Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

While in Bangkok one should make a point of visiting The Grand Palace, a magnificent and expansive collection of structures comprised of Thai pagodas, palaces, halls of government and beautifully adorned houses of Buddhist worship. Visiting the palace is not a passive suggestion made by our Thai friends.  I've learned that Thai culture is rich with superstition and it is believed that you will encounter years of bad luck if you pass through Bangkok without paying your respects at the palace.  Being one not to tempt fate, particularly during my first trip to Southeast Asia, I passed through to honor this timely Thai tradition.

The Grand Palace lies on the east coast of the Chao Phraya River. Built over the course of three years - 1782 to 1785, King Rama I desired it to serve as a hall of government, a residence for Thai royalty and perhaps most importantly, a vast and protected center for worship.  

Today the palace is still in use; principally for ritual purposes performed by the King such as symbolic water celebrations during the Thai New Year, coronations, royal funerals, marriages and state banquets. It is no longer the center for government nor is it the main residence for the royal family.  King Rama IX transferred their main residence to the Chitralanda Palace in 1945 after a mysterious death inside the palace walls.
One of the most impressive structures within the Palace walls was the Phra Sri Ratana Chedi.  This site of worship is covered from top to bottom in minuscule hand-layed tiles of 14 karat gold. Only the King may enter this site and specifically to pay his respects to Lord Buddha himself. 

While taking the time to walk through the palace grounds we noticed many families coming to the palace to pay their respects to Lord Buddha and give him offerings in the form of lotus flowers and orchid garlands.  When making an offering to Lord Buddha one enters a palace shrine (after removing one's shoes) and sits with one's feet pointed away from Lord Buddha and places ones offering on a dish specifically there for that purpose.  Photographs were not allowed but experiencing this offering ritual first hand was particularly moving. The meditative quality to the entire palace grounds is something that I recommend experiencing as it stays with you even after you leave.

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