Saturday, August 10, 2013

Wat Phra Keaw

My second full day in Bangkok, which happened to be a Saturday, I had every intention of getting up early and being a model productive tourist. Yeah. I left the hostel at eleven again.  In the end, I had more than enough time to do everything I meant to do for the day, so I'm glad I didn't rush. 
I walked back down to the river and caught a ferry down to the golden palace.  More about the palace in my next post-first, the temple in the same complex, Wat Phra Keaw. 
The first thing I saw as I neared the temple grounds was a shiny golden stupa.  Various temple buildings were crowded into the walled area; the biggest and most ornate is tiled in blue with gold columns; huge golden snakes form the bannisters on each set of steps. 
This largest temple houses the Emerald Buddha, one of the most famous Buddha statues in Thailand.  The Buddha is actually carved of a large piece of jasper.  At some point in its history, it was covered in stucco to conceal its worth and protect it from theft, and then it was forgotten. It was in a temple in northern Thailand; one day a monk bumped it and knocked a chunk of plaster from the nose. To his surprise, a green stone glittered underneath.
His first thought was emerald, and the name Emerald Buddha has stuck although it was later found to be jasper when it was completely uncovered.
Still covered in stucco, the Buddha was sent on a journey to the new capital city, Bangkok.  Along the way it was captured by Lao forces, but the Thais eventually recaptured it.
The buddha now is the crowning piece of a huge, intricately carved gilded throne taking up nearly the whole back wall of the temple. Frankly, the green buddha seemed rather dwarfed by all the surrounding opulence.  In such a large setting, it was a bit underwhelming.  Then again, after the reclining buddha the day before, it would take a lot to impress me.  Being carved of a solid piece of a precious stone, though, it's very large and I'm sure it's priceless. 
I read that the Emerald Buddha's ornaments are changed three times of year so that he is appropriately dressed for each season: hot, rainy, and cool.  This is done in a ceremony presided over by the king. 
Unfortunately, pictures aren't allowed in the room with the buddha, but there was so much to take pictures of outside that I didn't mind.  Besides the buildings, there were life-sized shiny gold half-bird half-human statues, and a large model of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 

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