THE ROYAL CHAPEL, EMERALD BUDDHA, BANGKOK TRAVEL GUIDE

The Royal Chapel, Bangkok Travel Guide

Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) adjoins the Grand Palace and serves as the royal chapel. Unlike the rest of the kingdom's 28.000 wats, no monks live here. Wat Phra Kaeo ranks among the world's great sights: a dazzling, dizzying collection of gilded spires, sparkling pavilions and towering mythological gods, both awesome and delightful.

It is what most foreigners expect to see when they visit Thailand, and it is the single most powerful image they take away when they leave.

The wat deserves at least two visits if possible. The first should be made on a weekday, when the compound is relatively uncrowded and one can inspect its treasures.

Try to make the second visit on a Thai public holiday, when ardent worshipers fill the sanctuary, prostrating themselves on the marble floor before the golden altar. The air is alive with the supplicants' murmured prayers and heavy with the scent of floral offerings and joss-sticks.

Bathed in an eerie green light, high on its pedestal, the small Emerald Buddha looks serenely down on the congregation.


The Emerald Buddha

Wat Phra Kaeo was the first permanent structure to be built in Bangkok. Begun by King Chakri in 1782, in imitation of the royal temple of the Grand Palace in Ayutthaya, it was created to house the 75-cm-high (30-in) and 45-cm-wide (18-in) Jade Emerald Buddha, reportedly found in Chiang Rai in the early 1400s and the most celebrated image in the kingdom.

It was moved around a lot in the subsequent decades, including a 200-year stop in Vientiane. King Chakri retrieved the image during battle and it was placed in the wat in 1784.

Today, the Emerald Buddha sits atop an 11-meter-high (36-ft) glided altar, protected by a nine-tiered umbrella. Crystal ball on the either side represent the sun and the moon. Three times a year, at the beginning of each new season, the king presides over the changing of the Emerald Buddha's robes: a golden, diamond-studded tunic for the hot season; a glided robe flecked with blue for the rainy season; and a robe of enamel-coated solid gold for the cool season.

The walls of the cloister that surround the temple courtyard are painted with murals telling the Ramakien epic, the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic. They were originally painted during the reign of King Rama III (1824-50), but have been restored several times.

The story begins on the left as one walks around the cloister. Epic battles, processions, consultations and other elements from the Ramakien epic crowd the murals, along with depictions of daily life. Marble slabs set in pillars in front of the paintings are inscribed with poems relating each episode of the story.

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