The Emerald Buddha is a 45cm tall green jade image that has become the talisman of the Chakri Dynasty in Thailand. Nowadays it is stored at the Wat Phra Kaew temple within the Bangkok Grand Palace and can be easily visited. Its diminutive size - emphasized by its position high above the temple's floor - hides an intriguing story that seems to be the inspiration for the Indiana Jones adventures.
The statue is kept clothed with gold garments. There are three sets, each one fit for a different one of the three Thai seasons (dry and cold, dry and hot, rainy and hot). The sets can be seen on the statue and in the nearby Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Thai Coins. The clothes are changed by the Thai king himself, but it is rather difficult to get invitations for the event.
Legend says that the image was created around 300BE (Buddhist Era - 43BC), in There Phra Nakasen in Patalibutr (modern Patna), India and then it was moved to Sri Lanka as a protective move due to local wars. From here there are at least two versions explaining its arrival to South East Asia. One claims that King Bhukarm requested it to be returned, but the sampan was hit by a monsoon rain and swept ashore to Cambodia, where it was enshrined first at Inthapath (Angkor Wat), and later at Sri Ayuthaya, Lawo and Kampangpetch respectively. The second version claims it was being shipped to Burma (457AC) together with Buddhist scriptures requested by King Anuruth; again, the sampan ended up in Cambodia.
In 1933BE (1390AC), King Mahabhrom of Chiang Rai took it from Kampangpetch and hided it inside a stuppa. Only in 1977BE (1434AC) it was revealed after the stuppa was split open by a thunderbolt; the jade was thought to be emerald and the image modern name was coined. Mueng Komp, then Governor of Chiang Rai, reported the finding to King Fang Sam Nae of Chiang Mai who sent an elephant procession to bring it to his capital. However, the elephants brought the figurine to Lampang, where it stayed for thirty-two years. Afterwards, in 1468AC, it was finally moved to Chiang Mai, the capital of the Lanna Kingdom.
Eighty-five years later, in 1552AC, Laotian invaders took it from there to Luang Prabang, the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom, and later, in 1564AC, to Vientiane, the new Laotian capital.
When the Thai King Taksin declared war against the Laotians 200 years later, the image was captured and taken to the Thai capital of Thonburi by the general Chakri, who became then Rama I, the founder of the actual Chakri dynasty. From 1779 until 1784 it was kept in Thonburi. Then, the image was moved to the Wat Phra Kaew temple within the Grand Palace of the new capital across the river: Bangkok. Since then it has not been moved.
Following the Force - Traveling on the Emerald Buddha's steps
For centuries, the Emerald Buddha created legends along its torturous path from Sri Lanka to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Finally, it created a perfect themed journey, and under the pretext of following its path it is possible to visit some of the most exciting locations in South East Asia. The spirit of this journey requires an overland trip; however, it is no longer possible to travel among the locations using an elephant.
The different historical locations of the Emerald Buddha can be divided into four different areas. Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Lampang are close to each other in Northern Thailand and the temples hosting the image are easy to identify. The Cambodian locations suffered from the Khmer Rouge regime and from a very long period of decadence; there is no clear information where exactly the talisman was kept in each town. The most complicated part of the trip is if you want to make the way from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang overland. Entering Laos from Vientiane is easier but it is the opposite route to the one taken by the idol. The statue's actual home, Bangkok's Grand Palace, is the easiest to visit and is the suitable start and end point for such a trip.