Gold in Buddhism and Thai Culture

Cultural Insights – Gold in Buddhism and Thai Culture

For many civilizations throughout history, the value of gold was mainly of a materialistic nature. It was a symbol of power, wealth and influence, and a lot of unspeakable crimes were committed in order to accumulate more of this shiny metal. On the other hand for people like the Aztecs, Incas and, of course, Buddhists it had, and still has a symbolic meaning. So, for this part of our ‘Cultural Insights’ series, we will talk about the importance of gold in Buddhism.

Where Does This Belief Come From and What Does It Mean?

This symbolism starts with the belief that the sun, and/or fire, is represented by gold. This, in turn, comes from the association with Surya, the god of the sun in Hinduism. As a little side note, it is not uncommon that Buddhist traditions and structures, in particular, temples, include Hindu traits and vice versa. 

Therefore, the connection between the Hindu god and gold grants the metal a sacred status. During ancient times, people were using gold foil in religious ceremonies. They would place them onto statues of the Buddha, which is a tradition that lives on even to this day. This is also the reason why you will never see the color of gold mixed with another because it is seen as inauspicious. You could say that it would be sacrilegious to the holy nature of it. Speaking of color, in Thai culture and Buddhism every color has its own attributes. This is something we will talk about in a later post. Gold stands for enlightenment, purity, happiness, knowledge, and freedom; everything the sun is supposed to represent. 

Famous Examples of Golden Buddha Statues

Regardless of where you go in Thailand, you will find countless of Buddha statues coated in gold. Whether it is the Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho or the Standing Buddha in Wat Intharawihan, they are all covered with the precious metal. But there is only one example of a statue that is completely made out of gold and this one stands in the Wat Traimit temple in Bangkok. It weighs a whopping 5 ½ tons! We know that nowadays gold has a mostly monetary value, but this is a perfect example of an iconic sculpture that is, without a doubt, priceless. 

A good example of a golden Buddha statue in Krabi is the one on top of the popular Tiger Cave Temple. We have written about it before. Another one you can find in Wat Kaew Korawaram located on a hill just outside of Downtown Krabi. As it is often the case, it is inside the ordination hall, which is used for praying. 

Other Examples of Gold in Thai Culture

These are more little fun facts, but still interesting to know. For example, the old name of Thailand, Siam, is the Sanskrit word for gold. You could, therefore, say that Thailand literally used to be the Land of Gold and you would be more right than you know. The biggest airport in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi, can be translated to – you guessed it – Land of Gold. This is probably luckiest and most auspicious way to enter a new country. In case you share this belief, of course.