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LEXICON

 

 

Emerald Buddha

Name of a 66 centimeter tall, dark green, jade-like, jasper Buddha image with a lap span of 48 centimeter, housed in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and regarded as the palladium or guardian spirit of the kingdom. It is considered Thailand's greatest art treasure and enjoys national veneration. According to the seasons (fig.) it is dressed in different attires (fig.) put on by the king himself, or a high official representative, e.g. the crown prince. The statue was accidentally discovered when in 1434 AD the octagonal chedi of a temple in Chiang Rai was destroyed by lightening, thus revealing the statue. King Sam Fang Kaen of Lan Na wanted to bring the statue to the capital Chiang Mai, but the elephant carrying it insisted on going to Lampang instead, and after three separate attempts with the same outcome, this was seen as an auspicious sign and the Emerald Buddha was taken to Lampang instead, where it remained for 32 years, until 1468, when it was taken to Chiang Mai by king Thilokarat and housed in Wat Chedi Luang. When in 1545 Ket Klao, the king of Chiang Mai was assassinated, he was briefly succeeded by queen Chiraprapha, who was in 1546 replaced by prince Setthathirat, the young crown prince of Luang Prabang and son of King Photisarath, the ruler of the Kingdom of Lan Chang. But when 13 months later his father died, King Setthathirat decided to return to Laos to succeed the throne of his father and rule Chiang Mai from there, taking the Emerald Buddha with him (fig.). In 1564, he moved the statue to the new capital Vientiane, where it stayed until after the conquest of Vientiane in 1778 AD, when it was brought to Thonburi by general Chao Phraya Chakri and initially placed in Wat Arun, before being moved to its present location in Wat Phra Kaew, in Bangkok. Another tradition has it that the Buddhist sage Nagasena (fig.) made the Emerald Buddha, allegedly the first representation of the Buddha. According to this legend, the Emerald Buddha would have been created in India in the first century BC by Nagasena in the city of Pataliputra, present-day Patna. After remaining there for three hundred years, it was taken to Ceylon to save it from a civil war. In order to support Buddhism in his country King Anuruth of Burma in 457 sent a mission to Ceylon to ask for Buddhist scriptures and the Emerald Buddha. His request was granted, but the ship with the statue lost its way in a storm and ended up in Cambodia, where it was taken to Angkor Wat. When the Siamese conquered Angkor Wat, the Emerald Buddha was taken to Ayutthaya and later to Kamphaeng Phet, then to Laos and finally to Chiang Rai, where the ruler of the city placed it in a chedi. However, besides being depicted as one of the 18 arahats, the sage Nagasena is not known through sources other than the Milinda Panha and this legend. Wat Phreah Keo in Phnom Penh houses the Khmer version of the Emerald Buddha (fig.).