Trip to Grand Palace
A walk of almost a kilometer in Bangkok heat and humidity is, by no means, a pleasant experience. However the breathtaking vista of the Grand Palace, made the walk worthwhile. The complex (a huge one, at over 200, 000 square meters!), while not housing the Kings any more, still remains the seat of power and spiritual heart of Thai Kingdom.
Grand Palace – View from River
A walk through the entrance led me to the outer course area, which housed important Government offices like Civil Administration, Army, and Treasury (even the mint was operational within these compounds), in which the King was directly involved. History is always interesting, and the one of Grand Palace is no different! The making of the Grand Palace coincides with the event of the Chakri Dynasty wresting control of the crown from King Taksin, whose capital was in Thonburi (just across the Chao Phraya river). King Rama 1 (of Chakri dynasty) wanted a capital of his own, and hence decided to shift from Thonburi to Bangkok. As was the practice on those days, the Capitals needed to be fortified, and canals were instrumental in providing protection. Hence, the Capital City was almost turned into an Island by digging canals, and the Island was given the name “Rattanakosin”.
The Chakri Mahal
Apparently, the war had exhausted all resources, and the King was severely short of funds. Hence, the initial structures were built out of wood. Later on, the King ordered that the materials be brought from the old capital of Ayutthaya, which was destroyed in an earlier war. Hence the Old capital buildings (forts and walls) of Ayutthaya were dismantled, and bricks and other materials were ferried down the Chao Phraya in barges. For the next few years, the wooden structures in the new capital were replaced by new buildings, built with the materials brought over from Ayutthaya.
Grand Palace – Truly Regal
The Grand Palace is divided in 4 courts, not all of which were accessible to us, Tourists. In addition to the Outer court, which I already spoke about, there is a middle court, which used to be the residence of the King along with other halls to conduct state business. Then, there is inner court, which used to house the females and children, which, in spite of not having any occupancy, is strictly out of bounds for visitors.
The last section was the renowned Temple of Emerald Buddha (also called Wat Phra Kaew). I learnt that it was not really a temple in true sense, but rather a chapel for royal congregation. As was the norm for temples, it did not have living quarters for Monks! The statue of emerald Buddha itself has a very interesting history! Its emergence is traced back to 1434, when a lightning struck a Stupa revealing a Buddha covered in stucco. The priest, who had kept the statue with him noticed that stucco had been flaked off from the nose, revealing green interior. Once the whole stucco was removed, Buddha made of emerald surfaced! The reigning King wanted the statue in his capital in Chiang Mai. However, the Elephant carrying the statue insisted on going, instead, to Lampang, which was accepted as a divine message. Since then, it moved around quite a bit, depending on the Kings at those particular times, until the Chakri Dynasty ruled, and King Rama 1 brought it over to its current abode in the Grand Palace.
As per some other sources, the origin of Emerald Buddha goes back even earlier and traced to India, Patna (Pataliputra) to be precise! A saint called Nagasena is attributed the credit of making the statue with the help of God Vishnu and God Indra in 43 BC, and even predicted the emergence of Buddhism as a major religion. It stayed in Pataliputra for 300 years, before being taken to Sri Lanka to save it from a Civil war. It made its way to Angkor Vat, from where, it was Ayutthaya and finally to Chiang Rai, from where, it was found in 1434. Interesting indeed, is it not?
Guards at Emerald Buddha Temple
Another interesting piece of information regarding the Emerald Buddha is, it has seasonal attires. Rama-1 made 1 for the summer, and another for the Rainy season, while Rama 3 made one for the winters. All these costumes are made of Gold, and are changed through ceremonies by either the King or someone from the Royal family. In alignment with current times, the original gold dresses and been kept in the adjoining museum
By this time, I was all drenched, and was feeling dehydrated. On my way back to the Pier, I walked in to “The Deck” for a tired lunch. The place provided an excellent view of the other side of the Chao Phraya, which reminded me that there is another Wat beckoning me, i.e., Wat Arun. After having a quick lunch and plenty of water. From the Pier, I took a boat to cross the river to reach Wat Arun, the temple of dawn.
Lunch at Deck
Wat Arun’s name itself has India connection. The name is derived from Sun God, Arun. In its good times (at the time of Taksin’s rule, when the capital was on this side of the river, at Thonburi), it housed the Emerald Buddha, before it was shifted to Grand Palace, once the Chakri Dynasty came into power. As it was initially considered as a place closer to Enemy’s heart, in the initial years, it lay neglected during the Chakri Dynasty rule. However, King Rama V took it upon himself to restore Wat Arun to it glory.
Wat Arun – From the Boat
The main feature of Wat Arun is it’s central tower (called “prang” in Thai), which is encrusted with colourful porcelain. This tower has a seven pronged trident, which, as per different sources, is also referred to as the Trident of Shiva! Another India connection! J Another interesting feature found on the second terrace are four statues of Indra on his horse Erawan. This just goes on to prove that there was a very strong influence of Hinduism in Thaland! Next to the tower is a hall, considered to be used for ordination. This hall has a Buddha image (called Niramitr Buddha), which is supposed to have been designed by King Rama II.
Had to do a lot of climbing on the towers, which sapped whatever energy I had left in me. The temple closing time was approaching as well. Hence, I dragged my tired feet back to the Pier to take a boat to the other side of the river.
The Climb and descent on the Prangs
This concludes the story of my first trip to Bangkok. Hope you enjoyed it.