The Emerald Buddha (Thai พระแก้วมรกต — Phra Kaew Morakot, or official name พระพุทธมหามณีรัตนปฏิมากร — Phra Bhuddha Maha Mani Ratana Patimakorn) is the palladium of the Kingdom of Thailand, a figurine of the sitting Buddha, made of green jade (rather than emerald), clothed in gold, and about 45 cm tall. It is kept in the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
According to legend, the Emerald Buddha was created in India in 43 BCE by Nagasena in the city of Pataliputra (today Patna). The legends state that after remaining in Pataliputra for three hundred years, it was taken to Sri Lanka to save it from a civil war. In 457 King Anuruth of Burma sent a mission to Ceylon to ask for a Buddhist scriptures and the Emerald Buddha, in order to support Buddhism in his country. These requests were granted, but the ship lost its way in a storm during the return voyage and landed in Cambodia. When the Thais captured Angkor Wat, the Emerald Buddha went to Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet, Laos and finally Chiang Rai, where the ruler of the city hid it. However, some art historians describe the Emerald Buddha as belonging to the Chiang Saen Style of the 15th Century CE, which would mean it is actually of Lannathai origin.
Historical sources indicate that the statue surfaced in northern Thailand in the Lannathai kingdom in 1434. One account of its discovery tells that lightning struck a pagoda in a temple in Chiang Rai, after which something became visible beneath the stucco. The Emerald Buddha was dug out and the people thought the figurine was made of emerald, hence its name. King Sam Fang Kaen of Lannathai wanted it in his capital, Chiang Mai, but the elephant carrying it insisted, on three seperate occasions, on going instead to Lampang. This was taken as a divine sign and the Emerald Buddha stayed in Lampang until 1468, when it was finally moved to Chiang Mai, where it was kept at Wat Chedi Luang.
The Emerald Buddha remained in Chiang Mai until 1552, when it was taken to Luang Phrabang, then the capital of Laos. Some years earlier, the Laotian crown prince, Setthathirath, had been invited to occupy the vacant throne of Lannathai. However, Prince Setthathirath also became king of Laos when his father, Photisarath, died. He returned home, taking the revered Buddha figure with him. In 1564, King Setthathirath moved it to his new capital at Vientiane.
In 1779, the Thai General Chao Phraya Chakri captured Vientiane and brought the Emerald Buddha back with him to Thonburi. After he became King Rama I of Thailand, he moved the Emerald Buddha with great ceremony to its current home in Wat Phra Kaew on March 22, 1784. It is now kept in the main building of the temple, the Ubosoth.
The Emerald Buddha itself is simply the jade statue, but it is adorned with garments made of gold. There are three different sets of gold clothing, which are changed by the King of Thailand in a ceremony at the changing of the seasons — in 1st Waning of Lunar Month 4, 8 and 12 (around March, July and November). The three sets of gold garments correspond to Thailand’s hot season, rainy season, and cool season. The two sets of gold clothing not in use at any given time are kept on display in the nearby Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Thai Coins on the grounds of the Grand Palace, where the public may view them.