Phra Kaew - What is Thailand's Emerald Buddha?

Phra Kaew - the Emerald Buddha - พระแก้ว

The Emerald Buddha. The Royal Palladium of the Kingdom of Thailand. The spiritual defender of the nation. The holiest relic in Thai Buddhism which may be approached only by the King of Thailand. The Phra Kaew Buddha is enshrined in a place of supreme honor at Wat Phra Kaew at Bangkok's Grand Palace complex.

Emerald Buddha พระแก้ว

The Legend of the Emerald Buddha

Myth and legend swirl around Thailand's Emerald Buddha, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to find the true history of this historical holy relic. Legend says that the Emerald Buddha was created in India over 2,000 years ago on the 500th anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment (43 BC) by the Hindu gods Vishnu and Indra.

The Emerald Buddha is then said to have been carried to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, and Angkor Wat in order to spread Theravada Buddhism through those countries, before coming into the hands of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (Siam).

The History of the Emerald Buddha

Little is known about the Emerald Buddha's ancient past, but concrete evidence of it begin to emerge in the 15th century. After apparently being lost for hundreds of years, the Emerald Buddha first resurfaced at Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai when a bolt of lightening struck a golden chedi, splitting it and revealing the image hidden away inside.

From there, the history of the Emerald Buddha becomes very complicated and confusing.

The Emerald Buddha was then taken first to Lampang (Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao) and then to Chiang Mai (Wat Chedi Luang) until the son of the Princess of Chiang Mai ascended to the vacant throne of the Kingdom of Lane Xang (Luang Prabang), taking the Emerald Buddha to present-day Laos with him.

The Emerald Buddha remained in Luang Prabang for a time, but in the 16th century, it was relocated to Vientiane, at a specially-built temple called the Haw Phra Kaew (House of the Emerald Buddha). The Phra Kaew remained in Laos until 1779, when it was retaken by Siam (Thailand) and enshrined first at Wat Arun in Thonburi, and then at the new Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, where it remains to this day.

The Royal Palladium of Thailand

The Emerald Buddha is considered to be the Royal Palladium of Thailand. That is, the image is believed to confer a certain religious legitimacy and blessing upon the Thai monarchy, as well as to protect the kingdom from periods of disaster.

The Emerald Buddha Today

The Emerald Buddha - which is actually carved not out of emerald, but of jade - is enshrined at Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, at the Grand Palace of Bangkok. Wat Phra Kaew is considered to be the most important and holiest site in all of Thailand, and the Emerald Buddha is revered as the most powerful and holy Buddha image in the kingdom.

The Emerald Buddha may be approached only by the king of Thailand in a special ceremony held thrice annually. The statue has three golden robes, one corresponding to each traditional Thai season (summer, rainy season, and winter), which the king changes in a very important seasonal ritual.

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