This post was written by Leila Prasertwaitaya, a library specialist working at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Hidden amongst the Freer | Sackler Library’s much larger collections on East Asian, South Asian and Islamic art is a small gem-like group of books on Thai art and architecture. Many of these books are in Thai, but with their magical illustrations of Dvarapala (guardians), gold-painted, bell-shaped chedi, five-headed stone nagas, a 70 cm. tall bronze Buddha head and murals of astonishing density and complexity, the books can open up a world of astounding beauty to anyone with a little curiosity.
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is part of the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok. It was the first building ordered build by King Rama I (1737 –1809) as the repository for the Emerald Buddha, a seated figure of the meditating Buddha made of green jade and clothed in gold.
The mural paintings on the walls of the galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, illustrated in The Ramakian (Rāmāyana) Mural Paintings in the Galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, were also executed during the reign of King Rama I and were based on the Thai version of this epic, composed at the King’s command. The theme of the murals comes from the Hindu epic but the characters and the settings are Thai.
The Ramakian (Rāmāyana) Mural Paintings in the Galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha was recently installed in an exhibition case in the office area of the Freer | Sackler, where it will be on display until August 31st. The Freer | Sackler Library is open to the public daily, 10am-5pm.