Statues of the Buddha
Bangkok’s numerous Buddhist temples house some splendid statues of the Buddha that are widely admired for their high artistic merits as well as being revered as sacred images by devotees. They may be colossal imposing figures or miniature objects, cast in gold or carved from wood or stone, expressing a moment in the life of the ‘Enlightened One’, or embodying his supreme repose and serenity. The statues are made in accordance with ancient rules that specify certain geometric proportions and denote the appearance of every part of the Buddha’s body to be depicted.

Statues of the Buddha
Wat Pho Temple houses the imposing Reclining Buddha, a figure that is 46 metres long and 15 metres high. The gold-plated statue expresses the sublime moment of the Buddha’s passing into the state of nirvana. Mother-of-pearl decorates the eyes and feet, and the two blue cushions that he rests upon are encrusted with glass mosaics. Because cultural tradition denominates the head as the noblest part of the body, and the feet as the lowliest and most despicable parts; and as the Buddha is understood to have been transformed from a human to a divine state; the beauty of his feet is often emphasised in statues. Here, the soles of the feet display the 108 auspicious characteristics of Siddhartha, as he is also known. These 108 qualities show his spiritual status and express the microcosm within that reflects the macrocosm of the universe. The qualities are represented by symbols including dancers, white elephants, tigers, flowers, and altar accessories. A seven-tiered umbrella over the statue represents the authority of Thailand.

The Emerald Buddha, situated in the Wat Phra Kaew Temple within the grounds of the Grand Palace, is said to have originated in India and to be over 2,000 years old. The 66 cm-high statue is carved from a single block of jade. Only the King of Thailand is allowed to touch the Emerald Buddha, which he does in the ceremony of changing the Buddha’s clothing three times a year marking the change of season (the hot season, the rainy season, and the cool season).
This statue, highly-revered due to its antiquity, sits in the half-lotus position; known as the ‘hero pose’ under a canopy that is set on a high pedestal and decorated with gold leaf. On the head is a round-based, topknot, showing the Buddha’s spiritual status and authority; a gold third eye is inset above the eyebrows, symbolising his mystical insight. Typically, the earlobes are elongated, indicating the figure’s divinity. This depiction shows the Buddha meditating, with hands resting on the lap, and the upward-facing right palm in the palm of the left hand. The jade statue was carved resting upon a platform, which in turn rests on a gold lotus blossom, signifying awakening.

Bangkok also plays host to The Golden Buddha, which is the world’s largest solid gold statue. It is located in the Temple of Wat Traimit, and is thought to have been made in the 13th or 14th centuries. The statue is 3 metres tall and weighs 5.5 tonnes. Here, the Buddha is seated in the traditional pose with his right hand touching the earth as witness to his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The flame that crowns the topknot on the head represents the splendour of spiritual energy emanating from him. The wide shoulders and the full chest inflated, the aquiline nose, and the eyebrows that are ‘arched like a bow’ are, in Buddhist tradition, all signs of a great man; the much elongated ear lobes, indicating his divine character and former status of prince.
Towering over the temple buildings of Wat Intharavihan is the 32-metre-high Luang Pho To statue, one of the tallest in Thailand. Begun in 1867, it took 60 years to build, and is decorated in glass and gold mosaics. The temple held a three-day celebration when the statue was completed, and this festival continues to be held every March.

Facing east to greet the rising sun, this impressive figure holds a traditional alms bowl, showing the monk-like aspect of the Buddha’s character. The topknot contains a bone relic of Buddha, adding to the sanctity of the statue. The Buddha in this form is known as Maitreya, which means ‘Compassionate One’, and also carries the meaning that each person has the potential to realise their innate Buddha nature in their own lifetime.