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Biggest Buddha to rise above Phuket

AAP, Friday, December 14, 2007

Rising on a scenic hilltop in southern Phuket island is a 45m-tall Buddha which its builders see as an icon to match the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro,the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour or the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The tallest Buddha in Thailand, it's made of concrete to be covered by Burmese white jade with a golden pinnacle, with some enthusiasts calling it a new wonder of the modern world.

The statue's 6.72-hectare site affords panoramic views of the port town of Chalong, its beaches and pier, boats off the coast, surrounding rainforests and to the northwest, some of the beaches at resorts south of Patong and the Andaman Sea with its dozens of rocky islets.

One regional guide has already described the Giant Buddha as Phuket's most important cultural icon - although its official opening is not scheduled until mid-2009.

The complex, which will include a museum at ground level, has been hailed as a future major tourist attraction for Phuket - along with its beaches, resorts, island visits, boating, diving, snorkeling and other water sports and golf courses.

Tourism officials say about 300,000 Australians are expected to have visited Phuket this year by month's end, nearly double the 2006 figure, many taking advantage of Jetstar's exclusive direct non-stop flights to the island from Sydney.

Today the huge statue - 24.45m wide at the base - is surrounded by scaffolding but the Buddha's facial features can be seen, although partly obscured also by green cloth.

The face was moulded in concrete on the ground as one huge mask divided into sections - to be replicated in white jade - then raised piece by piece along with the two long white ears.

A bone fragment from the body of Buddha (563BC-483BC), one of many such relics in Buddhist shrines around Asia, has been promised by the church for inclusion in the statue complex.

The Giant Buddha dwarfs a 34m-high statue on Hong Kong's Lantau Island described as the world's largest tallest outdoor seated Buddha.

Less than 100m away in the shadow of its towering brother is an already-completed golden Buddha statue made of 22 tons of brass and standing 12.5m high.

Thousands of Thai pilgrims each week now drive up a newly-upgraded road to the crest of 380m-high Nakkerd Hill to view progress on the Giant Buddha, to pray, chant and to enjoy the views, along with an increasing number of tourists of all (or no) religious persuasions.

Monks from all Phuket's Buddhist temples supervise the work. They also hold a ceremony there at 10.30am on Saturdays.

The Giant Buddha is being built with public donations on the hilltop land made available by its owner, businessman and prominent leading Buddhist Suporn Vanichkul, who is president of the Mingmongkoi Foundation formed to launch the five-year project.

Khun (Mr) Suporn said donations towards the construction had been received from everywhere, from local companies and individuals, supporters in other Thailand provinces and overseas.

Tourists help, too. Every day at least 150 visitors hand over 20 baht (0.66USD) and write their names with a blue stylus pen on a porous red brick, to be used in the construction of the complex.

Sponsors can donate white tiles for 500 baht (16.50USD) apiece.

And the golden topknot for the Giant Buddha's head is available to a sponsor for 500,000 baht (16,510USD).

Khun Suporn said the statue would be finished in white jade although some media reports said it would be of white marble.

Visitors to the site have included Thailand's Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, eldest child of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, who attended a prayer meeting here earlier this year.

Khun Suporn said the Great Buddha would be dedicated to the King, who celebrates his 80th birthday this month (December), and the smaller statue to the queen.

The statue's official name, incidentally, is the Pha Puttamingmongkoi Akenakkiri Buddha.

source: http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/536641/1504871

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