerated for their unusual powers. Consecrated images are also believed to possess nana, or knowledge, which leads to release or transformation, and some images are even believed to have certain likes and dislikes. For example, the Phra Bang Buddha image was believed to have caused a series of disasters while it remained in the same city as the Emerald Buddha, and for this reason, Rama I finally returned it to Vientiane in 1782. In similar fashion, when the Phra Jinasi Buddha was removed from Pitsanulok and brought to Bangkok, the city suffered a three-year drought and the government official in charge of the image took ill and died.[30]
  • According to Sombot Phlainoi, the first six kings of the Chakri dynasty had their own regnal crystal Buddha images.[31] The practice of creating regnal images was discontinued when Rama VII died before his own consecration. It is still taboo to inquire after the king's health, and in the past, it was even forbidden to allude directly to the death of a king. Thus the term used to express this event is satec svargagata, 'to migrate to heaven.'[32]