The Ratchaprasong junction and Siam Square are located at the intersection of Ratchadamri Road with Rama I and Ploenchit in the Pathum Wan district of Bangkok. These areas of the city are populated by temples to affluence, luxury, and excess including the Grand Hyatt, Renaissance, Four Seasons, and Intercontinental Hotels; the Lamborghini and Maserati auto dealers; and high-end retailers such as Prada, Fendi, Ferragamo, Dior, La Perla, Vuitton, Armani, Lacoste, Hugo Boss, Aigner, and Kate Spade.
Located within the compact Ratchaprasong junction are six Hindu shrines to the deities Lakshmi, Vishnu, Indra, Brahma, and Ganesha. These shrines are located on the properties of some of the hotels and shopping areas in this decidedly upscale district. If you click on the following link, you will see a Google map of the area with the locations of the shrines:
Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, beauty, fortune, wisdom, and prosperity, and this shrine is surely located in an area in which she should feel at home. This was the most difficult shrine to find since it is located outside on the fourth floor of the luxurious Gaysorn shopping center (see: www.gaysorn.com.) According to the Hindus, Lakshmi brings good luck and protects her worshipers from misery and suffering.
Lakshmi is depicted in gold with a gold grown and is associated with the lotus. In the Gaysorn shrine, she stands on a lotus in full-bloom holding lotus buds in two of her hands as well as a pot of gold (in the picture on the left below, the pot of gold is in her left hand near her waist.)
The shrine to Vishnu is located in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, which is next door to the Gaysorn.
Vishnu is one of three gods in the Hindu triumvirate. Brahma is responsible for the creation of the universe, Vishnu for the preservation of the universe, and Shiva for the destruction of the universe.
Vishnu has four hands — the two in the front symbolize his activity in the physical world while the two in the back symbolize his activity in the spiritual world. In his upper left hand, Vishnu holds a conch that represents the sacred sound OM. The conch is a spiral that evolves from one point into increasing spheres and thus it also represents eternity. In Vishnu’s lower left hand, he holds a lotus, a symbol of creation and fertility. The lotus also represents Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort. In his lower right hand, he holds a mace that symbolize the power that he has to protect the world. Finally, in his upper right hand, he holds a discus (or chakra) that stands for the mind.
“The world rests as the lotus in the palm of my hand, the cosmos revolves around my finger like a discus. I blow the music of life through my conch and wield my mace to protect all creatures.”
Vishnu is depicted standing on the shoulders of Garuda, a lesser divinity that is half-bird and half-man. Garuda provides transport for Vishnu, he is the enemy of the Naga (serpent), and he only eats snakes and serpents.
The Garuda is used as the official crest of the Thai Royal Family as well as the National Emblem. The crest is found on all official documents and letters. Garuda sculptures are given by the king to companies who supply goods or services to the royal family and to those companies that provide exceptional commitment to national development. These symbols, or royal warrants, are a high honor and are frequently seen mounted on the top or front of corporate headquarters.
Almost directly across busy Ploenchit Road from the Intercontinental is Amarin Plaza, home to the Indra shrine. Since Hindu shrines are meant for protection, the location of one across from the other makes sense since the evil forces that are repelled from one site could easily come to the other if it were not also protected.
Indra is the Hindu god of war, storms, and rain. Indra is a bit of a flawed god and he does not have the status of Vishnu. However, because he looks after mankind, people turn to him for happiness.
Indra’s shrine is constructed from dark jade, the most valuable type of jade. Indra holds a bow in his right hand and thunderbolt in his left. As you can see in the pictures below, worshipers leave gifts of food, incense, and garlands of flowers at the shrines.
Perhaps the best known shrine in Bangkok is the Erawan Shrine that is often incorrectly referred to as the four-faced Buddha. While the statue does have four faces, they are faces of Brahma, one of the three main Hindu gods. The four faces symbolize the four sacred texts of the Hindu religion — the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda.
The shrine was constructed in the early 1950s when the luxury Erawan Hotel was being built. The hotel construction was plagued by delays and accidents and the workers refused to continue until the land spirits were appeased. An astrologer was consulted and he concluded that the foundation of the building was placed on a bad day. In order to appease the spirits, he recommended construction of a shrine to Brahma, the god of creation. After the shrine was erected, construction continued without any additional incidents. The initial government-owned luxury hotel was demolished in the late 1980s and replaced by the current Grand Hyatt in the early 1990s.
In 2006, the original shrine was destroyed by a hammer-wielding Thai who was believed to be mentally ill. He was beaten to death by angry bystanders, but only after he had destroyed most of the statue. A new statue, which is made of plaster combined with gold, brass, and pieces of the original shrine, was cast and dedicated in just two months. A second statue was cast using only metal and it is in the National Museum. A replica of the four-headed Brahma shrine is also displayed at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
The Erawan shrine is visited daily by hundreds (if not thousands) of people who are looking for luck and good fortune. Worshiping is done by walking around the shrine in a clockwise direction and offering three sticks of incense, a candle, a flower garland, and a piece of gold leave at each of the four faces. Vendors near the shrine sell everything that you need to perform this ceremony. There are full-time maintenance people who continually remove the offerings from earlier supplicants so there can be space for others.
Traditional Thai musicians and dancers also perform regularly at the shrine. There is also a collection of elephants at the shrine and copper urns containing holy water. Visitors will pour the holy water on themselves for blessing and spiritual cleansing and on the elephants.
The Ganesha Shrine is located further east down Ratchadamri in front of the Central World Plaza, the largest shopping center in Bangkok. The Ganesha is one of the most recognizable Hindu deities with his elephant head on a human body.
The son of Shiva and Parvati, legend has it that Shiva beheaded his son when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva apparently had quite the temper since he also cut off one of Brahma’s five heads, which is why he now only has four. In any event, Shiva ordered his soldiers to bring back the first head of any animal that they found asleep facing north. The first one that they found was an elephant with one tusk.
Ganesha is the god of accomplishment and wisdom and the destroyer of evil and obstacles. In the statue Ganesha has an elephant’s head and trunk, a pot belly, and four hands. In his upper right hand, Ganesha holds a trident to destroy evil. In his lower right hand, he holds a tusk that symbolizes overcoming hardships. In the upper left hand, Ganesha holds a noose to restrain immoral desires. In his lower left hand, he holds a jar that depicts abundance. The serpent coiled around his chest represents energy.
Because of construction work that is going on at Central World to rebuild after the fires that destroyed part of the shopping center during last year’s Red Shirt protest, the Trimurti Shrine was moved down Ratchadamri and is now right next to the Ganesha Shrine, so this is really a two-for-one deal. Trimurti refers to the Hindu Trinity — Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
The shrine was constructed in 1989 and it is a replica of the original in the old Thai capital Ayutthaya. The statue has two heads and the lower one has four faces.
The Trimurti shrine has become known as the Lovers Shrine and it now associated with the gods of love and romance. On Thursday evenings at 9:30 p.m., Thais gather at the shrine to wait for Trimurti to answer their prayers. The typical offering here is nine red candles, nine red roses, nine incense sticks, and fruit. On Valentine’s Day, huge crowds come to pray and make offerings at the Trimurti Shrine.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.