The Emerald Buddha, housed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, is an important symbol of the Thai nation. Wat Phra Kaew, freighted with symbolic significance as it is, is said to have been the first permanent structure built in Bangkok by Rama I in 1782. Before the Emerald Buddha came to live in Wat Phra Kaew it was kept for a short time in Wat Arun.

The Emerald Buddha is generally regarded by the Thai as the most sacred of all Buddha images. Legend has it that the Emerald Buddha was discovered in 1436 when the plaster covering was damaged, revealing the splendid image beneath. It's not really made from emerald; it's carved from a solid block of jasper or jade. Its existence in the capital is believed to guarantee the kingdom's independence and prosperity. Imagine the consternation, then, when it was taken to Vientiane, Laos, from Ayuthaya in the mid 16th century. One reason why Chao Phraya Chakri had such cachet, I suspect, is that when he was military commander under Taksin in the late 18th century, he conquered most of what is today Laos and is said to have triumphantly returned the Emerald Buddha to the then capital, Thonburi. Chakri later became Rama I.

As king, Rama I had two robes made for the Emerald Buddha, a golden diamond-studied tunic for the hot season and a gilded robe flecked with blue for the rainy season. Later Rama III added a robe of enamel-coated solid gold for the cool season. The robes are ceremoniously changed by the King himself at the start of each season.

All this is very interesting, but I would be remiss if I didn't warn you that the image itself is tiny and sits high up on a dias inside a glass case, so it's very difficult to see. Many other attractions in the Grand Palace are more accessible and visible than the Emerald Buddha itself.

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