Wat Phra Kaew

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Wat Phra Kaew
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Wat Phra Kaew by Ninara TSP edit crop.jpg
View from the Outer Court of the Grand Palace
AffiliationTheravada Buddhism
CountryPhra Nakhon District,
Wat Phra Kaew is located in Bangkok
Wat Phra Kaew
Location in Bangkok
Geographic coordinates13°45′5″N 100°29′33″E / 13.75139°N 100.49250°E / 13.75139; 100.49250Coordinates: 13°45′5″N 100°29′33″E / 13.75139°N 100.49250°E / 13.75139; 100.49250
FounderKing Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Rama I)
Completed18th Century

Wat Phra Kaew (Thai: วัดพระแก้ว, RTGSWat Phra Kaeo, pronounced [wát pʰráʔ kɛ̂ːw] (About this soundlisten)), commonly known in English as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and officially as Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram,[a] is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple (wat) in Thailand. The Emerald Buddha housed in the temple is a potent religio-political symbol and the palladium (protective image) of Thailand.[1][2] The temple is in Phra Nakhon District, the historic centre of Bangkok, within the precincts of the Grand Palace.[3][4]

The main building is the central phra ubosot that houses the statue of the Emerald Buddha. According to legend, this Buddha image originated in India where the sage Nagasena prophesied that the Emerald Buddha would bring "prosperity and pre-eminence to each country in which it resides". The Emerald Buddha deified in the Wat Phra Kaew is therefore deeply revered and venerated in Thailand as the protector of the country. Historical records date its finding to the 15th century in Chiang Rai where, after it was relocated a number of times, it was finally brought to Thailand in the 18th century. It was enshrined in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew Temple in 1782 during the reign of Phutthayotfa Chulalok, King Rama I (1782–1809). This marked the beginning of the Chakri dynasty of Thailand, whose current sovereign is Vajiralongkorn, King Rama X.

The Emerald Buddha, a dark green statue, is in a standing form, about 66 centimetres (26 in) tall, carved from a single jade stone ("emerald" in Thai means deep green colour and not the specific stone). It is carved in the meditating posture in the style of the Lanna school of northern Thailand. Except for the Thai King and, in his stead, the crown prince, no other persons are allowed to touch the statue. The king changes the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter, and rainy seasons, an important ritual performed to bring good fortune to the country during each season.[2][3][4]


Entrance to the Royal Pantheon, constructed by Rama IV in 1856

In 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese, and King Taksin then moved the capital to Thonburi where he built the old palace beside Wat Arun on the west bank of Chao Phraya River. In 1778, Taksin's army under the command of Chao Phraya Chakri (who later became Rama I) captured Vientiane and took the Emerald Buddha back to Thonburi.

In 1782, King Rama I succeeded to the throne and founded the Chakri Dynasty, and he decided to move the capital across the river to Bangkok as it would be better protected from attack.[5] The site chosen for the palace is situated between two old wats, Wat Pho and Wat Mahathat, an area inhabited by Chinese residents who were then moved to the present Chinatown.[6] He started the construction of the Grand Palace so that the palace would be ready for his coronation in 1785. Wat Phra Kaew, that has its own compound within the precinct of the palace, was built to house the Emerald Buddha that is considered a sacred object that provides protection for the kingdom. Wat Phra Kaew was completed in 1784.[1][7] The formal name of Wat Phra Kaeo is Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram that means "the residence of the Holy Jewel Buddha."

Wat Phra Kaew has undergone a number of renovations, restoration and additions in its history, particularly during the reign of King Rama III and Rama IV. Rama III started the renovations and rebuilding in 1831 for the 50th Anniversary of Bangkok of 1832, while Rama IV's restoration was completed by Rama V in time for the Bangkok Centennial celebrations in 1882. Further restoration was undertaken by Rama VII on Bangkok's 150th Anniversary in 1932, and by Rama IX for the 200th Anniversary in 1982.[1]

Emerald Buddha[edit]

Emerald Buddha statue enshrined in Wat Phra Kaew

It is not known when the statue of the Emerald Buddha was made, but it is generally believed that it was crafted in 14th-century Thailand.[4] However, there are also claims that the statue originated in India or Sri Lanka.[8] None of these theories can be firmly established as none of the historians could get a close look at the statue.[2][4]

According to one account, the Emerald Buddha was found in Chiang Rai, Lanna in 1434, after a lightning storm struck a temple. The Buddha statue fell down and later became chipped, and the monks, after removing the stucco around the statue, discovered that the image was a perfectly made Buddha image from a solid piece of green jade. The image was moved a few time to various temples, first to Lampang, then to Chiang Mai, from where it was removed by prince Chao Chaiyasetthathirat to Luang Prabang, when his father died and he ascended the throne of both Lanna and Lan Xang, in 1551. The statue remained the it to his new capital of Lan Xang in Vientiane in the 1560s. The statue remained there for twelve years. King Chaiyasetthathirat then shifted it to his new capital of Lan Xang in Vientiane in the 1560s. He took the Emerald Buddha with him and the image remained in Vientiane for 214 years until 1778.[8]

In the reign of King Taksin, Chao Phya Chakri (who later became Rama I) defeated Vientiane and moved the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane to Thonburi where it was installed in a shrine close to Wat Arun. When Chao Phra Chakri took over the throne and founded the Chakri Dynasty of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, he shifted his capital across the river to its present location in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha was also moved across the river with pomp and pageantry and installed in the temple of Wat Phra Keaw.[2][4]


There a number of legends associated with the Emerald Buddha. It was said the iconic image of the Emerald Buddha was made by Nagasena, a saint in Pataliputra (present day Patna), India, who, with the help of Hindu god Vishnu and demigod Indra, had the Emerald Buddha image made. Nagasena predicted that:[2]

The image of the Buddha is assuredly going to give to religion the most brilliant importance in five lands, that is in Lankadvipa (Sri Lanka), Ramalakka, Dvaravati, Chieng Mai and Lan Chang (Laos).

The Emerald Buddha image was taken to Sri Lanka after three hundred years in Pataliputra to save it during a civil war. In 457, King Anuruth of Burma sent a mission to Ceylon with a request for Buddhist scriptures and the Emerald Buddha, in order to promote Buddhism in his country. These requests were granted, but the ship lost its way in a storm during the return voyage and landed in Cambodia. When the Thais captured Angkor Wat in 1432 (following the ravage of the bubonic plague), the Emerald Buddha was taken to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Laos and finally Chiang Rai, where the ruler of the city hid it, and was later found.[2]


Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Wat Phra Kaew has a number of buildings in the precincts of the Grand Palace that covers a total area of over 94.5 hectares (234 acres). It has over 100 buildings with "200 years royal history and architectural experimentation" linked to it. The architectural style is named as Rattanakosin style (old Bangkok-style). The main temple of the Emerald Buddha is decorated and similar to the temple in ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The roof is embellished with polished orange and green tiles, the pillars are inlaid with mosaics and the pediments are made of marble, installed in the 18th century. The Emerald Buddha reposes on an elevated altar surrounded by large gilded decorations. While the upper part of this altar was part of the original construction, the base was added by King Rama III. Two images of the Buddha, that represent the first two kings of the Chakri dynasty, flank the main image. Over the years, the temple has retained its original design. Minor improvements have been made after its construction during Rama I's reign: temple woodwork was replaced by King Rama III and King Chulalongkorn; during King Mongkut's reign, the doors and windows and the copper plates on the floor were added; Rama III refurbished the wall painting (indicative of the universe according to Buddhist cosmology) and several frescos that display various stages of the Buddha's life; three chambers were added on the west side by King Mongkut; in the chamber known as Phra Kromanusorn at the north end, images of Buddha have been installed in honour of the kings of Ayutthaya Kingdom; and in the 19th century, Khrua In Khong, a famous painter, created the wall murals. The entry to the temple is from the third gate from the river pier.[2][4][9][10][11][12][13]

The entrance is guarded by a pair of yakshis (mythical giants) – 5 metres (16 ft) high statues). The Buddha image in brilliant green colour is 66 centimetres (26 in) in height with a lap width of 48.3 centimetres (19.0 in). It is carved in a yogic position, known as Virasana, a meditation pose commonly seen in images in Thailand, South India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia). The pedestal on which the Emerald Buddha sits is decorated with Garuda (the mythical half-man, half-bird form, a steed of Rama, who holds his mortal enemy Naga the serpent in his legs). The image made with a circular base has a smooth top-knot that is finished with a "dulled point marking at the top of the image". A third eye made in gold is inset over the elevated eyebrows of the image. The image appears divine and composed, with the eyes cast downward. The image has a small nose, closed mouth, and elongated ears. The hands are placed on the lap with palms facing upwards.[2][11][14]

External decorations of the ubosot, the main building of Wat Phra Kaew

The entire complex, including the temples, is bounded by a compound wall, one of the most prominent parts of the wat. It is about 2 kilometres (6,600 ft) in length. The compound walls are decorated with Thai murals, based on the Indian epic Ramayana. In the Thai language these murals are known to form the Ramakian, the Thai national epic that was written during the reign of Rama I. These stories formed the basis for the paintings made during the reign of King Rama I (1782–1809). These paintings are refurbished regularly. The murals, in 178 scenes starting from the north gate of the temple, illustrates the complete epic story of Ramayana sequentially, in a clockwise direction covering the entire compound wall. The murals serve to emphasise human values of honesty, faith, and devotion.[2][4][9][12]

There are twelve salas, built by Rama I, around the temple. They house interesting artefacts of regions such as Cambodia and Java. One of these salas had an inscription of Ramkamhaeng that was moved, in 1924, to the National Library. During the reign of King Mongkut, the Phra Gandharara, a small chapel at the southwest corner, and a tall belfry were added.[2]

Worship and ceremonies[edit]

A group of Buddhist monks at the Wat Phra Kaew temple

Early in the Bangkok period, the Emerald Buddha was removed from the temple and paraded in the streets to relieve the city and countryside of various calamities (such as plague and cholera). However, this practice was discontinued during Rama IV's reign as it was feared that the image could get damaged during the procession and also a practical line of thinking that Rama IV held "that diseases are caused by germs, not by evil spirits or the displeasure of the Buddha". The image also marks the changing of the seasons in Thailand, with the king presiding over the seasonal ceremonies.[2]

Like many other Buddha statues in Thailand, the Emerald Buddha is dressed in a seasonal costume. It is a significant ritual held at this temple. In this ritual, dress of the deity is changed three times a year to correspond to the seasons. In summer it is a pointed crown of gold and jewels, and a set of jewelled ornaments that adorns the image from the shoulders to the ankles. In winter, a meshed dressing gown or drapery made of gold beads that covered from the neck down like a poncho is used. During the rainy months, a top-knot headdress studded with gold, enamel and sapphires; the gold attire in the rainy season is draped over the left shoulder of the deity, only with the right shoulder left bare while gold ornaments embellish the image up to the ankles. The astrological dates for the ritual ceremonies, at the changing of the seasons, followed are in the 1st waning moon of lunar months 4, 8 and 12 (around March, July and November). The costume change ritual is performed by the Thai king who is the highest master of ceremonies for all Buddhist rites. On each occasion, the king himself "cleans the image by wiping away any dust that has collected and changing the headdress of the image". Then a king's royal attendant climbs up and performs the elaborate ritual of changing garments of the image as the king is chanting prayers to the deity. On this occasion, the king sprinkles water over the monks and the faithful who have assembled to witness the unique ritual and seeks blessings of the deity for good fortune during the upcoming season. The two sets of clothing not in use at any given time are kept on display in the nearby Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Coins in the precincts of the Grand Palace. While Rama I initiated this ritual for the hot season and the rainy season, Rama III introduced the ritual for the winter season.[2][4] The robes that the image adorns, represents that of monks and King's depending on the season, a clear indication of highlighting its symbolic role "as Buddha and the King", which role is also enjoined on the Thai King who formally dresses the Emerald Buddha image.[14]

Monument with insignia of King Rama IX showing the Octagonal Throne with a chakra with Thai numeral 9 inside and a seven-tiered Umbrella of State

A ceremony that is observed in the wat is the Chakri Day (begun on 6 April 1782), a national holiday to honour founding of the Chakri dynasty. On this day, the king attends the ceremony. The former king Rama IX, with his Queen, and entourage of the royal family, the Prime Minister, officials in the Ministry of Defence, and other government departments, first offered prayers at the Emerald Buddha temple. This was followed by visit to the pantheon to pay homage to the images of past Chakri rulers that are installed there.[2]

The Coronation of the Thai monarch is an important event of the Chakri dynasty. One such event took place when Rama IX was crowned the king. On this occasion, the hing came to the Chapel Royal, Wat Phra Keo, in a procession wearing a "great crown". After entering the chapel, the king made offerings of gold and silver flowers to the deity and also lighted candles. He also paid homage to the images of Buddha that represented past kings of the dynasty. In the presence of assembled elite clergy of the kingdom, he took a formal vow of his religion and his commitment to defend the faith.[2]

Rules of entry and conduct[edit]

The sacred temples in Thailand follow a dress code that is strictly followed. Men must wear long trousers and sleeved shirts and shoes; women must wear long skirts. Visitors who arrive dressed otherwise may rent appropriate clothing items at the entry area of the temple. It is compulsory to remove the shoes before entering the temple, as a sign of respect of the Buddha, as is the practice in all other temples in Thailand. While offering prayers before the Buddha image, the sitting posture should avoid any offensive stretching of feet towards the deity; the feet should be tucked in towards the back.[9]

Other monuments[edit]

While the surrounding portico of the shrine is an example of Thai craftsmanship, the perimeter of the temple complex has 12 open pavilions. These were built during the reign of Rama I.[4] There is plethora of monuments in the temple complex. These are:

Phra Sri Rattana Chedi in Sri Lankan style

The temple grounds also depict three pagodas to its immediate north that represent the changing centres of Buddhist influence. One such shrine to the west of the temple is the Phra Si Ratana Chedi, a 19th-century stupa built in Sri Lankan style enshrining ashes of the Buddha.[4]

The Library
Phra Mondop, the library

Rama I also built a library in Thai style, in the middle of the complex, known as the "Phra Mondop". The library houses an elegantly carved Ayutthaya-style mother-of-pearl doors, bookcases with the Tripitaka (sacred Buddhist manuscripts), human-and dragon-headed nagas (snakes), and images of Chakri kings.[4]

During the 19th century, the Royal Pantheon was built in Khmer style to the east of the temple that is kept open for only one day in year, in the month of October to commemorate the founding of the Chakri dynasty.[4]

Model of Angkor Wat

The temple complex also contains a model of Angkor Wat (the most sacred of all Cambodian shrines). In 1860, King Mongkut ordered his generals to lead 2,000 men to dismantle Angkor Wat and take it to Bangkok. Modern scholars suggested that the king wanted to show that Siam was still in control of Cambodia, as France was seeking to colonise Cambodia at that time. However, the king's order could not be fulfilled. A royal chronicle written by Chaophraya Thiphakorawong, then foreign minister, recorded that many Thai men fell ill after entering Cambodian wilderness. The chronicle also stated that forest-dwelling Khmer people ambushed the Thai army, killing many leading generals. King Mongkut then ordered the construction of the model within Wat Phra Kaew, instead of the real Angkor Wat that could not be brought to Bangkok. Mongkut died before he could see the model. Its construction was completed in the reign of his son, Chulalongkorn.[15]

Hermit statue

A hermit's bronze image, that is believed to have healing powers is installed in a sala on the western side of the temple. It is near the entry gate. It is a black stone statue, considered a patron of medicine, before which relatives of the sick and infirm pay respects and make offerings of joss sticks, fruit, flowers, and candles.[2][4]

Eight towers

On the eastern side of the temple premises there are eight towers or prangs, each of a different colour. They were erected during the reign of Rama I and represent eight elements of Buddhism.[16]

Elephant statues

Statues of elephants that symbolize independence and power are seen all around the complex. As Thai kings fought wars mounted on elephants, it has become customary for parents to make their children circumambulate the elephant three times with the belief that it would bring them strength. The head of an elephant statue is also rubbed for good luck; this act of the people is reflected in the smoothness of the surface of elephant statues here.[4]


Map of Wat Phra Kaew
Plan of Wat Phra Kaew (with labels).svg
  1. Ubosot and the Emerald Buddha
  2. Twelve Salas
  3. Ho Phra Khanthararat
  4. The Hermit
  5. Ho Phra Ratcha Koramanuson
  6. Phra Phothi That Phiman
  7. Ho Phra Ratcha Phongsanuson
  8. Chao Mae Kuan-im (Guanyin Shrine)
  9. Than Phaithi
  10. Phra Si Rattana Chedi
  11. Phra Mondop
  12. Prasat Phra Thep Bidon
  13. Four Golden Chedis
  14. Model Angkor Wat
  15. Two Decorated Chedis
  16. Mythological figures
  17. Monument to Rama I, II and III
  18. Monument to Rama IV
  19. Monument to Rama V
  20. Monument to Rama VI, VII, VIII and IX
  21. Western Porch
  22. Southern Porch
  23. Phra Sawet Kudakhan Wihan Yot
  24. The Bellfry
  1. Ho Phra Nak
  2. Ho Phra Monthian Tham
  3. Eight Phra Atsada Maha Chedis
  4. Ramakian Mural Cloisters
  5. Gate No. 1, Koei Sadet (Front) Gate
  6. Gate No. 2, Na Wua Gate
  7. Gate No. 3, Si Rattana Satsada Gate
  8. Gate No. 4, Hermit Gate
  9. Gate No. 5, Koei Sadet (Rear) Gate
  10. Gate No. 6, Sanam Chai Gate
  11. Gate No. 7, Yiharnyod Gate
  1. Intarachit
  2. Suriyaphop
  3. Wirunhok
  4. Mangkonkan
  5. Thotsakhirithon
  6. Thotsakhiriwan
  7. Chakkrawat
  8. Atsakanmala
  9. Sahatsadecha
  10. Thotsakan
  11. Wirunchambang
  12. Maiyarap


See also[edit]

  • Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)


  1. ^ วัดพระศรีรัตนศาสดาราม, IPA: [wát pʰráʔ sǐː rát.ta.náʔ sàːt.sa.daː.raːm])


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  8. ^ a b M.C. Subhaddradis Diskul. "The History of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha". Asian Institute of Technology.
  9. ^ a b c Williams, China; Aaron Anderson; Brett Atkinson; Becca Blond; Tim Bewer (2010). Thailand. Lonely Planet. p. 126. ISBN 9781742203850. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  10. ^ Cummings, Joe; China Williams (2004). Bangkok. Lonely Planet. pp. 78–79. ISBN 1-74059-460-6. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  11. ^ a b Thailand year book. Temple Publicity Services. 1968. p. 75. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  12. ^ a b "Wat Phra Kaeo". Thailand Photos. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  13. ^ Brockman, Norbert C. (2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-1-59884-655-3.
  14. ^ a b Kleiner, Fred. S.; Christin J. Mamiya (2009). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives. Cengage Learning. pp. 42–43. ISBN 0-495-57367-1. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  15. ^ Charnvit Kasetsiri (2009). โปรดให้รื้อปราสาทขอม [Relocating a Khmer temple] (pdf) (in Thai). Bangkok: Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project. pp. 3–4.
  16. ^ Kindersley Dorling, Philip Cornwel-Smith (1 August 2012). Thailand. Dorling Kindersley. p. 83. ISBN 978-1405370691.

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