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THE TEMPLES OF THE SLEEPING AND THE EMERALD IDOLS.
THE day had come for my presentation to the supreme king. After much preliminary talk between the Kralahome and myself, through the medium of the interpreter, it had been arranged that my straightforward friend, Captain B —, should conduct us to the royal palace, and procure the interview. Our cheerful escort arrived duly, and we proceeded up the river, — my boy maintaining an ominous silence all the while, except once, when he shyly confessed he was afraid to go.
At the landing we found a large party of priests, some bathing, some wringing their yellow garments; graceful girls balancing on their heads vessels of water; others, less pleasing, carrying bundles of grass, or baskets of fruit and nuts; noblemen in gilded sedans, borne on men's shoulders, hurrying toward the palace; in the distance a troop of horsemen, with long glittering spears.
Passing the covered gangway at the landing, we came upon a clean brick road, bounded by two high walls, the one on the left enclosing the abode of royalty, the other the temple Watt Poh, where reposes in gigantic state the wondrous Sleeping Idol. Imagine a reclining figure one hundred and fifty feet long and forty feet high, entirely overlaid with plate gold; the soles of its monstrous feet covered with bass-reliefs inlaid with mother-of-pearl and chased with gold; each separate design distinctly representing one of the many transmigrations of Buddha whereby he obtained Niphan. On the nails are graven his divine attributes, ten in number:
1. Arahang, — Immaculate, Pure, Chaste.
2. Samma Sam-Putho, — Cognizant of the laws of Nature, Infallible, Unchangeable, True.
3. Vichamnah Sampanoh, — Endowed with all Knowledge, all Science.
4. Lukha-tho, — Excellence, Perfection.
5. Lôk-havi-tho, — Cognizant of the mystery of Creation.
6. Annutharo, — Inconceivably Pure, without Sin.
7. Purisah tham-mah Sarathi, — Unconquerable, Invincible, before whom the angels bow.
8. Sassandah, — Father of Beatitude, Teacher of the ways to bliss.
9. Poodh-tho, — Endowed with boundless Compassion, Pitiful, Tender, Loving, Merciful, Benevolent
10. Pâk-havah, — Glorious, endowed with inconceivable Merit, Adorable.
Leaving this temple, we approached a low circular fort near the palace, — a miniature model of a great citadel, with bastions, battlements, and towers, showing confusedly over a crenellated wall. Entering by a curious wooden gate, bossed with great flat-headed nails, we reached by a stony pathway the stables (or, more correctly, the palace) of the White Elephant, where the huge creature — indebted for its "whiteness" to tradition rather than to nature — is housed royally. Passing these, we next came to the famous Watt P'hra Këau, or temple of the Emerald Idol.
An inner wall separates this temple from the military depot attached to the palace; but it is connected by a secret passage with the most private apartments of his Majesty's harem, which, enclosed on all sides, is accessible only to women. The temple itself is unquestionably one of the most remarkable and beautiful structures of its class in the Orient; the lofty octagonal pillars, the quaint Gothic doors and windows, the tapering and gilded roofs, are carved in an infinite variety of emblems, the lotos and the palm predominating. The adornment of the exterior is only equalled in its profusion by the pictorial and hieroglyphic embellishment within. The ceiling is covered with mythological figures and symbols. Most conspicuous among the latter are the luminous circles, resembling the mystic orb of the Hindoos, and representing the seven constellations known to the ancients; these revolve round a central sun in the form of a lotos, called by the Siamese Dok Âthit (sun-flower), because it expands its leaves to the rising sun and contracts them as he sets. On the cornices are displayed the twelve signs of the zodiac.
The altar is a wonder of dimensions and splendor, — a pyramid one hundred feet high, terminating in a fine spire of gold, and surrounded on every side by idols, all curious and precious, from the bijou image in sapphire to the colossal statue in plate gold. A series of trophies these, gathered from the triumphs of Buddhism over the proudest forma of worship in the old pagan world. In the pillars that surround the temple, and the spires that taper far aloft, may be traced types and emblems borrowed from the Temple of the Sun at Baalbec, the proud fane of Diana at Ephesus, the shrines of the Delian Apollo; but the Brahminical symbols and interpretations prevail. Strange that it should be so, with a sect that suffered by the slayings and the outcastings of a ruthless persecution, at the hands of their Brahmin fathers, for the cause of restoring the culture of that simple and pure philosophy which flourished before pantheism!
The floor is paved with diamonds of polished brass, which reflect the light of tall tapers that have burned on for more than a hundred years, so closely is the sacred fire watched. The floods of light and depths of shadow about the altar are extreme, and the effect overwhelming.
The Emerald Idol is about twelve inches high and eight in width. Into the virgin gold of which its hair and collar are composed must have been stirred, while the metal was yet molten, crystals, topazes, sapphires, rubies, onyxes, amethysts, and diamonds, — the stones crude, or rudely cut, and blended in such proportions as might enhance to the utmost imaginable limit the beauty and the cost of the adored effigy. The combination is as harmonious as it is splendid. No wonder it is commonly believed that Buddha himself alighted on the spot in the. form of a great emerald, and by a flash of lightning conjured the glittering edifice and altar in an instant from the earth, to house and throne him there!
On either side of the eastern entrance — called Patoo Ngam, "The Beautiful Gate" — stands a modern statue; one of Saint Peter, with flowing mantle and sandalled feet, in an attitude of sorrow, as when "he turned away his face and wept"; the other of Ceres, scattering flowers. The western entrance, which admits only ladies, is styled Patoo Thavâdah, "The Angels' Gate," and is guarded by genii of ferocious aspect.
At a later period, visiting this temple in company with the king and his family, I called his Majesty's attention to the statue at the Beautiful Gate, as that of a Christian saint with whose story he was not unfamiliar. Turning quickly to his children, and addressing them gently, he bade them salute it reverently. "It is Mam's P'hra,"1 he said; whereupon the tribe of little ones folded their hands devoutly, and made obeisance before the effigy of Saint Peter.
THE BEAUTIFUL GATE OF THE TEMPLE.
As often as my thought reverts to this inspiring shrine, reposing in its lonely loveliness amid the shadows and the silence of its consecrated groves, I cannot find it in my heart to condemn, however illusive the object, but rather I rejoice to admire and applaud, the bent of that devotion which could erect so proud and beautiful a fane in the midst of moral surroundings so ignoble and unlovely, — a spiritual remembrance perhaps older and truer than paganism, ennobling the pagan mind with the idea of an architectural Sabbath, so to speak, such as a heathen may purely enjoy and a Christian may not wisely despise.
1 Saint, or Lord.