Wat Phra Kaew

Bangkok, Thailand | C.1784

Photo Credit: Nyonyokecil

Hidden within the old temple complex of the Thai royal family lies an object said to hold awesome powers—even protecting an entire country from disease. Known as the Emerald Buddha, the sacred statue brings great fortune and protection to royals who respect the teachings of Buddha. The emerald icon, however, can be equally powerful in punishment, and a ruler who strays from justice can see their entire kingdom fall apart. 

Legend has it that the grand statue was carved by heavenly sculptors in 44 CE, and has passed through multiple kingdoms in Southeast Asia during its history. While bringing great prosperity to any nation that had the statue in its possession, chronicles also illustrate tales of how quickly the Emerald Buddha could turn against its hosts. One such example is when the king of Angkor in Cambodia decided to put his son’s best friend to death for killing his pet greenfly. Seeing this as an unjust act, the Emerald Buddha brought disease and destruction upon the Angkor kingdom until it was given to another ruler worthy of its sacred powers. One could assume the son wasn’t necessarily pleased with his royal father either. 

Historically, it is believed the emerald wonder was carved in the 15th Century, coming into the possession of the royal family of Thailand in 1782. Building the Wat Phra Kaew complex two years later to house the holy icon, the royals of Thailand would soon call upon its help. A cholera epidemic swept through Thailand in 1820, and recognizing a need for heavenly assistance, King Rama II ordered the Emerald Buddha to be ceremoniously taken out of its seat in the royal temple and be paraded through the communities that had been ravaged by disease. The cholera outbreak would subside within a year. 

No longer used for quelling outbreaks, the Emerald Buddha is still venerated by thousands of pilgrims a year, with the Wat Phra Krew complex considered one of the holiest sites in Thailand. Clothed in monastic robes, the blessed statue waits for the next time it is needed to aid its people—or until a citizen is wrongly harmed. 

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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