1955, someone dropped a >600 year old plaster buddha statue to discover the plaster was actually covering a solid gold statue
The origins of this statue remain uncertain. It is made in the Sukhothai Dynasty style, and is thought to have been made during the Sukhothai period in the 13th-14th centuries, though it could have been made after that time.
The head of the statue is egg-shaped, which indicates its origin in the Sukothai period. Sukothai art had Indian influences. Metal figures of the Buddha made in India used to be taken to various countries for installation. So the Golden Buddha statue may have been cast in parts in India.
Later, the statue was probably moved from Sukhothai to Ayutthaya, after the latter kingdom came to predominate. This move may have happened in 1403.
Some scholars believe the statue is mentioned in the somewhat controversial Ram Khamhaeng stele. In lines 23-27 of the first stone slab of the stele, “”a gold Buddha image”” is mentioned as being located “”in the middle of Sukhothai City””. So this is interpreted as being the reference to the Wat Traimit Golden Buddha.
At some point of time, the statue was completely plastered over to prevent it from being stolen. Thus, the statue was covered with a thick layer of stucco, which was later painted. The plaster was also inlaid with bits of coloured glass. It is believed that this plastering over took place before the destruction of Ayutthaya kingdom by Burmese invaders in 1767. The statue remained among the ruins of Ayutthaya without attracting much attention.
In 1801, Thai King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I), after establishing Bangkok as a new capital city of the Kingdom, and after commissioning the construction of many temples in Bangkok, ordered that various old Buddha images should be brought to Bangkok from the ruined temples around the country. So this was the time that the Golden Buddha was probably brought from Ayutthaya to Bangkok.
At the time of King Rama III (1824-1851), the statue, still covered with stucco, was installed as the principal Buddha image in the main temple building of Wat Chotanaram in Bangkok.
After Wat Chotanaram, located near Chinatown, fell into disrepair and was closed, the statue had been moved to its present location at the nearby Wat Traimit in 1935. At the time, Wat Traimit was a pagoda of minor relevance (like hundreds of other Buddhist temples that exist in Bangkok). Since the temple didn’t have a building big enough to house the statue, it was kept for 20 years under a simple tin roof. Thus, it seems as though the true identity of this statue had been forgotten for almost 200 years
Discovery of the gold statue
In 1954, a new Viharn building was built at the Temple, so it was decided to house the statue there. The statue was being moved to its new location on 25 May 1955. There are a variety of accounts of what exactly happened during the move. But it is clear that, during the final attempt to lift the statue from its pedestal, the ropes holding the statue broke, and the statue fell down hard on the ground. At that time, some of the plaster coating of the statue chipped off, allowing the gold surface underneath to be seen and providing evidence that beneath the plaster the statue was gold. Work was immediately stopped so that an evaluation could be made.
Later, all plaster was carefully removed, so that the Gold Buddha could be seen again in all its glory. In the process, the photos of different stages of plaster removal had been taken; they are now displayed in the Temple for the visitors. Also on display are some of the old pieces of the plaster.
When the plaster was being removed, it was also found that the gold statue actually consists of nine parts that all fit smoothly together. Also, a key was found encased in plaster at its base. This key could be used to disassemble the statue, to facilitate its transportation.
The time when the gold statue was revealed was very close to the commemoration of the twenty-fifth Buddhist Era (2500 years since Gautama Buddha’s passing). The Thai news media at the time was full of reports about this event, and many Buddhists regarded such an occurrence as miraculous.
On 14 February 2010, a large new building was inaugurated at the Wat Traimit Temple to house the Gold Buddha. The building also contains the Bangkok Chinatown Heritage Centre, and an exhibition on the origin of the Gold Buddha”