Buddhist Art in Thailand: Bangkok's Main Buddhist Temples
Buddhist Temple of "Wat Pho"
The Three Main Buddhist Temples of Bangkok: Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho & Wat Arun
On an international scale, Thailand has probably distinguished itself more in traditional religious sculpture than in any other form of art. Its most famous sculptural output has been its bronze Buddha images, appreciated around the world for their originality and grace; nevertheless, Thailand has produced a vast array of intricate, meticulously ornate religious architecture and sculptures that are just as admirable, and even more beautiful than the well renowned sculpted Buddhas.
This article presents in detail the three most impressive and beautiful Buddhist Temples of Bangkok, "Wat Phra Kaew", "Wat Pho" and "Wat Arun", portraying its rich and unique architecture, as well as the multiple creative decorations within them: sculptures in different materials such as stone, gold leaf and mosaic; colorful paintings of ancient epic stories with surprising golden highlights; tapestry with golden applications, lovely gardens, and oriental designs that can't help but captivate even the more difficult to please aesthetic mind.
Buddhist Art: Architecture & SculptureClick thumbnail to view full-size
Buddhist Art in "Wat Phra Kaew" Temple
Wat Phra Kaew is one of the three main Buddhist Temples in Bangkok: it has mesmerizing artistic religious architecture, sculptures, paintings and gardens, and is one of the most majestic and divinely designed sights to visit in Bangkok.
Wat Phra Kaew is also known as the temple of the "Emerald Buddha", which is one of Thailand’s most famous and highly revered Buddha images. The Emerald Buddha is located in the main chapel of the Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Complex. It is actually not made from emerald, but from jasper, a green, shiny translucent semiprecious stone resembling emerald.
The Emerald Buddha has been coveted by neighboring countries such as Laos, which national forces seized it at one point and took it to Luang Prabang; fortunately for Thai devotees, it was recapture and is now an icon of national pride.
The Emerald Buddha is heavily guarded and can be visited from a distance, following strict etiquette rules. Photography is not allowed within its housing temple and thus, no photo of the Emerald Buddha is shown in this article.
Wat Phra Kaew's Unique Decorative Style
The different buildings within the Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Complex give example of the multiple decorative styles developed by Thais throughout history; all of them showcase the importance of religion in Thai culture, as well as their high regard for Buddha.
The detail with which each temple is decorated, from rooftops to bottom, from the outside walls to the interior, is very impressive; every little piece of the entire structures is thought about and included in the artists work; a lot of effort must have been put into this Buddhist Temple to make it what it is today.
Images say more than a thousand words so please go ahead and review the pictures I have included.
Buddhist Art's Beautiful DetailsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Buddhist Art PaintingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lining the inside walls of the temple complex are recently restored murals of the "Ramakian", name given to the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic stories. Originally painted in 1782-1809, these murals illustrate the entire Ramakian in clockwise order.
Within the same grounds of Wat Phra Kaew is Bangkok’s Grand Palace, which used to be the royal residence. Today, it is used by the king in certain official ceremonial occasions. The interior is usually closed to the public, but the external beauty of the palace is worth the visit.
Buddha Sculptures & Images
Thai Buddha sculptures depict the image of Buddha in different postures, according to the period in Buddha’s life they are aiming to represent:
- Reclining Buddha: exact moment of Buddha’s enlightenment and death.
- Sitting Buddha: Buddha teaching or meditating; if the right hand is pointed towards the earth, Buddha is shown subduing the demons of desire; if the hands are folded in the lap, Buddha is turning the wheel of law.
- Standing Buddha: Buddha granting blessings or taming evil forces.
- Walking Buddha: Buddha after his return to earth from heaven.
Buddhist Art in "Wat Pho" Temple
Dating from the 16th century, Wat Pho is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It is a big complex that comprises several buildings, including temples, chapels, stupas and schools.
The main temple of the complex houses the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand: a 46m long by 15m high (151ft long by 49ft high) Buddha sculpture, finished in gold leaf.
The reclining Buddha position of this sculpture symbolizes the passing of Buddha into final Nirvana. The Buddha's soles display 108 different auspicious characteristics of Buddha, called "láksànà", represented by spiraling circles, and pursuit by all Buddhist followers (see picture below).
Thailand’s Largest Reclining Buddha Sculpture
Buddhist Art in Wat Pho: Sculpture, Paintings & DesignClick thumbnail to view full-size
As is the case with Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho has beautiful images everywhere you look. The precise detail with which each element of Thais' religious structure and beliefs is represented, has no equal and is quite flabbergasting. Every art expression is present in this enchanting place and makes a huge contrast with the most humble and simple-hearted monks that lurk around.
One of my favorite designs in the Wat Pho complex is the flowered mosaic lamp-posts that illuminate the area, even illumination was thought of in a detailed, artistic, worth of the god way (see pictures on the right and below for reference).
Wat Pho also has the biggest collection of Buddha images in the country, and is the national center and school for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including world known Thai massage techniques. The Wat Pho Thai Massage School is a respected learning center that offers courses in both general Thai massage and foot massage.
Buddhist Art & Design + Peaceful SurroundingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Wat Arun by the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
Buddhist Art in "Wat Arun" Temple
Wat Arun is a striking temple located at the shore of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River that crosses the city of Bangkok. It is named after the Indian god of dawn "Aruna" and has obviously Indian, but also Khmer cultural influences. Wat Arun has an imposing 82m (269ft) long stupa, covered by a mosaic of porcelain tiles brought by Chinese merchants, and left behind in one of their trips.
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