PHITSANULOK - 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 impermanence.
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 vice.
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 independence.
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.
Victorious and glorious
For breathtaking aesthetic beauty, it's hard to match the statue of Phra Buddha Chinnarat
by Thanong Khanthong, The Nation (Thailand), April 24, 2006
Aesthetically speaking, Phra Buddha Chinnarat stands out as the most beautiful Buddha statue in Thailand. If beauty is to be defined by size and proportion, then Phra Buddha Chinnarat is a perfectly built statue, radiating a striking image of the Victorious Buddha and representing the highest achievement of Buddhist art.
You have to hold your breath as you set foot inside Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahathat, where Phra Buddha Chinnarat resides in his authoritative posture. It is in fact a posture of the Buddha's Subduing of the Mara. The entire body of the statue, with its decorative frame of Naga, the mythical snake, is covered with gold leaf, so bright that you can feel a myriad rays beaming out from the statue in the daytime.
Built during the Sukhothai era, Phra Buddha Chinnarat truly embodies the noble spirit and grandeur of ancient Phitsanulok, the northern outpost and onetime capital of old Siam. The maker of Phra Buddha Chinnarat must have had a pure image of the Victorious Buddha in mind and set about creating the statue without following any previous model. The bronze statue is 3.72 metres high and 2.85 metres wide.
Once you have made a pilgrimage to Phitsanulok to worship Phra Buddha Chinnarat, you have fulfilled your life as a Buddhist. Nobody can truly claim to be a Buddhist living in Siam without once in his or her life paying homage to this Victorious Buddha.
Phra Buddha Chinnarat has the posture of the Buddha' Subduing of the Mara, or Demon King. The Buddha was sitting under a tree, surrounded by thousands of heavenly beings when the Mara arrived with his army. The Demon King wished to destroy the Buddha. The heavenly beings were filled with fear and fled away. The Buddha then conquered the Mara alone with his own power - hence the statue of the Buddha's Subduing of the Mara. For this reason, Phra Buddha Chinnarat is looked upon as the Victorious Buddha.
King Naresuan the Great and his brother King Ekathosarot, both warrior kings, must have developed a special bond with Phra Buddha Chinnarat, for they only needed to cross the Nan River from their Chandra Palace to visit the temple and Phra Buddha Chinnarat, commonly called Luang Pho. The term Luang Pho gives Phra Buddha Chinnarat a life, an image of a grand old, learned man.
Luang Pho can also be considered a teacher, for in the old days only monks served as teachers, with the temples serving as schools.
The inspiration King Naresuan drew from worshipping Phra Buddha Chinnarat must have been carried with him to every battlefield on which he waged war against the Burmese. King Naresuan and King Ekathosarot were believed to have glued the gold leaf to the body of Phra Buddha Chinnarat with their own hands. With the Victorious Buddha in his heart, King Naresuan won all the battles alone, like the Buddha's victory over the Mara.
When the statue is stripped of its gold for cleaning, it is completely black. Incidentally, King Naresuan was also known by the name Phra Ong Dum (the Black King). Four hundred years after his death, the people of Phitsanulok have come to associate King Naresuan with Phra Buddha Chinnarat. Buddha amulets and Buddha coins are made with the image of Phra Buddha Chinnarat on the front and that of King Naresuan on the back. In this regard, Phra Buddha Chinnarat and King Naresuan are two sides of the same coin.