The temple of the Emerald Buddha is the main Buddhist temple of Thailand. It corresponds, in the spirit, to the Notre-Dame cathedral of Paris or the al-Haram mosque of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, that is to say its importance in the Buddhist world. It houses a statue of Buddha particularly venerated in this country, the famous statue of the Emerald Buddha. In fact, it is jade, but it's a detail.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The temple is not a single building, it is a complex that occupies the entire Northeast area of the Royal Palace in which it is included. To visit the temple of the Emerald Buddha, you must enter the royal palace.
Of course, not all temple buildings have the same value, even if the visitor's gaze is only wondrous when one is on site. The main one is ubosoth, the name that the Thais give to the building that houses the famous Emerald Buddha. It is a magnificent building, rather large and rather high, perched on a stone platform. Just to its north is a terrace also stone largely occupied by the royal pantheon, cross-shaped, the library, square, and Phra Si Ratana Chedi, circular in shape. These four buildings form the largest part of the temple, the others are additions that have arrived here over time. The whole temple is surrounded by a magnificent covered wooden gallery which protects a similarly beautiful fresco telling the Ramakien. The Ramakian is the epic thai, that is to say, the history of the nation. It is by some point similar to Ramayana, the traditional Indian history.
1. The ubosoth
2. Twelve small pavilions
3. Vihân of the Buddha Gandhara
4. Tower of the bell
5. Ho Rachapongsanusorn
6. Phra Pothithat Piman
7. Ho Rachakaramanusorn
8. Figure of a seated hermit
9. Royal Pantheon
10. Two golden stupas
11. Phra Mondop (Library)
12. Phra Si Ratana Chedi
13. Model of Angkor Wat temple
14. Monument of the kings Râma I, II and III
15. Monument of the king Râma IV
16. Monument dof the king Râma V
17. Monument of the kings Râma VI, VII, VIII and IX
18. Ho Phra Monthien Tham (Additional library)
19. Vihân Yod
20. Ho Phra Nak
21. Height prangs
Description of the different buildings
Map N°1 and 2
The ubosoth is the building containing the Emerald Buddha. It is a rectangular building at the entrance made of a wooden double door. Its proportions are consistent with its role, although it may be considered that it may be a little small. On the other hand, its height is impressive, and the ceiling seems all the higher as the back wall accommodates the immense pedestal of the statue, plus the statue itself. So, you have to take a step back to see it.
The building houses a lot of Buddha statues, in addition to the jade ones.
- On either side of the pedestal one can see two statues of Buddhas three meters high, perfectly dressed. They date from the nineteenth century, under the reign of Rama III (1841), and are in bronze covered with gold.
- There is also a small bronze statue of Buddha. She is a gift of Rama IV at the time when he was bonze (1830). It is a statue in meditation that was placed in front of the pedestal of the Emerald Buddha.
- Ten other statues of Buddhas soothing the waves are placed two by two. They are covered with gold and dressed in a royal costume and have been placed on the pedestal. They represent the members of the first three royal families of the current dynasty.
Otherwise, what marks when one is inside the room is the extraordinary decor of the walls. The latter are painted with large frescoes from floor to ceiling and represent significant elements of the Buddhist universe.
On the west wall, the one behind the pedestal, there is the cosmological representation as it is known by the religion of Buddha. We see the three existing worlds: desire, form and lack of form.
One of the twelve pavilions of Ubosoth
The other two walls are painted with events from Buddha's life. On the lower part of the North wall there is a royal procession while in the South, it is a river procession. All these paintings were restored during the reign of Rama III.
The doors of the ubosoth are encrusted with mother-of-pearl according to drawings from the Ayuthya period, the period before Bangkok's becoming a capital. They were made under Rama I. The ubosoth also has twelve bronze lions, they guard the doors, and on the outside the base of the building is guarded by a series of 112 statuettes of monsters half-men, half-birds. They hold in their claws nāgas, they are beings of the Indian mythology that one assimilates with serpents. These statuettes were set up under Rama III.
It is surrounded by a series of beautiful columns designed to support the advance of the quadruple roof made of glazed tiles. The colors are surprising, they are found little outside the temple: A dark green tending to black over the entire surface, its borders are yellow and red and white. The entrance to the building is protected by a succession of interlocking roofs, it is breathtakingly beautiful.
The building was built on a high stone platform and is protected by a stone balustrade as well. In front of the entrance there is, of course, a flight of steps. It is accompanied by twelve small buildings under which the crowd can shelter.
Rules to respect
The ubosoth was the main temple of Thailand, the most revered religious center of the country, one can imagine that there are some rules to respect not to offend the local population. After all, in all the religious buildings there are such rules, whether in a synagogue, a mosque, a church, a Protestant or Buddhist temple, etc.
The main rule, one that must constantly be thought about and never derogate, is that you should never point to anyone, especially Buddha. The feet are considered the impure part of the human body, pointing to someone the Thais believe that "dirty" this person. So face the Emerald Buddha, keep your feet under your buttocks, always. Never lying in front of the statue.
There are other rules to follow, you have them in the "Tourism" section.
Decor at the feet of the temple
When the Burmese hunted from their territories the Thais in the late eighteenth century they fled to the south and founded a new capital: Bangkok. King Rama I, who founded the Chakri Dynasty, took with him the Emerald Buddha and had him build a temple, as was the case previously during his lifetime. He chose a location to the east of his palace, close to him. It is this area that will become the temple of the Emerald Buddha.
But for the moment he is content to build two stone platforms. That of the South is destined to receive the ubosoth that it will build according to the style of the previous Thai dynasty, the kings of Ayutaya.
This building was regularly restored. In the mid-nineteenth century, under Rama III, the twelve small buildings surrounding it were redone. Rama IV went on to restore the roof, which was redone. Interior paints were greatly improved. It is from this period that date the mother-of-pearl decorations of the doors, previously they were only painted. In 1903 the stair steps were completely redone to facilitate access.
Finally two new restoration campaigns took place in the twentieth century, one to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Bangkok, the other for its 200th anniversary.
Vihân of Buddha Gandhara
The Vihân of Buddha Gandhara is a building located east of the ubosth, is ovoid, with a small terrace at the entrance. It is protected by a stone guardrail.
It was built under Rama IV in order to protect the bronze Buddha called "Buddha Gandhara". It is a statue carved under Rama I, representing Buddha in traditional Chinese monk dress and calling the rain with his right hand and receiving it with his left hand. Such a statue needed a small protective building.
The building was restored shortly after its construction under Rama V. He took the opportunity to add a tiled roof, which he did not have yet.
Tower of the bell
The bell tower is a very small building south of the ubosoth. It was built under Rama IV to replace another tower, older. We do not know the reason why the monarch did this work, but we imagine that it was because of the dilapidated building.
Pavilions West of Ubosoth
Map N°5, 6 and 7
On the west side of Ubosoth, between the terrace and the gallery is a small pavilion with two others, one to the north and the other to the south. It houses a prang, that is to say, a kind of tour in a Khmer style, Phra Pothithat Piman (No. 6). The small building just north is called Rachakaramanusorn (No. 7) while the south is Ho Rachapongsanusorn (No. 5)
The Rachakaramanusorn contains 34 small statues of bronze Buddhas in various attitudes, it is a representation of 33 kings of Ayuttya, plus the only king of Tonburi. They were molded in copper and imagined by a monk, Prince Paramanuchit, uncle of Rama III under which his three small buildings were built. Inside there is a fresco painted by Khrua In Khong. She describes the story of Ayuthya.
In the Rachapongsanusorn there are 8 small Buddhas who have different attitudes. They are surmounted by a 5-storey umbrella. The interior walls are covered with frescoes telling the story of Bangkok and Rama I, since the two are related.
The statue of the hermit
West of Ubosoth is a small building housing a strange black stone statue of a hermit. The statue has a high power in terms of local belief: Associated with medicine, she would have healing powers, which explains the parade of people in front of her asking him to heal a loved one. The room is filled with offerings like flowers or fruits. In a more traditional way they burn candles.
The royal pantheon
The royal pantheon is a construction that does not date from the original project, it was built in 1856 under Rama IV. The idea was to make it the new building in charge of sheltering the Emerald Buddha, but as it was built too small for ceremonies, it was left unassigned for a few decades after its construction. He has a Khmer style.
In 1903 the royal pantheon was the victim of a fire due to an electrical problem. It should be known that at that time the electric energy was in full swing, it was replacing the old classical energies, but it was not yet mastered all its dangers. During the fire the roof was ravaged, it was necessary to remake it completely.
Then in 1918 a utility was found at this building. We were under Rama VI. This king had here installed five statues bearing the effigy of the previous kings who were, previously, in the Sivalai pavilion, in the large palace nearby. It is from this time that dates the name "Royal Pantheon", of course.
Moreover this building is opened once a year, in October, on the occasion of a ceremony in memory of the founder of the reigning dynasty, the Chakri: Rama 1st. From our jorus it contains 8 statues.
The stupas east of the Royal Pantheon
Two golden stupas
East of the Royal Pantheon are two golden stupas. They are on the terrace, behind the stone railings. A stupa is the equivalent of an arrow steeple in the Christian world, it is a tall, narrow building rising to the sky. It's just the shape that's different. On the other hand, from a practical point of view, it is not the same thing: Where the bell tower will serve to warn the population (by the bells), the stupa serves as shelter for the ashes of Buddha, of his disciples, or any other death (by extension)
As soon as the temple was built, Rama I built two stupas east of the library. But at the time, there was still no royal pantheon, just the empty terrace. These stupas had deteriorated over time, at least that is probably the reason for their replacement by Rama IV in 1856, during the major renovation of the temple. The new ones were built on the same sites, but in a different style since they were covered with gold. They have not moved since, we can see them as they were done at the time.
The library (Phra Mondop)
The library is one of the few buildings to have been built from the beginning. It is a very pretty little square building surrounded by fine columns. Particularly high, it has the characteristic of being all gold (or at least, golden). Its roof is shaped like stupa, that is to say that it goes in point, by floor, and ends in arrow.
His usual name is "Phra Mondop". Built by Rama I in a Thai style from the Ayutthaya period, its doors are decorated with mother-of-pearl representing Tripitaka signs, a generic term for Buddhist writing, as well as monstrous beings half men-half dragons with heads of snakes. The doors also contain images of Chakris kings.
The library was restored very regularly. King Rama IV made it again in 1856, then Rama VI had the roof redone.
Phra Si Ratana Chedi
The Phra Si Ratana chedi
The Phra Si Ratana Chedi is a beautiful stupa located west of the library, on the terrace. A chedi and a stupa are the same thing, it's just a matter of naming. It is therefore a funerary monument which, if one believes the tradition, shelters the relics of Buddha. It was built by Rama IV in the middle of the 19th century.
He underwent a magnificent embellishment under Rama V (1868-1910) who made the golden mosaic that decorates it (1882)
The model of Angkor Wat
The model of Angkor Vat
Angkor Wat is Cambodia's most sacred shrine. Symbol of this rival people, he was the target of Rama IV who saw it as a way to prove the superiority of the Thai people over their neighbors, but also on the French colonizer who had views on this territory.
Rama IV therefore gave a crazy order: Send his soldiers to Angkor Wat, take the sanctuary militarily, dismount it, and rebuild it in Thailand.
The soldiers were sent there, but could not execute the order. Apart from the infernal complexity of this project, they were gradually eliminated by diseases but especially by the Cambodians who fought as much as possible to get rid of the invaders. Faced with this failure, Rama IV ordered the construction of a stone model, model that was built north of the library, on the terrace. Perfectly visible nowadays, it measures in the 5m side and is presented on a large stone base, not to be flush with the ground.
Map N°14 à 17
All around the library are four small memorial buildings. They are dedicated to the kings of the Chakri dynasty, the reigning dynasty. The one in the North West is dedicated to Rama I, Rama II and Rama III. In the South-East it is that of Rama IV and in the South-West that of Rama V. They were all three built at the same time, under Rama V, but the 4th site remained empty until 1982.
It was in this year that the temple's renovation work was carried out in preparation for Bangkok's bicentennial. We took the opportunity to build the 4th commemorative building, it is dedicated to the kings Rama VI, VII, VIII and IX.
Ho Phra Monthien Tham (Additional library)
Northeast of the temple is a large building that seems quite simple compared to others, but is still very beautiful. This is the Ho Phra Monthien Tham, in other words the additional library (or auxiliary) It was built by Rama I, but suffered a fire in its early years and had to be rebuilt quickly, which was done by his brother.
The Ho Phra Monthien Tham houses Buddhist texts, stored in fine cupboards. The mother-of-pearl doors of the hall were recovered at Wat Borom Buddharam, in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya.
Vihân Yod is this long building located north of the model of Angkor Wat, on an extension of the terrace.
It hosts King Ram Khamhaeng's stone throne.
Ho Phra Nak
The Ho Phra Nak was built by Rama I, but not immediately, it did a few years after the construction of the rest of the temple. Its purpose was to house the image of Buddha Phra Nak who had been saved from Ayutthaya. Nak is a word for an alloy of gold, silver and copper in the Thai language.
The building was replaced under Rama III by another, more modern, around the middle of the 19th century. Subsequently, the image of the Buddha was placed in the Vihân Yod, the building on the terrace, north of the library, but the Thais still call it Ho Phra Nak.
Today it houses the ashes of royalty, except those of kings and queens.
A prang is a Khmer style tower. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha hosts eight prangs on East of the complex. They already existed at the construction of the temple and were restored under Rama III, around the middle of the 19th century.
They still exist nowadays.
The gallery is one of the most beautiful architectural elements of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is clearly a masterpiece that has been restored on several occasions. The gallery itself must be distinguished from the paintings it houses.
The gallery is a long building, with no floor, that winds around the complex. It is open on the inside, so accessible everywhere, at any time, except for some restrictive parts. The open part is equipped with wooden pillars to support the heavy roof of tiles. The whole forms a really very successful speaker. If it was built from the start, it was still not complete since the east and west wings were added under Rama IV. In 1882, in preparation for the centenary of the city of Bangkok the galleries were improved. The king wrote poems telling the story of the Rakakian, texts that were placed on the columns of the gallery to explain what is shown in the picture. These poems were created by the king, princes, officials and monks.
It houses a succession of paintings of great finesse. These paintings tell the Rakakien, it is the history of Thailand. Clearly, the story of the Thai Nation, how was built and developed. It's a story based on Ramayana, the history of India. A priori there are historical similarities between these traditional stories.
What marks the visitor is the high precision of the drawings. There is really a lot of detail that impresses.