21 September 2005

Big Buddha in Pattaya

In South Pattaya, there is a large hill with a large golden image of Buddha. The hill is appropriately called Buddha Hill. At the base of the stairs leading to the large Buddha image there are vendors for water, sodas, and snacks, and small birds in cages. The birds may be purchased to carry to the top of the hill to release them (that may explain the numerous cats prowling the top of the hill).

The steps leading to the top of the hill are flanked by two huge golden seven-headed nagas. The naga is a sacred mythical dragon-like creature that often appears on the balustrades of temple causeways and platforms ("naga bridges"), where they personify the rainbow as a bridge between the earthly and celestial worlds.

Nagas have always been associated with water. In ancient times, the universe had three worlds, heaven, world, and a watery underworld. Nagas inhabited the watery underworld. In Thailand, nagas were thought in reside on the bottom of bodies of water.

In Hinduism, nagas were known as gods of rain and fertility. In Buddhism, they became seen as protectors. There is a story about Lord Buddha meditating under a jik tree when a heavy rain and cold winds started and continued for seven days. A naga king called Mucalinda came out of a nearby pond and wound himself around the Buddha seven times, then spread his hood over the Buddha to protect him from the rain and wind.

A common image of Buddha is one of the Buddha being protected by the naga. The image is believed to have special powers in terms of metta, loving kindness, because it indirectly teaches the benefits of developing loving kindness: even a great naga king living at the bottom of a pond went to the Buddha and provided protection for him as a result of the powers of the Buddha's great compassion.

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