The Emerald Buddha
Nearly six hundred years ago, lightning struck a stupa in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, exposing a gold-leaf covered Buddha statue. Believing the image to be made of ordinary stone, the temple’s monks placed it next to other statues in the temple’s sanctuary.
Several months later, the plaster coating the statue chipped off at the nose, revealing a green color beneath. The monks then peeled away the plaster, uncovering a magnificent statue without blemish carved from a single piece of stone. It was immediately christened Phra Kaeo Morakot – Emerald Buddha, and people from around the region flocked to see it.
Shortly after its discovery, the Lannathai ruler of Chiang Mai ordered an elephant procession to bring the Emerald Buddha to that city. But the impertinent pachyderm carrying the statue had a mind of its own and, at a fork in the road, plodded towards Lampang. Repeatedly the mahout attempted to turn the beast towards Chiang Mai, but to no avail. Believing this to be a heavenly sign, the Emerald Buddha was instead interred at a temple at Lampang. It was not until 1468 when it was finally brought to Chiang Mai. There it remained until 1552, when it was brought to Luang Prabang, in what is now Laos. When the Lao king moved his capital to Vientiane in 1564, the Emerald Buddha went with him, staying for over 200 years.
By the eighteenth century, Siam was being ruled King Taksin the Great, who had succeeding in expelling the Burmese invaders who had destroyed the former capital at Ayutthaya. Following this success, he began consolidating the various far-flung portions of the realm. In 1779, Taksin’s top general, Chao Phraya Chakri, captured Vientiane and returned the Emerald Buddha to Siam, where it was installed in the new Thai capital at Thonburi. After he became King Rama I of Thailand, both the capital and Emerald Buddha were moved across the river, to present-day Bangkok. With great ceremony, the Emerald Buddha was installed at Wat Phra Kaew on March 22, 1784, where it remains to this day.
The Emerald Buddha