In south-eastern Asia, the word ‘wat’ means a building sacred to the Buddhist religion. These are usually temples. The Wat Phra Kaew is situated on the campus of Bangkok’s Grand Palace. It houses Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist image, the Emerald Buddha.
This image is about 70 cm tall and made of pure jade. It shows the Buddha seated in the meditation position. Both Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho temples are Theravada Buddhist temples. Most Thai people follow this religion. The official name of the Wat Phra Kaew Temple is Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram. In English, it’s called “The Temple of the Emerald Buddha”.
The Construction of the Royal Temple
Construction of the Wat Phra Kaew temple began in 1783. King Rama I, the first Chakri dynasty king, ordered the building. This dynasty still rules Thailand today. In 1784, Rama I installed the statue of the Emerald Buddha when the builders completed their work. The temple is within a walled complex. Since its completion, later kings have added to the temple’s structure. There are many graceful buildings in the complex. The temple is built in Thai, religious architectural style. Each temple building has its own unique character. Mythological statues are everywhere. There are 178 murals depicting the Thai version of the southern Asian epic, the Ramayana.
The Temple in National Life
Unlike Wat Pho Temple, Wat Phra Kaew doesn’t house a monastic community. Monks from outside perform religious ceremonies. People see the temple as Thailand’s national shrine. There’s a good reason for this. It’s the scene of several annual religious ceremonies, significant to national life. As each season changes, there’s a ceremony in which the king changes the Emerald Buddha’s robes. This happens three times during the year. Thai people believe the welfare of their country resides in the Emerald Buddha image.