Officially titled “Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon”, The Golden Buddha is a gold statue, with a weight of 5.5 tons (5,500 kilograms), located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand.The origins of this statue are uncertain.
It is made in the Sukhothai Dynasty style of the 13th-14th centuries, though it could have been made after that time. The head of the statue is egg-shaped, which indicates its origin in the Sukothai period.
Given that Sukothai art had Indian influences and metal figures of the Buddha made in India used to be taken to various countries for installation, this suggests the Golden Buddha statue may have been cast in parts in India.Later, the statue was probably moved from Sukhothai to Ayutthaya, about 1403.
Some scholars believe the statue is mentioned in the somewhat controversial Ram Khamhaeng stele. In lines 23-27 of the first stone slab of the stele, “a gold Buddha image” is mentioned as being located “in the middle of Sukhothai City,” interpreted as being a reference to the Wat Traimit Golden Buddha.
At some point, the statue was completely plastered over to prevent it from being stolen. The statue was covered with a thick layer of stucco, which was painted and inlaid with bits of coloured glass.
It is believed that this plastering over took place before the destruction of Ayutthaya kingdom by Burmese invaders in 1767. The statue remained among the ruins of Ayutthaya without attracting much attention.
In 1801, Thai King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I), after establishing Bangkok as a new capital city of the Kingdom, and after commissioning the construction of many temples in Bangkok, ordered that various old Buddha images should be brought to Bangkok from the ruined temples around the country.
At the time of King Rama III (1824-1851), the statue, still covered with stucco, was installed as the principal Buddha image in the main temple building of Wat Chotanaram in Bangkok.
In 1954, a new Viharn building was built at the temple to house the statue.
It was being moved to its new location on 25 May 1955 and there are a variety of accounts of what exactly happened next, but it is clear that during the final attempt to lift the statue from its pedestal, the ropes broke, and the statue fell hard on the ground. At that moment, some of the plaster coating chipped off, allowing the gold surface underneath to be seen. Work was immediately stopped so that an evaluation could be made.
All the plaster was carefully removed and during the process, photos were taken, and are now displayed in the Temple for visitors. Pieces of the actual plaster are also on public display.
When all the plaster was removed, it was found that the gold statue actually consisted of nine parts that fit smoothly together. A key was also found encased in plaster at its base, which can be used to disassemble the statue, allowing for easier transportation.
The golden statue was discovered very close to the commemoration of the twenty-fifth Buddhist Era (2500 years since Gautama Buddha’s passing) so the Thai news media was full of reports and many Buddhists regarded the occurrence as miraculous.
The Buddha is represented in the traditional pose of Bhumisparsha Mudra (touching the earth with the right hand to witness Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment at Bodh Gaya). The original statues of Sukhothai sit on a common pedestal form.
The flame that crowns the ushnisha is an innovation of Sukhothai that symbolises the splendour of spiritual energy. The line of the hairdressing forms a “V” shape in the root of the hairs, underlined by the elegant curve of the eyebrows that join above the aquiline nose, all according to the prescribed rules.
The three wrinkles in the neck and the much elongated ear lobes, signs of his former status of prince, also form part of the code, as do the wide shoulders and the chest inflated.