The Emerald Buddha: the Sacred Statue of Thailand

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The Emerald Buddha is revered by the people of Thailand and is considered sacred. Its origin dates back to the fifteenth century. Today it is kept at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The Emerald Buddha is Thailand’s most sacred image. It is a tiny statue of Buddha about 66 centimeters tall that sits perched, cross legged, meditating upon an eleven foot high alter. Despite its namesake, the Buddha is not made from emerald, but was actually carved from a single piece of jade or jadeite. The statue is located at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha( Wat Phra Kaew) at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Buddha is kept behind glass and the only person allowed to touch it is the king. Three times per year ceremonies take place when His Majesty the King of Thailand changes the robes of the Buddha. The robes are made of gold and diamonds and there are three designs that signify the changing of the seasons, summer, winter and monsoon. The ritual is said to bring fortuity and prosperity to the Thai people over the coming seasons.

There is some disparity among experts as the origins of the Emerald Buddha. Some claim that the statute was made in the city of Nagasena, known today as Bihar, India, in the fifteenth century. This theory may have evolved, in part, because the statue’s meditating position is similar to statues from northern India and also Sri Lanka. However the style of the statue is typical of northern Thailand. Official records for the Emerald Buddha began in 1434. A lightening strike struck the Thai chedi in Chiang Rai and cracked the plaster which covered the Buddha. A monk then removed the damaged plaster to a reveal a bright green jade statue.

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Thousands came to revere the tiny Buddha, and King Samfangkaen decided to make the Emerald Buddha his talisman and sovereignty. He had the Buddha moved from Lampang to the capital of the province Chiang Mai. The statue remained in Chiang Mai until 1552, when the new King, King Chaichettha, who was half Loatian, decided to return to Laos and took the statue with him.

The Emerald Buddha remained in Laos and King Chaichettha never returned to Thailand. After Laos was invaded by King Bayinnaung of Burma, the Emerald Buddha was taken by the king and kept in the Royal Burmese capital of Vientiane. During the Thonburi period of Thai History, King Rama’s I captured the city of Vientiane and after 214 years, the statue was returned to Thailand. In 1778 the Emerald Buddha was placed in the royal chapel, in Thailand’s new capital city of Bangkok. Four years later it was moved to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where it has remained since.

Entrance to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

All images from

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Francois Hagnere
Posted on Jun 1, 2010
carol roach
Posted on May 31, 2010