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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, is not only the biggest temple in Bangkok but also the most well-known in Thailand. The complex is located in Phra Nakhon District, the center of Bangkok, and is within the grounds of the Grand Palace. This temple was named after the Emerald Buddha statue that is inside. Wat Phra Kaew was chosen to be a royal temple and was used as a palace by King Tak Sin. Housing shrines and grand Buddhist statues, Wat Phra Kaew is the epitome of Thai pagoda architecture and the Emerald Buddha Shrine is the biggest and most sacred.
Phra Kaew pagoda, built in the 17th century, comprises more than 100 impressive golden cone-shaped buildings and limitless inlaid gold corridors. The pagoda’s walls are elegantly decorated with images of rare birds, apricot blossoms, peonies, pottery, sculptures, and pictures by Cheng Ho, a navigator from the Ming dynasty in China. Despite its national importance, Wat Phra Kaew is the only temple in Thailand that doesn’t have resident monks. Monks only visit Wat Phra Kaew to organize important rituals.
In the sacred light of dawn, the mysterious Emerald Buddha statue glows. The ‘robe’ that the Emerald Buddha statue wears is changed three times each year by Thailand’s king, symbolizing three seasons: hot, rainy, and cold. The ritual serves to usher good fortune into the country during each robe change. In the past, only princes and high-ranking mandarins were blessed with holy water, however, King Rama IX now puts holy water outside to bless everyone.
It is said that the statue was miraculously uncovered in 1434 in a pagoda within Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand. A blinding bolt of lightning struck and pointed to a chedi, a firm stucco statue with painted surface. The pagoda monks came and saw a small green sparkling statue inside the rubble. This statue shed a supernatural, colourful light that attracted people from near and far to worship.
Legend has it that the statue’s mysterious power drew anyone who came close to it. Eventually, it was transferred to Chiang Mai and Laos in the 16th century. In 1778, General Phya Chakri led a punitive expedition to take it back. He took the throne with support of the masses and started the Rama dynasty. He was determined to bring the statue to Bangkok and believed it would ensure prosperity in the capital city and protect the independence of the country.
Since then, the Emerald Buddha statue has been placed on an 11-meter-high, gold-plated pedestal on the highest floor of Wat Pra Kaew temple. Many other brilliant decorations, smaller Buddha statues and paintings fill the space.
Annually, domestic and international crowds of Buddhists flock to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, bringing pink lotus flowers, fruit, lit candles and burning incense to express their gratitude to the Buddha for his blessing and giving peace to the country.