Within the grounds of the Grand Palace sits a brightly coloured temple compound which plays host to the most sacred item in Thailand. A figure of veneration and mystery, the origins of the Emerald Buddha before it arrived in Bangkok are little known but much discussed. Locally regarded as the oldest statue of Buddha in existence, ownership of this small talisman is believed to bring legitimacy, prosperity and protection to the nation.
Fastidiously carved from a single block of jade, this small emerald-green statue of Buddha sits meditatively on a golden throne atop a 9-metre pedestal within the temple complex. It is thought to date back at least to the fifteenth century, where it was discovered hidden inside a plaster Buddha in Chieng Rai province.
The Emerald Buddha’s current home was built in 1785 by King Rama I, when he moved the statue across the river from its previous dwelling at Wat Arun. Ornate and colourful, the temple dwarfs the statue in grandeur. Looking at the crowds of pilgrims who travel across the country to see the Buddha, however, it is clear that this seemingly modest object still inspires great reverence.
The statue is so sacred that only the King is allowed to touch it. Three times a year, he is charged with the ceremonial changing of the Buddha’s clothing to coincide with the changing seasons.
It is worth setting aside some time to look round the Temple as it houses more than just the Buddha statue. On the balcony, overseen by the colourful guardians on the entrance, you will find a series of murals depicting the Ramayana legend as told by the poet Valmika. Elsewhere, a model of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia marks the Buddha statue’s sojourn there during the reign of the Siamese.
The Grand Palace and the Temple are open every day and can easily be reached by ferry or taxi. Aim to arrive early as they don’t stay open beyond the middle of the afternoon and be sure to dress appropriately, covering your legs, arms and feet.