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Published: December 29th 2017
Willie Wonka had his Golden Ticket. I got to see the Gold Buddha.
In a country that has a plethora of temples and Buddha statues, the “minor temple” Wat Traimit stands out for the gold Buddha ensconced within it. Nobody knows for sure who had the statue made, or exactly when. The style is from the 13th
century, and best guess is that it was installed in the city of Ayutthaya around 1403.
During this time, Thailand and Burma took turns declaring war on each other, and invading each other’s borders. At some point, the gold Buddha was covered in plaster and bits of colored glass, probably to keep it from being stolen by Burmese invaders. The secret of the gold Buddha was kept, and eventually the gold was forgotten.
Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. In 1801, the Thai king ordered that all the Buddha statues from the ruined temples be brought to Bangkok to be installed in new temples. The covered up gold Buddha was one of the rescued statues. It was installed in a temple near Chinatown in Bangkok, but that temple, too, fell into disrepair and was closed. Our travelling
Buddha was then moved to Wat Tramit, a minor temple. The wat didn’t have a building big enough for it, so a tin roof was put up over it.
The Buddha stayed stashed under the tin roof until 1954 when a new viharn (an assembly or lecture hall where Buddha images are displayed) was built at Wat Traimit, and the Buddha statue was moved from under the tin roof to the new hall. Except, this statue was uncharacteristically heavy, and the workers had a hard time lifting the statue from its base. They finally lifted the statue only to have the ropes break, and the statue fell heavily to the ground.
Well! When the statue fell, some of the plaster chipped off, and the underlying gold shone through. Needless to say, work stopped while they figured out what to do next.
After all the plaster was removed, they found that the Buddha was made of solid gold – more than six tons of gold. It could be taken apart into nine pieces so that it could be moved more easily, and a key was found in the base of the statue that allowed the statue to be
taken apart. In 2010 a new, larger building was opened to house the Golden Buddha.
Today, the gold Buddha resides on the uppermost floor of a four story temple. The building itself is rather plain, especially compared with other temples in Bangkok, but the gold stupa at the top of the temple can be seen glittering in the sunshine from several blocks away. By the numbers:
The statue is over 10 feet high and weighs over six tons. The body of the statue is 12 karat gold, the head, from chin to forehead is 18 karat gold, and the hair and topknot – which weighs about forty-five kilograms- is 24 karat gold.
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