Hindu gods of Bangkok
Saturday September 18, 2010
KEE HUA CHEE
Everyone knows the famous Erawan Shrine in Bangkok dedicated to Lord Brahman, but did you know there are another five Hindu shrines within a stone's throw of each other?
Bangkok is synonymous with Buddhism, but the savvy traveller, the superstitious and the devout know that the city also has five other Hindu shrines the size of Thailand's ubiquitous spirit houses.
Together, these six shrines honour the Hindu deities of Brahma, Indra, Narayana, Lakshmi, Trimurti and Ganesha.
To visit and pray at all six is easy because they are all within walking distance of one another. All six life-sized statues are located on relatively small spaces, and worshippers pray in the open air.
It's customary to start at the famous Erawan Shrine, also called Brahman Shrine or Phra Phrom by the Thais. You should have no problems locating it since every taxi driver in Bangkok knows this most revered and famous of shrines in Ratchaprasong, the city's pre-eminent shopping and entertainment district.
Millions, including Malaysians, visit annually, to petition the four-faced Brahma to grant them their wishes. At anytime, you are likely to find devotees beseeching Brahma to answer their prayers as well as those who return to offer thanksgiving for wishes granted.
Erawan Shrine sits on a small, triangular patch of land beside the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel. How the shrine came to be can be traced back to the 50s. During the construction of the hotel in 1958, so many workers fell ill or suffered from accidents that soothsayers were summoned to intervene.
The spiritual advisors recommended that a shrine be built in honour of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. From the beginning, it is said that Brahma answered all the prayers of his faithful worshippers, with many returning to thank him by commissioning a performance by classical dancers or donating wooden elephants to honour the sacred elephant of Hindu mythology, Erawan.
Thais are said to be very protective of the deity, as became graphically evident in the early hours of March 21, 2006 when a mentally-ill man smashed the statue of Brahma and was killed by passers-by for the outrage. A replica was made, guided by Buddhist monks and Brahmin priests, and installed on May 21, 2006.
After Erawan, the next shrine to visit is Indra's in front of Amarin Mall. This beautiful jade green Indra carries a thunderbolt, discus, bow and triple-pronged lance. Indra is Lord of Heaven and God of War, Storms and Rain. He is the god who looks after mankind.
A symbol of power and courage, Indra leads the way in the timeless battle between good and evil and has more than 250 hymns dedicated to him in the Rigveda, more than any other god.
Vishnu, in comparison, has only 93 hymns. But not being part of the Holy Trinity, Indra is seen to exhibit more human qualities. He slayed Vritra to release life-giving waters back to mankind and also rescued the sacred cows of the gods from the asura or demons.
Offerings to Indra are usually yellow marigolds and small elephant figurines.
Once you've completed the ritual at Indra's shrine, cross the road to worship Narayana, whose shrine is located in front of Intercontinental and Holiday Inn hotels.
Narayana stands with one leg on the shoulder of his vehicle Garuda. In each of his four hands, he holds the lotus bud which symbolises purity, the discus which denotes the destruction of ego, the mace which stands for divine power and the conch shell which shows his power over the universe.
A god of mercy, Narayana is also a manifestation of Vishnu, the preserver of life who also maintains the balance of the universe.
The Narayana statue was erected in 1997, following a bad period marked by a spate of bankruptcies, to help ailing businesses. So if your business is in the doldrums, Narayana should be able to make your cash registers ring merrily again.
Your next destination then is Gaysorn, the upscale mall next door.
Head to the fourth floor and ask to see the statue of beautiful Lakshmi, Goddess of Luck, Wealth and Fertility. You will find yourself escorted to the outdoor terrace where Lakshmi stands resplendently above a golden lotus under a nine-layer umbrella.
Lakshmi's statue was erected in 1996 by the owners of Gaysorn Plaza when it was being built, and they have been laughing all the way to the bank ever since. As Lakshmi is the consort of Narayana, who you have just worshipped, your petitions should be doubly reinforced by this divine couple.
Said to protect her devotees from money-related woes, Lakshmi was born at the same time as other precious celestial objects like the moon, her brother, and her elder sister Alakshmi, the Goddess of Misfortune, during the celebrated Churning of the Ocean of Milk period when amrita, the source of power and divinity, was produced.
The deva (heroes) and asura (baddies) were said to have used the serpent Vasuki to stir the Kshisagar (Ocean of Milk) for a thousand years. Upon the amrita being produced, Vishnu took the form of lovely Lakshmi to distract the demons while the deva quickly drank the elixir and became immortal.
Bring lotus flowers, sugarcane juice, coins, jewels and other symbols of wealth as offerings, and you will be rewarded manifold! Or so it is said.
Now cross the road to Central World Plaza where the Trimurti Shrine is located in front of Isetan. As Trimurti is the manifestation of the Holy Trinity of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, this shrine is said to be a powerful one. The joining of this trio, the holiest and most important in Hinduism, into one statue make Trimurti the representation of the cosmos.
However, in recent years, Trimurti has become very popular with young Thais for a different reason — they have designated him the God of Love! As a result, there are endless streams of young Thais and farang (foreigners) who pray to have the affairs of their heart sorted out.
Try to come at 9.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays because this is when Lord Trimurti descends to listen to prayers and grants love to those seeking it. Offerings include nine red joss sticks, red candles and, of course, red roses.
A few steps away is Ganesha Shrine, devoted to the elephant-headed god, a.k.a. the Remover of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, Patron of the Arts and Sciences, and Deity of Intellect and Wisdom. Also known as Ganesh or Ganapati, he is known as Pikanet in Thai and his power is said to be in ascendance now.
Devotees usually invoke his name at the beginning of prayers, important undertakings and religious ceremonies.
When Ganesha was born, he had a human head. Despite his father Shiva's foreboding, his mother, Parvati, was so proud of his dazzling good looks that she insisted on showing him off to all the gods, including Shani (Saturn) who looked at Ganesha with his dreaded "evil eye", burning his head into ashes.
The distraught Parvati then begged Vishnu for help. Vishnu directed Shiva to chop off the head of the first living thing he came across, and this — it happens — turned out to be an elephant! Deed done, Vishnu then replaced Ganesha's head with that of the elephant.
Another version has Ganesha being born from Shiva's laughter. As he was too alluring to bear, Shiva decided to give him an elephant's head and a protruding belly. Ganesha is one of the most beloved and powerful of gods. Despite his size, his celestial vehicle is a tiny shrew or mouse!
This well revered deity promotes success and protection from harm, which should just about take care of all of our earthly desires.