According to legend it was created in India in 43 BC by Lord Abbot Nagasena in the city of Pataliput (today Patna), but some art historians describe it as belonging to the Chiang Saen Style of the 15th century. After staying there for 300 years it was taken to Ceylon to save it from a civil war. In 457 King Anuruth of Burma sent a mission to Ceylon to ask for a Buddhist bible and the emerald Buddha, to support Buddhism in his country. However the ship lost way due to a storm and landed in Cambodia. When the Thais captured Angkor Wat it went to Ayutthaya, Kampaengphet, Lavo and finally Chiang Rai, where the ruler of the city hid it.
It has been shown from historical sources that it surfaced in Northern Thailand in the Lannathai kingdom in 1434. Lightning struck a pagoda in a temple in Chiang Rai and something showed up under the stucco. After it was dug out the people though it was made from emerald, and started to worship it. King Sam Fang Kaen of Lannathai wanted it in his capital Chiang Mai, but the elephant carrying it went to Lampang three times. This was taken as a divine sign and it stayed in Lampang until 1468, when it was finally moved to Chiang Mai.
In 1552 the Emerald Buddha was brought to Louang Phrabang, the capital of Laos at that time, as the Lao crown prince Setthathirath was invited to become new king of Lannathai. However, he returned home to become king of Laos when his father Photisarath died and took the figurine with him. He later moved it to his new capital Vientiane in 1564.