In the Footsteps of the Buddha

In the 17th century a group of monks went on a pilgrimage from Thailand to Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known then) to worship a footprint of the Lord Buddha at Mount Sumanakut. There they were told a similar footprint was to be found in Thailand. On hearing of this, King Songtham ordered his officials to scour the country for this sacred image.Meanwhile, a hunter in a remote part of Saraburi province was chasing a wounded deer through the forest when he found a rocky pool in the shape of a man’s foot on top of a small hill. Having heard of the quest for the Buddha footprint he reported his finding to the town’s governor, who in turn sent word to the King. King Songtham came to inspect the footprint, declared the site to be a shrine and ordered that an elaborate mondop be built over it.

The current mondop dates from the time of King Rama I; the previous mondop was destroyed by Chinese robbers who set fire to it in an attempt to melt the gold.

The temple, Wat Phra Phuttabaht, is a royal temple of the highest rank and attracts thousands and thousands of visitors. When I was there dozens of worshippers clustered around the footprint, most armed with digital cameras to record their visit.

Some visitors pressed small leaves of gold onto the side of the footprint depression, whilst others dropped money onto it.

To be honest, the ambience reminded me more of a wishing well at a country fair than a site of pilgrimage.

Nearby was another “fairground attraction”: Lift the Elephant. You express a wish, then attempt to lift a heavy metal elephant with one finger. Men use the little finger of their right hand, whilst women use the ring finger of their left hand. If you lift successfully, your wish will come true.

The temple is on the road between Lopburi (a town plagued by monkeys) and Saraburi (a town so lacking in tourist attractions it doesn’t even rate an entry in Lonely Planet), and makes a pleasant day trip from Ayutthaya.

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