RASHMI OBEROI | 3 DECEMBER, 2016
Thailand, The Home of the King Who Was
We visited Thailand in September this year and what was very clear from the start was the love and respect for the royal family that was.
It is a well-known fact that the now late King and Queen devoted themselves to enhancing the quality of life for the Thai people. The Royal Family are a daily presence in the life of Thais. Their official portraits hang in almost every restaurant, house and office. At cinemas, people stand for the royal anthem before films. And each morning and evening, loudspeakers play the national anthem and people in the street are expected to stop and they do.
King Bhumibol’s passing in October this year is an important moment for many Thais, most of whom have known no other monarch. The staunchest royalists revere the monarch with a quasi-religious fervour. The king’s portrait is displayed outside public buildings, and at the entrance to myriad villages. Millions of homes, and almost all hotel rooms, carried a picture of him too.
As Thailand’s constitutional monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, spent much of the past seven years living in an infirmary in the royal heart of the capital, Bangkok.
The death of Thailand’s beloved king slammed the country to a near-halt on the 13th of October, sending the stock market reeling and thrusting Thailand into deeper political turmoil as citizens contemplated the loss of the world’s longest-ruling monarch. Bhumibol, who ruled for 70 years, served as a unifying figure in a country staggered by coups and political turbulence.
Since the mourning period has begun, Thais have been wearing dark colours, websites have turned black and white, and television channels have been switched to royal broadcasts. Though the country is plunged into a mourning period for a year, Thailand is unlikely to face any immediate disruption or political upheaval.
Although the government made clear that visitors should continue their travel plans as normal: as long as they tried to dress and act respectfully, bars and restaurants have since been closed, loud music avoided and alcohol sometimes difficult to come by. All of this has put a damper on one of the world's most sought-after party spots.
I guess we were fortunate enough to be there in September and experience the popular holiday destination in all its gaiety.
When we speak of royalty and Bangkok, naturally The Grand Palace first comes to mind. If there is one must-see sight that no visit to Bangkok would be complete without, it is the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace, undoubtedly the city's most famous landmark. Built in 1782 - and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government - the Grand Palace of Bangkok is a grand old dame indeed, that continues to have visitors in awe with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail, all of which is a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
This is the most famous place that is a must for all tourists. It is a large compound located near Sanam Luang in the very heart of Bangkok. The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were built after King Rama I ascended the throne as the founder of the Chakri Dynasty on 6 April 1782 and have undergone several repairs and renovations.
The Grand Palace consists of several buildings with different styles of architecture. Wat Phra Kaeo is renowned as the most beautiful and important Buddhist temple in Thailand. It houses Phra Kaeo Morakot (the Emerald Buddha); the most highly revered Buddha image carved from a single block of fine jade.
Scattered in the temple grounds are numerous interesting sculptures of artistic value, including the fanciful animals in mythology, the fierce-looking giants standing guard at the gates, the six pairs of Cambodian-style bronze lions and the stone figures from China.
On the inside walls of the temple's compound, there are extensive mural paintings depicting scenes from the famous epic "Ramayana". It is the longest wall painting in the world. A distinctive characteristic of this temple is that there are no monks living in it like other temples.
It is far more opulent than any of the other palaces we have visited with awe inspiring artwork on each of the buildings. For photo lovers, prepare to be patient to get those perfect pictures as there are always massive crowds, and most don't mind blocking your photo. Most of my shots are aerial views as the heads bobbing in and out add as a damper. Before entering the palace, shoulders must be covered and trousers are the norm.
Should you forget or wish to wear some Thai baggy pants, they are sold across the road for 100 Baht. Thailand does temples well. That's an incontrovertible fact. This is the best temple to beat all others.
The sparkle of gold, the delicate artistry and the scale of the opulence will stay with you long after your visit. Add to this, the artistic merit, the mystique attached to the Thai royal family and the turbulent history of the nation and you get a fascinating slice of modern Thailand, a country at a crossroads.
We were therefore very lucky and fortunate to visit the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand at the right time. Of course, no photographs are allowed inside the temple. When you enter the temple, it's peaceful and calm. The positive vibes radiating are soulful. It is absolutely stunning to see the Emerald Buddha in plain sight. The Emerald Buddha (Phra Putta Maha Mani Ratana Patimakorn) is a Buddha image in the meditating position in the style of the Lanna School of the north, dating from the 15th century AD.
Except for the Thai King and now, in his stead, the Crown Prince, no other persons are allowed to touch the statue. The King used to change the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, (Phwinter, and rainy seasons, an important ritual performed to usher good fortune to the country during each season. The temple of Emerald Buddha is beautifully decorated and has a great sense of peace about it.
(Photographs by Rashmi Oberoi)