Author Topic: Following the Buddha's footprints  (Read 5574 times)

Ensapa

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Following the Buddha's footprints
« on: September 11, 2012, 05:15:53 PM »
Buddha's footprints? In thailand? how? what? I think this is an interesting story on the power of suggestion and the power of the mind. It did result in the building of a temple, though. But is it not interesting to see how legends go about and create so much hype about Buddhism?

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Following the Buddha's footprints
Published: 11/09/2012 at 01:51 AM

Maybe you didn't notice. Or maybe you haven't heard about it at all. But last week there was a small report in the Thai media about the discovery of a Buddha's footprint in Lampang said to date back to the Dvaravati Period more than 1000 years ago.

Actually, it's not that I was excited about the newly found Buddhapada itself. But the news stoked my nagging doubt about the legend related to the Kingdom's most important Buddha's footprint.

Yes, I'm talking about the highly revered one at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi which was discovered in 1618 during the reign of King Songtham, the 22nd monarch of Ayutthaya.

Legend has it that a group of monks from Ayutthaya made the long journey to Ceylon to worship a famous Buddhapada there only to be told by their Sri Lankan peers that they shouldn't have bothered to travel so far because there was also one such relic in the Thai Kingdom, on a hill called Suwanbanphot.

The Thai monks then returned to Ayutthaya and informed King Songtham about what they had been told. They had no idea though where that mentioned hill was located. The King then ordered a big search for the footprint.

In the meantime, according to the tale, in Saraburi, northeast of Ayutthaya, a hunter accidentally discovered a depression on a rock filled with water that had magical properties. For two days in a row, the deer he had shot fled into a bush on a small hill and re-emerged with no sign of injury. The amazed hunter checked out what was in the bush and found nothing but the rock. Curiously, he applied water from the hole on to his body and miraculously a rash on his skin was gone.

That depression turned out to be a Buddha's footprint. News spread to the capital and the delighted King had a temple built there. The rock since then was regarded as a sacred site; and it has become a royal tradition for Ayutthaya kings to visit Phra Phutthabat, the Thai term for the Sanskrit Buddhapada, every year.

So what was my doubt about the legend? Of course, the hunter part was out of question. I'm not a kid and I don't believe it can be true.

But the information the Ceylon monks gave to their Thai counterparts... well, that's another story. Was it a white lie? Part of a prank? Or was there actually some truth in it? Hmmm...

Centuries before the first Buddha image was created Buddhapadas were among the early representations of the Lord worshipped by Buddhists, especially in India where the religion originated. The footprints _ some carved in, or out of, stone, others made from metal or wood _ can be identified by characteristic marks on the sole of the feet such as the Dhammachakra (Wheel of Dhamma) and collections of Buddhist auspicious signs.

The artistic style of these marks can serve as a clue as to what period each relic belongs to.

The Buddhapada of Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi has been "protected" since the times of King Songtham.

Despite the fact the temple has undergone several renovations over the past centuries, I doubt any archaeologist alive has ever seen or read about the bare surface of the stone relic which seems to be perpetually covered under thick layers of gold leaf.

What if the footprint's stone surface could be revealed? Perhaps experts would be able to tell in which period it was created. Who knows it could be from the Dvaravati Period, like the newly found one in Lampang, or even older.

Maybe art specialists could even tell whether the relic was sculpted by local craftsmen or by artists from somewhere else, like the Indian subcontinent _ which is not impossible since the Indians, even 1000 years back, were no strangers in this region.

And if that's the case, it is possible that those Ceylon monks were really serious when they told the Thai visitors from Ayutthaya about the existence of the Buddha's footprint back home.

Well, this is just a thought of mine. It's not in any way meant to be academic. But sometimes, legends deserve more credit than we usually give them.