The name 'Wat Phra Kaew' is translated as the 'Temple of the Emerald Buddha'. This Thai temple is considered the most holy of all temples in Thailand and is a potent religio-political symbol of the Thai society. It is located within the precincts of the Grand Palace at the heart of Bangkok.
This temple is a must-visit and it has plenty of history, dating from 1782. Planning to visit the temple? Read the following interesting facts and guides about Wat Phra Kaew, and maybe you will appreciate and understand your tour more.
- The statue of the Emerald Buddha is housed in the main building of the temple. The building is known as Ubosoth.
- Except for the Thai King, no other person is allowed to touch the statue of the Emerald Buddha housed in the temple.
- To enter the temple, you must dress appropriately, as it is a sacred place.
- It is compulsory to remove your shoes when entering the temple. It is seen as a sign of respect to Buddha.
- The entrance to the temple is guarded by a pair of Yakshas (mythical giants – 5 meters-high statues).
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The Legend of the Emerald Buddha
The earliest legend narrated about the iconic emerald image of the Buddha is that of Nagasena, a saint in India. With the help of Hindu god Vishnu and demigod Indra, he had the Emerald Buddha image made from the precious emerald stone, 500 years after Buddha attained Nirvana.
As regards the historical legend of Wat Phra Kaew, it was originally known as the "Wat Pa Yia", (Bamboo Forest Monastery) in the Chiang Rai province of Northern Thailand. The Wat was struck by lightning in 1434, when the octagonal Chedi broke up and revealed the Emerald Buddha (made of Jade), locally known as Phra Kaew Morakot. From there it was moved, initially to Vientianne and finally to Bangkok where it was deified in the temple with the original name, Wat Phra Kaew.
Another legend mentions that attempts were made by the King of Chiang Mai to possess the statue after it was found in 1434. These attempts failed three times because the elephants transporting the statue refused to proceed beyond a crossroad in Lampang.
Exploring Wat Phra Kaew
Bangkok is the heart of Thailand and it is the most popular holiday destination, with its unique culture and magnificent temples which contain lots of history. There are several temples in the city, but Wat Phra Kaew is the main temple of Thailand. It is a magnificent structure where the famous sculpture of the Emerald Buddha is enshrined.
The Bot and Peripheral Buildings
There are many bot and peripheral buildings inside the temple. Inside the bot, the small but exquisite statue of the Buddha, less than a meter high, rests on a tall plinth beneath a nine-tiered canopy. According to tradition, the nephrite figure was carved in Pataliputra in India, though other sources claim it to be from Burma and the work of an unknown artist.
It first came to light in 1434 in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, having arrived there by way of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Cambodia. While in the process of being transported, the casing was damaged and split open, revealing the nephrite figure within. The Buddha traveled a long way to end up in Bangkok in 1778.
The Upper Terrace
The Upper Terrace is part of the Wat Phra Kaew court. It has three buildings of its own which are all worth seeing, though entry to them is not always possible.
There is a chedi on the upper terrace. This gilded chedi is one of two on the Upper Terrace of Wat Phra Kaew, in front of the Royal Pantheon staircase. They are devoted to the parents of King Rama I. The mythical demon creatures called Yakshas are among several that appear to be holding up the base.
The Upper Terrace is the best part of the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok. It is the place from which the views are most impressive and you can get a close look at the stupas. From the Upper Terrace it is possible to examine the impressively large demon and monkey statues guarding various strategic points.
The Northern Terrace
On the terrace of the northern wing building, there is the teakwood ‘bed of state’ which was used when King Rama I ascended the throne. The bed of state was made with complicated techniques of inlaying spiral shells, and in its back there is the gorgeous image. All the kings and queens of the Rama Kingdom were placed there and condolence ceremonies took place there before the cremation.
In the middle of the northern terrace is a small, somewhat unique prayer hall called Wiharn Yod. The Wiharn is unique, with its Greek cross plan and its Chinese porcelain decorations. The decoration suggests that the building dates from the time of Rama II, when such styles were the most popular.
The Prangs, Yakshas and the Ramakien Gallery
Between the eastern gallery wall and the outer wall of the palace is a row of eight multi-colored prangs (pagodas). Two of the prangs are actually enclosed by the gallery, which had to be extended when the upper terrace was built within the temple.
The Yakshas are an important element in Thai temple art and architecture. They are common as guardians of the gates in Buddhist temples throughout the country, since at least the 14th century. As you enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha Court of the Grand Palace, you come face-to-face with these two mythical giants.
Surrounding the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, there is something like a cloister. which is the Ramakien Gallery. The walls of the gallery are painted with murals, depicting scenes from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic the Ramayana, which basically deals with the triumph of good over evil.
Worship and Ceremonies
The Emerald Buddha used to be taken out of its temple and paraded in the streets, in order to relieve the city and countryside from calamities such as the plague and cholera. However, Rama IV stopped this action because it could damage the statue during the parade.
There are some ceremonies held at this temple. The astrological dates for the ritual ceremonies of the changing of the seasons, are in the 1st Waning Moon of lunar months 4, 8 and 12 (around March, July and November). Rama I initiated this ritual for the hot season and the rainy season, Rama III introduced the ritual for the winter season.
Another ceremony held there is on the Chakri Day. It is a national holiday to honor the founding of the Chakri dynasty. The King and Queen, the entourage of the royal family, as well as the Prime Minister, the officials of the Ministry of Defense, and other government departments, offer prayers at the temple.
Guide Tour of Wat Phra Kaew
A sightseeing tour in Bangkok is a must for anyone visiting Thailand's capital city. What should always be included in a tour of Bangkok, is a visit to this temple with lots of history. Whether it is a private or a join-in tour, you will need a guide to explain the story and the purpose of each building, of the art, statue, etc.
Marvel at the Emerald Buddha housed in Wat Phra Kaew, and listen as your guide explains how this holy religious object was carved from a single piece of jade. Your guide will point out the intricate designs that decorate this famous structure and highlight the roof tiles, which, so some say, touch the sky.
Explore Wat Phra Kaew with Asia Highlights
Discover Bangkok’s main attractions, the Royal Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – with Asia Highlights. You will explore the beauty and history of these famous sights with an expert guide. Please contact us if you have any questions.
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