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The Indian heart of Bangkok's Chinatown

india Updated: Sep 24, 2011 23:26 IST
Renuka Narayanan

His weekend I managed to go visit Yaowarat, the Chinatown of old Bangkok. This historic district is famous for birds' nest soup, banks, old curiosity shops, wooden umbrellas and much more. It's a bustling testimonial to how Chinese immigrants over the last three centuries blended in with the people of Thailand through their hard work and economic acumen. Pride of place in Yaowarat goes to the grand modern Buddhist temple, Phra Maha Mondop, the shrine of the golden Buddha image, 'Phra Buddha Maha Suwanna Patimakorn Wat Traimit Wittayaram'.

It contains a medieval Thai-made artifact that's listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as "sacred object with the highest intrinsic value".

This monumental Golden Buddha weighs 5.5 tons, making it the world's most valuable single sacred object known at present. In the incredible way that treasures lie hidden for centuries, the 13th century Sukhothai-style statue spent ages hidden under layers of plaster. It was apparently covered over when first moved to Bangkok to the Buddhist temple of Wat Phraya Krai and moved again to Wat Traimit in 1935. An accidental crack in 1955 revealed the solid gold original underneath. The three-metre tall statue embodies the great iconic depiction of the Buddha with his hand touching the earth at Bodhgaya in 'bhumisparshana mudra'. It crowns the fourth level of Wat Traimit.

The present clean, imposing modern temple built around the Golden Buddha was made in 2007 through private-public partnership. The Sukhothai style is considered the most beautiful Thai style of portraying the Buddha, according to experts. Lord Buddha's face is compassionately serene and his strong torso radiates strength and nobility.

It was extremely hot this weekend, but having frequently hopped across burning granite temple courtyards in India, I climbed cheerfully enough, though grateful to reach the cool hall atop and a glass of fresh pomegranate juice afterwards helped further.

The people of Chinese origin in Thailand have made a charming museum downstairs that documents their arrival on junks, their community histories and their distinguished and successful members. It honours the typical bamboo pole they carried on their shoulders from which hung baskets of goods (in India that image instantly conjures Shravan Kumar in the Ramayana, carrying his blind parents). Watching the rapt devotees at this spectacular temple, I was struck again by wonderment at how Sakyamuni, who illumines India still in so many ways, is so cherished and precious in the world.

Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture