Our tour of The Grand Palace was absolutely breathtaking. One of our coordinators from the CIEE program and a new teacher participating in this orientation both teach at the Grand Palace. They will be teaching under much stricter conditions than I will be due to the fact that they are teaching students who have some relationship to royalty or who are members of the highest class!
CIEE arranged a wonderful tour guide for us. I loved getting to hear her explanations about how the palace’s history relates to Hindu mythology and Buddhism. Through my yoga teacher training, I had the opportunity to study both. Though I only have basic knowledge, it was fascinating to learn more and to be able to recognize mythology that I have already learned.
One of the most interesting things during our tour was seeing the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is the most famous statue of a Buddha in all of Thailand. Interestingly, it’s also one of the smallest – it stands only about 26 inches tall. Throughout the different seasons of the year, the Emerald Buddha is dressed in different gold clothing. The Buddha sits on top of an enormous gold pyramid-like structure – all made of real, solid gold. We were only allowed to photograph from the doors, so the shots of it you see below do not come close to capturing the beauty.
We were told that many Buddhists travel hundreds of miles to come see the Emerald Buddha and meditate/pray in its presence. This might be compared to a Jewish birthright trip to Israel. There was a special section roped off in front of the structure only for Thai or Buddhists to pray.
What I found to be most peculiar is that the Emerald Buddha is actually not made of emerald, but of solid Jade. It’s curious to me that they refer to it as emerald, because in the Eastern part of the world, Jade is one of the most highly regarded gems and is also much pricier. For example, in China, many women only accept a jade bracelet as a sign of marriage engagement rather than a ring. The name “Emerald” was only given to the Buddha due to its widely recognized green color.
We were told that this palace was built in the 1780s. I thought it was fascinating to imagine what was happening comparatively in the United States at this time. This palace was built when the reigning king at the time decided to move the country’s capital city to Bangkok – from the city of Thonburi on the west side of the Chao Phraya river. When we asked our tour guide why the king decided to do this, she simply replied, “Because he wanted to.” Apparently, the country’s slaves were all forced to build this palace painstakingly, one tile at a time.
Finally, in the first fifth and sixth photos below you will see a large, solid gold structure. Our tour guide said that this is the tomb in which Siddhartha, the Buddha, remains. Like I said, as someone who has studied this philosophy closely, this was a surreal moment for me. What a beautiful day this was – Grand, indeed!