Present: Horst Schneider, Ray
Kaulig, Louis Gabaude, Michael Tuckson, Bonnie Brereton, Gary
Suwannarat, Bodil Blokker, Renee Vines, Dianne & Mark,
Barber-Riley, Marilyn Karr, Janey Bennett, Ken Dyer, Siripan & Tony
Kidd, William Lee, Glynn Morgan, Christina Fink, Aileen Roantree, Hedy
Jentsch, Jay Rabin, Guy Cardinal, Ratchada Koovuthyakorn, a Thai
person, Jim Goodman, Oliver Hargreave, John Cadet, Khin San Hiwe,
Maybel Htoo, Toe Toe, Dang Jar, Simone Buys, June Sperring, Bea Camp,
David Summers, Shane Beary, Thomas Ohlson. An audience of 37.
The documentary was produced in 1989, when
Reinhard Hohler led a German ZDF television channel film team across
Thailand to unravel the mystery of the Emerald Buddha. The film
Reinhard showed this evening was a recently released American edition,
with an English language narrative. Reinhard was the author of the film
and was responsible for putting together the story and choosing the
different shooting locations. The production team traveled thousands of
kilometres across Thailand, visiting such places as the Spirit Cave in
the North, Ban Chiang in the Northeast, and Nakhon Si Thammarat in the
South. The highlight at the end of the one-month journey was to film
the ceremony in which H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej changed the robes of
the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok's Wat Phra Keo.
The film examines some of the speculations about
where the Emerald Buddha came from and the history of the stone used to
create it. This year, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrates the 60th
anniversary of his accession to the throne. The film "The Jewel of
Suwannaphum" clearly establishes the relationship of the King with the
Emerald Buddha, which is the spiritual source of power to his reign.
The film will be a valuable historical document for many generations to
Reinhard's introduction to the film was drawn from
two magazine articles that he has recently had published.
The History of Suvannaphoum
By Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai (August 8th 2006)
In ancient times, merchants and Brahmins from the
Indian Subcontinent sailed to a destination called "Suvannaphoum" to
explore and trade with the people in what is today's South East Asia.
They brought with them aspects of Indian civilisation, which blended
well with local cultures and beliefs. The long-term impact of these
voyages resulted in the acceptance of philosophical thoughts,
religions, political and administrative systems, concepts of law, arts
and most important of all, Sanskrit language and literature.
India's contact with Suvannaphoum (Suvarnabhumi in
Sanskrit) or "Land of Gold" goes back 4,000-5,000 years. Legends tell
that merchants had visited the Buddha after his enlightenment in India
and brought back lockets of his hair as relics to enshrine in pagodas.
Some stories also suggest that the Buddha travelled the world and
reached areas in today's China's Yunnan Province, Burma, Thailand,
Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The communication increased when Buddhist
missionaries travelled to Southeast Asia to spread the Buddha's
During the 3rd century B.C. King Ashoka had sent
the missionary monks Sona and Uttara to Suvannaphoum. It is assumed
that they landed in the ancient city of Thaton, a city of the Mon
people in the southern part of Burma. That is why Burmese historians
claim that Burma was Suvannaphoum. Most modern scholars agree that
Suvannaphoum was a loose confederation of kingdoms, stretching from the
land of the Mon people in Southern Burma to areas in present-day
Thailand and Vietnam.
In Thailand many historians believe that Nakhon
Pathom, west of Bangkok, ought to be the capital of Suvannaphoum. They
point out that Nakhon Pathom was then nearer to the sea than it is now,
thus rendering communication easy with distant lands. Actually many
relics have been found there, such as wheels-of-law in stone and
inscribed votive tablets. Furthermore, the original Nakhon Pathom Chedi
was restored several times and resembled the great stupa at Sanchi in
India, which dates back to Ashoka's time. A thousand years later, when
Chinese scholars visited the place in the 7th century Nakhon Pathom was
part of Mon Dvaravati.
Further to the east there existed the Kingdom of
Funan, which was historically known as a powerful trade centre.
According to Chinese history, Funan - meaning south of the mountains -
was located in the fertile Mekong Delta. Excavations at the site of Oc
Eo in Southern Vietnam reveal a rich culture. From 1st - 6th centuries,
Oc Eo was part of a larger political entity, with a capital further
inland. The sketchy report that has survived mentions walled villages,
palaces and dwellings. Mon people made gold rings, bracelets and silver
plates. Taxes were paid in gold, silver and perfumes. There were books
and depositories of archives and other things.
When trade with China and India declined, the
political power shifted to the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, where the
Khmer Empire of Angkor arose. In the 15th century, the riches of gold
wandered to Ayutthaya in Central Thailand, and finally to Burma, where
most of the gold was attached to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
The memory of Suvannaphoum faded away with the modern Vietnamese,
Khmer, Thai and Burmese people. Only in Laos was there a collective
memory of the tradition to preserve and up-keep the name Suvannaphoum
into modern times.
Interestingly, there is a district town named
Suvannaphoum in Thailand's Isan Province of Roi Et, and just recently
H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej designated the new International Airport
in Bangkok with the name Suvarnabhumi - in memory of the Golden Land.
Today, Suvannaphoum will again attract foreign visitors from around the
The Emerald Buddha of Suvannaphoum
By Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai (September 14th
Three times a year, at the beginning of each
season, King Bhumibol Adulyadej changes the robes of the Emerald Buddha
in Bangkok's Wat Phra Keo. While the Emerald Buddha, which is only 66
cm tall, is the most revered religious Buddha image in Thailand, its
origin and its sculptor are unknown.
The "green" Buddha image is venerated as the
palladium of the Kingdom of Thailand and is believed to bring
prosperity and protection to the country. It also believed to guarantee
the annual rains needed for the rice growing cycle. Thus, it is
intimately connected with Suvannaphoum - the fabulous "Golden Land".
According to one of the Pali palm-leaf manuscripts
of the Chronicle of the Emerald Buddha, translated by French Consul
Emille Notton in 1932, the Emerald Buddha first appeared in India some
2,000 years ago. Later, its legendary voyage took it to Sri Lanka,
Bagan, Angkor, and the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya. It
miraculously resurfaced in Chiang Rai in 1434 and travelled via Lampang
to Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai, it was transferred to Luang Phrabang
and Vientiane, from where, in 1778, it was taken to Thonburi and
finally to Bangkok, its present resting place.
There are a myriad of long-time speculations
concerning where the Buddha image came from and the history behind the
stone that was used to carve it. Since the reign of King Rama IV
(1851-1868), it has been acknowledged that the Emerald Buddha was made
of jade. Jade is mined in Burma's Kachin State and traded to China even
more than gold. It seems that this ongoing jade trade has been one of
the sources of Chiang Mai and Thailand's prosperity for centuries.
Jade is called the stone of heaven and has been
known for thousands of years, especially in China. It is interesting to
note that the Chinese characters for king and jade are identical. Jade
comes in two major kinds: nephrite and jadeite, the latter being the
harder one to carve. Good jadeite is much rarer than good nephrite and
it is called imperial jade by the Chinese to command prices equivalent
to those of good emerald in the gem market.
Strangely enough, most of the jade used in China
for most of the enormous span of history involved was nephrite and came
from the ancient trading centres of Khotan and Yarkand near the Kunlun
Mountains in Eastern Turkestan, what is today China's Xinjiang Uighur
Autonomous Region. From the trading post of Kashgar, camel caravans
made their way eastward along the Silk Road.
Jadeite from Burma's Kachin State did not reach
China until the 18th century. Canton was the centre of this new trade,
although much of the material was cut in Shanghai and Beijing.
Today, jadeite is transported on elephant and mule
caravans through Burma's Shan State to reach Chiang Mai in Thailand.
This secretive trade has gone on for a long time and today extends even
farther to Bangkok and Hong Kong.
It would be intriguing to know if the Emerald
Buddha in the Grand Palace in Bangkok was carved out from a piece of
nephrite or jadeite. Or is it made of some other material? No matter
how much there is a discussion about it, for the time being, jade is
destined to remain a stone of legend and mystery.
Reinhard Hohler is a PhD candidate in ethnology at
Heidelberg University in Germany. For further information about "The
Jewel of Suwannaphum", please contact Reinhard by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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