virtue through Phra Jinaraj
January 5, 2001
- Pilgrims travelling to this northern province during the New Year festival to
pay homage to Phra Jinaraj hardly had any peace of mind. All along the highway
from Bangkok to Phitsanulok, for a distance of 377 kilometres, they were
distracted by the eyesore posters of Chuan Leekpai and Thaksin Shinawatra.
Both candidates were heading into a full-scale dogfight for the
premiership. The political campaign trail created a worldly parallel to the
journey of religious devotion of the thousands of pilgrims who had Wat Phrasri
Rattana Mahathat as their final destination.
Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahathat is an elegant temple, built during the reign
of Phra Maha Thamma Raja (Phraya Lithai) in 1357. The temple overlooks the Nan
River, which makes its way down south to form - together with the Ping, Wang and
Yom - the Chao Phya River at Pak Nam Pho, Nakhon Sawan.
Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahathat is home to Phra Jinaraj, unquestionably the
Kingdom's most beautiful Buddha image through a perfect combination of size and
proportion. The local people call the temple by its simple name of Wat Yai, or
"Big Temple". They also give Phra Jinaraj a more intimate name of
luang por ("father"). Most Buddha images are called luang por or luang
pu (grandfather) because they do not age generation after generation.
In the local people's consciousness, Phra Jinaraj is always there, giving
moral guidance for courage and virtue. All the Siamese kings, as a royal
tradition, have made a pilgrimage to Phra Jinaraj. You fulfil your devotion as a
Thai Buddhist by paying homage to Phra Jinaraj at least once in your lifetime to
realise the transcendental experience and to appreciate the perfection of
King Naresuan the Great (1590-1605) grew up with Phra Jinaraj, originally
a bronze statue. A prince by birth, he was born and raised in Phitsanulok, then
a northern outpost of Ayutthaya. Phra Jinaraj was definitely his mentor.
Ekathotsarot, his younger brother, was said to have coated Phra Jinaraj with
some of his gold regalia, using his own hands, until the Buddha image shone
totally in gold. The effect is striking, adding to the glamour and the
unworldliness of Phra Jinaraj.
Phra Jinaraj is cast in a posture of the Buddha Subduing the Mara. Legend
has it that the Buddha was sitting under a tree when he was suddenly surrounded
by thousands of heavenly beings. Then came the Mara, or the Devil, with his
army, which aimed to prevail over virtue with vice. But the Buddha's absolute
power conquered the Mara, hence giving rise to one of his most famous postures
in the making of Buddha images. It is also a sign of the victory of virtue over
Inside Wat Yai, hundreds of pilgrims flock to pay tribute to Phra Jinaraj.
There are Buddha amulets of Phra Jinaraj on the front and King Naresuan, Prince
Ekathosarot and Princess Suphan Kalaya on the back. The three siblings are now
immortalised as heroes who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Thai
It was with the guiding spirit of Phra Jinaraj that King Naresuan fought
his victorious wars against the Burmese and other enemies. Opposite the township
of Phitsanulok, there is a shrine dedicated to King Naresuan. His statue is in a
sitting posture and he is pouring lustral water from a golden container to
declare Ayutthaya's independence from the Burmese. In this age, where genuine
heroes cannot be found, it is necessary to go back to King Naresuan as a source
of heroism and an inspiration of courage and virtue.
Having fulfilled their pilgrimage, the thousands of Thais who visited the temple went home to resume their daily lives with the image of Phra Jinaraj and King Naresuan in the forefront of their consciousness. This blessing made the politics of the general election and the politicians undertaking to lead Thailand look absurd and unreal.