Wat Phra Kaew and the Ramakien Murals, Bangkok, Thailand
(built by Rama I)

high-definition creative commons photographs from Bangkok, showing the architecture and decoration work on this Royal Temple, together with 150+ photographs of the Ramakien murals, a plan and further relevant information.


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The Buildings

Wat Phra Kaew is located in the historic centre of Bangkok in Phra Nakhon, within the precincts of the Grand Palace. The main building is the central Ubosot, which houses the statue of the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew).

Emerald Buddha photo by Gremel Madolora
Emerald Buddha
photo by Gremel Madolora

The complex has a plethora of buildings and covers an area of around 95 hectares or 234 acres. It has over 100 buildings with 200 years royal history and architectural experimentation linked to it. The architectural style is known as the Rattanakosin or old Bangkok style.

The main temple of the Emerald Buddha is very elegantly decorated and similar to the temple in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The roof is embellished with polished orange and green tiles, the pillars are inlaid in mosaic and the pediments are made of rich marble. Inside the Emerald Buddha is set over an elevated altar surrounded by large gilded decorations. The entrance is guarded by a pair of yakshas, which are 5 metres (16 ft) high.

Overall the temple has retained its original design, however, minor improvements have been effected after its first erection during Rama I's reign; the wood-work of the temple was replaced by King Rama III and King Chulalongkorn; Rama III refurbished the wall painting, which shows the universe according to Buddhist cosmology, and several frescoes that display the various stages of the Buddha's life; three chambers were added on the western side by King Mongkut; and he also added the elegant doors and windows and the copper plates on the floor.

The entire complex is bounded by a compound wall which is one of the most prominent part of the wat, it is about 2 kilometres (6,600 ft) in length. There are twelve salas that were built by Rama I, around the temple. During the reign of King Mongkut, the Phra Gandharara – the small chapel on the southwest corner – and a tall belfry were added.

The Ramakien Murals

Plan of Wat Phra Kaew by Sodacan
Plan of Wat Phra Kaew
by Sodacan (modified)

The Ramakien, which is Thailand's national epic, is derived from the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. A number of versions of the text were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767. Three editions currently exist, one of which was prepared in 1797 under the supervision of King Rama I, who also partly wrote it.

His son, King Rama II, rewrote some parts of his father's version for khon drama. The work has had an important influence on Thai literature, art and drama, with both the khon and nang dramas being derived from it.

The compound walls are decorated in typical Thai mural style, in 178 scenes, starting with the north gate of the temple and illustrate the complete epic story of Ramakien (The Glory of Rama) sequentially, in a clockwise direction covering the entire inner compound wall, and emphasise the values of honesty, faith, and devotion.

While the main story is identical to that of the Ramayana, many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style.

Although Thailand is considered a Theravada Buddhist society, the Hindu mythology latent in the Ramakien serves to provide Thai legends with a creation myth, as well as representations of various spirits which complement beliefs derived from Thai animism.

The Ramayana was first written down, according to tradition, in the forests of India by Valmiki in the fourth century BC. It came to Southeast Asia by means of Tamil Indian traders and scholars who traded with the Khmer kingdoms, such as Funan, Angkor and Srivijaya, with whom the Indians shared close economic and cultural ties.

The oldest recordings of the early Sukhothai kingdom, dating from the thirteenth century, include stories from the Ramayana legends. The history of the legends was told in the shadow theater in a style adopted from Indonesia, in which the characters were portrayed by leather dolls manipulated to cast shadows on a nearby screen while the spectators watched from the other side.

The version recognized today was compiled in the kingdom of Siam under the supervision of King Rama I (1736–1809), and it was also under the reign of Rama I that construction began on the Thai Grand Palace in Bangkok, which includes the grounds of the Wat Phra Kaew, the walls of which are lavishly decorated with paintings representing stories from the epic.

Since its introduction to the Thai people, the Ramakien has become a firm component of the culture. The Ramakien of Rama I is considered one of the masterpieces of Thai literature. It is still read, and is taught in the country's schools.

Text adapted from this Wikipedia page and and this one (retrieved, January 27th 2012)


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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