Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Six statues of Yaksa Tavarnbal – mythical ogres – bare their teeth as they stand guard in Wat Phra Kaew, located on the environs of Bangkok’s Grand Palace and a must-see on a Bangkok holiday. Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, this is the heart of Thai Buddhism and home to a 66-centimetre image of the meditating Buddha carved out of jade. Seated on a gilt altar and surrounded by other effigies, it is so precious no one else but the Thai King is allowed to touch it, and even then only to change its robes at the start of the summer, rainy, and winter seasons.

The Emerald Buddha has been transferred, enshrined, and fought over by devotees from the Thai provinces of Chiang Rai, Lampang, and Chiang Mai; the Lao cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane; and Thon Buri, then capital of Thailand until it finally found its home in Bangkok. Even today, Cambodia and Laos claim the icon as rightfully theirs. It is said to bring prosperity to its host country, and miracles have been attributed to the image.

The Emerald Buddha’s surroundings have been called “traditional Thai architecture at its finest”, the temple walls filled with paintings of Buddha’s life and the temple doors embedded with mother-of-pearl scenes from the epic Ramakien, the Thai counterpart of India’s Ramayana.

Outside, a terrace leads to three intricately ornamented pagodas. Phra Si Ratana Chedi enshrines a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone. Phra Mondop, on the other hand, is where Buddhist scriptures remain. Statues of kinaree – half-human, half-bird creatures – watch over the Royal Pantheon, which houses sculptures of former monarchs. There is also a model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat onsite.

Visitors are welcome to rub the heads of the elephant statues on the grounds, as this is supposed to bring them good luck. Children are also made to circle the figures thrice to make them strong. There is also a statue of the patron of medicine by the entrance, to which the sick make offerings.

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