Thailand is a must-see for travelers with Asia on their bucket list. The country is filled with a rich ancient history and an exotic natural splendor, and its capital city, Bangkok, is home to many of Thailand’s gems.
One of these gems is the Golden Buddha, or the Pra Buddha Mahasuwan Patimakon. Located in Wat Traimit, a temple in Bangkok, the Golden Buddha is about five and a half tons of solid gold. Pious Buddhists describe this statue as reflecting the true nature of the Buddha, and visitors from all over the world come to marvel at the beauty of this ancient treasure.
The Golden Buddha is an awe-inspiring monument and a must-see for world travelers and adventure seekers. But before you visit, learn about the historical background of the Golden Buddha to truly appreciate its value and miraculous qualities.
The story of the golden statue of Buddha is filled with conquest, disaster and divine mystery. Buddhists believe that this statue, like every image of Buddha, is a living object. If you visit Thailand during cold winter months, you may even catch Thai Buddhists covering statues of Buddha with warm blankets.
A Brief History of Buddhism and the Golden Statue
To fully understand the Golden Buddha story, you need to understand the life of the Buddha himself. Siddhartha Gautama grew up as a prince in a wealthy family in what is now modern-day Nepal between 566 and 480 BC. He led a privileged and sheltered life, but at the age of 29, he was moved by the suffering he saw in the world. He decided to give up his riches for poverty. However, when that didn’t fulfill him and give him the enlightenment he was looking for to end suffering, he opted for what he called the “middle way” — he didn’t give in to indulgences, but he also didn’t deprive himself.
After that, Siddhartha lived as an ascetic. He studied meditation and the works of other religious leaders in an effort to find the truths about life and to end suffering — but they were still eluding him. Finally, one day, as he sat under the Bodhi tree, the truths he sought came to him. It was that day that Siddhartha Gautama became the Gautama Buddha, or “the enlightened one.”
Until his death, he traveled the world teaching about the Four Noble Truths, the path to Enlightenment and the end of all suffering.
The Beginning of the Golden Buddha
Early Buddhists created the Golden Buddha to capture the physical characteristics of the Buddha — “the enlightened one” — and to encourage meditation and reverence of divine power. Buddhists believe that statues created in the image of Buddha are living objects, so the Golden Buddha was created to be worshipped and to remind Buddhists of Siddhartha Gautama. We know from the Ram Khamhaeng stele, the oldest record of Thai script, that the statue was designed between the 13th and 14th centuries, during the Sukhothai Dynasty. However, we are not sure of the exact time the statue was built. The manner in which early Buddhists built the statue also reflects the art that was popular during the Sukhothai Dynasty.
Protected by Burmese Invaders
In the 18th century, the Burmese were notorious for melting the gold of the nations they conquered. In 1767, during the Burmese-Siamese War, the Siamese covered the Golden Buddha with terra-cotta and colored glass to hide its true value. No one would want to steal a simple statue! But the world would not know about the Golden Buddha’s hidden identity for centuries.
The people of Sukhothai had been successful in protecting the Golden Buddha from outside invaders. When the Burmese conquered the Ayutthaya Kingdom, they destroyed most of the prominent temples of the empire. Despite the Burmese melting much of the gold from the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the Golden Buddha remained intact and continues to stand strong today.
The Traveling Golden Statue
In 1782, King Rama I established Bangkok as the new capital city of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, since the Burmese had deconstructed the prominent temples located in Ayutthaya, the previous capital city. Bangkok was also in a more secure area — the Chao Phraya River to the west and the swampy Sea of Mud protected against invaders on all sides.
After declaring Bangkok as the new capital, King Rama I ordered the transportation of all images of Buddha from the ruined temples throughout the kingdom to Bangkok. Residents of the Ayutthaya Kingdom brought the Golden Buddha, still covered in terra-cotta and colored glass, to Bangkok through the Chao Phraya River.
The Golden Buddha spent over 100 years in Wat Chotanaram, the prominent temple of Bangkok. In 1935, the Thai transferred the Golden Buddha to its current home in Wat Traimit. The temple owners kept the statue under a simple tin roof, regarded as a pagoda of minor significance. Since it was still covered in terra-cotta and colored glass, temple worshipers considered the Golden Buddha just as important as the other hundreds of images of Buddha across the country.
At the time, the world still did not know the statue’s true value. If they did, they would have placed the Golden Buddha as the main idol of Wat Traimit. We would not discover the real material of this statue until 20 years later.
The Discovery of the Golden Buddha
Buddhists believe that the creation, preservation and discovery of the Golden Buddha were all signs of its miraculous nature. The people of Thailand share two accounts of what happened to the Golden Buddha to unlock its true beauty in 1955.
In the 1950s, the golden statue needed to move from the simple tin roof to a new Viharn building. The movers used a pulley system with a rope to move this five-and-a-half-ton statue. As the statue neared the pedestal, the rope to the pulley gave out and the golden statue fell to the concrete floor.
The other account of what happened to the golden statue claims that it was raining when the movers transferred it. The statue fell to the ground when the movers tried to place it on the pedestal. In the morning, the rain and mud had washed away the covering, and the true nature of the statue was revealed.
No Damage to the Statue
Amazingly, no matter how the covering came off of the statue, the Golden Buddha did not shatter or become tarnished. The fact that the statue took such a great fall but did not break grabbed the attention of the movers. As they removed the terra cotta and the colored glass from the statue, they realized that it was made of solid gold.
Uncovering the Buddha statue from its protective shell revealed that the statue could split into nine parts. The creators of the Golden Buddha had also inserted a key into the covering so that the idol could be disassembled and transported more easily. Now, the world knows of the power and majesty of the Golden Buddha, as it is on display in the Thai temple of Wat Traimit.
The 25th Buddhist Era
The Golden Buddha’s covering broke off to reveal its true nature at the beginning of the year 2500 of the Buddhist calendar — the 25th Buddhist Era — which started on the day of Gautama’s passing. News reporters and pious Buddhists alike flocked to the Golden Buddha to marvel at its miraculous discovery. Today, the temple is open to the public, so visitors from all over the world can examine the statue and experience this astonishing treasure.
The discovery of the statue’s hidden value demonstrates the miraculous details of its story. Because the gold was uncovered so close to the 25th Buddhist Era, the people of Thailand hold a special reverence for the Golden Buddha. Idols already have significance simply because they are made in the image of the Buddha, but the astounding story behind the Golden Buddha gives Buddhists more reason to respect it.
About the Statue and Its Significance Now
While most Buddha statues are gilded, the Golden Buddha is made from solid gold. The image is one of the most popular statues in Thailand, a sight that you must see when you visit.
Buddhists believe that the Golden Buddha was a work of a divine power because of its astonishing history. The people of the Sukhothai Dynasty were successful in protecting the Golden Buddha from Burmese invaders, who were known to melt golden statues. The Golden Buddha has stood strong despite all efforts to destroy it.
Why the Golden Buddha Is Significant
Due to its glorious history, Golden Buddha encourages Thai Buddhists and visitors to the Wat Traimit temple to rise above overwhelming, difficult circumstances. The characteristics that depict the Buddha in this golden statue reflect his physical, societal and spiritual qualities. Features such as his curved eyebrows, pointed nose and tapering chin all point to the Sukhothai style. The flame above his head symbolizes the power of spiritual energy, and his long ears allude to his previous royal status.
Because of the animate expression of the Buddha in this statue, those who show reverence to Buddha feel as if the statue could talk to them. The Golden Buddha is in the traditional pose of Bhumisparsha Mudra, the Subduing Mara pose, depicting the Buddha touching the earth with his right hand. This pose symbolizes the divine experience he had that allowed him to create the Four Noble Truths and the path to Englightenment.
Buddhism in Thailand
To explore the rich history of Buddhism, Thailand is the best place to visit. Reverent Buddhists in Thailand are eager to explain their culture and to share their history with the world. The treasures of Thailand are waiting for you to come and explore them!
What You Need to Know About Visiting Wat Traimit
Wat Traimit, the temple of the Golden Buddha has been open to the public since February 2010. Outside the temple is a Red Jubilee Gate, which in Chinese and Thai culture symbolizes prosperity under His Majesty the King. When you visit the temple, do not be fooled by its simple outside appearance. Wat Traimit’s exterior is not as beautifully adorned as what is inside the glorious temple.
The Golden Buddha Exhibit in Chinatown
The temple is also open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, except on Mondays. Prices of admission to the temple vary, so as you plan your trip to Thailand, research which packages offer the best plan for you. Tickets will allow you entrance to the Old China Town Museum on the second floor of the temple. As one of the only temples that will allow you to closely approach a statue of Buddha, Wat Traimit is a place you need to visit on your journey!
The Golden Buddha is on the fourth floor of the Wat Traimit, a temple that has become a landmark because of this historic monument. The second floor is home to the Yaowrat Chinatown Heritage Center. As well as information about the Golden Buddha, you can also find information about the history of the Chinese community in Bangkok. The third floor has a museum about how the statue was made, including photos and artifacts of the original statue.
Today, the temple displays pictures of the statue as a way to show future generations how carefully their ancestors had handled the statue. Shattered pieces of the stucco covering are included in a glass case next to the Golden Buddha. The old rope and pulley that dropped the Pra Buddha Mahasuwan Pamitakon are also in the Golden Buddha exhibit.
How to Get to Wat Traimit and Beyond
With over 300 temples to choose from in Bangkok, Wat Traimit is the perfect start or end to your visit. Visitors can access the temple from the gate in Traimit Road or by the main entrance in Charoen Krung Road. The easiest way to get to the temple is to take the subway to the Hua Lamphong Railway station, then walk to the temple.
From this temple, you have easy access to the rest of Chinatown on foot. Consider going on a tour of all the other temples in Bangkok. You may also choose to visit other parts of Bangkok and explore all that the city has to offer.
Before You Visit
If you plan on visiting Wat Traimit, keep in mind that the temple administrators, who have a deep respect for the religious elements of the temple, require that all guests dress in a respectful manner. Men should wear sleeves and pants, and women should wear knee-length skirts or pants. Because you will need to take your shoes off in the temple, make sure you wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Previous travelers to Thailand recommend arriving early to Wat Traimit to avoid tour buses and crowds. Visitors are permitted to take photographs, so bring a camera. You don’t want to miss the exciting sites and the wonder of this historic city, so plan all the necessary details for your trip ahead of time.
Are You Ready for Your Adventure?
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