Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bangkok 2008: The Royal Palace

The first place we visited was of course the first on every tourist's list: The Grand Palace. This complex of buildings was the hub of Royal and government activity way back in the 18th and 19th century and is also the site of the Wat Phra Kaew which houses the Emerald Buddha.

The palace was built during the reign of King Rama I along the eastern banks of the Chao Phraya river and is enclosed on its inland sides by canals, making it technically an island.

As we entered the Emerald Temple, we were greeted by this 15-foot bronze statue of a Hindu hermit who is credited with inventing Yoga.

It must have been a special religious day, as there were throngs of Buddhist worshippers burning joss sticks and kneeling in prayer everywhere in the temple complex.

Its quite easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the gaudy towers that attack your senses with their golden walls and intricate designs especially on the red tiled roofs and domes that rise high up to pierce the blue sky.

It was a very sunny day... a bit too sunny for my liking. So we were only too glad to seek shelter in this cool corridor that seemed deserted for all of five minutes before a group of really loud Chinese tourists decided they too had enough of the Bangkok sun and happily muscled their way in.

All throughout the temple are statues that depict various Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese deities, emplyed to either ward off evil, scare off would-be enemies and protect the monks as well as the Royal family.

Perhaps the most eye-popping temple is the Phra Sri Ratana Chedi which is completely covered in gold mirrored tiles. According to the guide, this temple houses a piece of the Buddha's breastbone.

There were so many shrines built, all so beautifully crafted in gold, it was like bathing in a sea of yellow everywhere I looked.

Here's a familiar sight - a miniature replica of the Angkor Wat. Actually Angkor Wat sits on land once part of the Siam empire until it fell into Khmer hands. In fact, Siem Reap, the town beside the Angkor temples means 'Siamese Defeat'.

This five headed serpent is the Siamese version of the Naga, employed to guard the entrance of the temple... were these 'demons', or yaksas which are more Hindu than Buddhist, but nonetheless adds an otherworldly charm to an already exotic landscape.

This is a kinnorn (kinnari) which is a mythological creature that is half human and half bird (and all babe!) that is derived from Buddhist and Hindu mythology and mentioned in various ancient texts like the Mahabhrata and Lotus Sutra.

I think these people were all crowded in the main temple area as much for the prayers as for the cool shade. Bangkok sun is brutal and the fact that it had rained a little earlier on made it even more stiflingly humid.

The Royal Pantheon houses life-sized statues of the Chakri kings, which is unfortunately only open one day a year to visitors , on Chakri Day, April 6th. And since my watch showed it wasn't April 6th, I had to be satisfied with just gawking at the multicoloured walls and contrasting red and green tiles that make up the gigantic roof structure.

Ah... there's nothing like a brief respite in a shady courtyard with the majestic multihued chedis as a backdrop. Why, the monotone of the monks' chants almost lulled me to sleep.

Then I found out it wasn't the monks but groups of schoolgirls, taking turns to recite from a prayer book!

Alas, it was time to head out from whence we came. But not before bidding adieu to a pair of dedicated Royal guards who were all gallant and yet stern whilst performing the changing of the guards ceremony.


OogaBooga said...

yea... beautiful place...awesome temples...damn heat! overpriced "tourist" charges...agagag...

BurungBelatuk said...

Hi,what a nice picture n place...