One of the things that has been important to me in our travels is in getting a deeper understanding of Buddhism and its history in SE Asia. I’ve been traveling in SE Asia since the mid-1980s, and yet I always find new information, new perspectives from my travels. I remember how wowed I was on my first trip to Thailand, visiting the gilded temples in Bangkok. With each new trip, I feel like I gain more of the puzzle pieces.
I call this post “Wandering Buddha Images because I am interested and fascinated by how valuable these Buddha images in India and Southeast Asia were to people and especially royalty. The Emerald Buddha and the Mahamuni Buddha feature here.
Emerald Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand
The Emerald Buddha, a jade Buddha statue, is currently located in Wat Phra Keo (or Temple of the Emerald Buddha) inside the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok. It is considered the most holy Buddha image in Thailand. While its origins are obscure, it was likely carved in India or Sri Lanka. The Chronicles, (a written history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka) state that the statue was moved from its home in India to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka to keep it out of the hands of invaders. It may have gone from there to Burma as part of the cross-fertilization of Budddhist thought between Sri Lanka and Burma. The story says that it was gifted to a King of Angkor, spent time in Vietianne, and Luang Prabang, Laos and Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya in Thailand before being settled into its current home in Wat Phra Keo in Bangkok.
Mahamuni Buddha, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
The Buddha image I want to write about here is the Mahamuni Buddha, currently located in Mandalay, Myanmar. While this image is less well-known to Westerners than the Emerald Buddha, it is considered one of the most important and revered Buddha images. The Mahamuni Buddha, by tradition, is considered to be an actual contemporary representation of the historical Buddha, one of only 8. Its first home was near present-day Mrauk U, in the Mahamuni Paya about 35 miles from Mrauk U.
If you visit Mrauk U now, you can see a replica of the image in a temple in the city, Shittaung. Some of the first westerners to visit Mrauk U were impressed by the massive walls of the the payas, and thought they must be forts. I guess, in a sense they were, as they were built both to house this precious Buddha image and to protect it from invaders. The image was taken as the spoils of war by the Barmars and transported to Mandalay, where it resides today. If you visit this temple in Mandalay, you will also see six large bronze Khmer statues that were taken from the temples of Angkor by the Rakhing and were brought to Mandalay at the same time the Mahamuni Buddha was brought to Mandalay.
The trips I enjoy most are those where I came home feeling like I really learned something. To learn more about travel to Burma/Myanmar, please visit my Fodor’s Asia board trip report.