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Bangkok Post — Brunch Section
November 21, 2010
Story & Photos by Barbara Woolsey
SPIRIT MOVES IN CITY CENTRE
The Erawan Shrine offers a meditative respite from the bustling heart of the capital
In the Ratchaprasong district, material worship is common; fashion is religion and retail therapy brings happiness. But at the busy intersection of Phloenchit and Ratchadamri roads in the midst of this shoppers’ paradise, the famous Erawan Shrine – located outside the Erawan hotel – stands as a spiritual oasis, welcoming hundreds of visitors daily. They come to receive blessings – in love, health and wealth.
I had passed the courtyard housing the shrine many times; while out shopping, of course. But recently I decided to join the throng and explore the shrine, which many believe carries unique powers. Internet message boards are packed with stories from those who swear that it has changed their lives. Whether it’s curing an illness or helping the lovelorn, the power of the Erawan Shrine, believers say, has worked miracles.
From an outsider’s perspective, this sounded too good to be true and the deep reverence shown by devotees seemed at odds with the area immediately surrounding the shrine – the loud whirr of passing vehicles and the Skytrain rumbling overhead.
At the shrine, the ideal offering is 12 incense sticks, which can be purchased inexpensively throughout the city and are available from nearby street vendors, who also sell candles, garlands and small religious statues. Merchants with caged birds at the courtyard’s gates will free their captives for a charge. Thai dancers sing prayers and perform to the rising beat of xylophone and drums. They receive donations from devotees who perhaps want to express gratitude for good fortune after a previous visit to the shrine. The girls move beautifully, however they did seem bored, which is not surprising given the daily repetitive nature of their routine.
The shrine itself houses a statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu god of creation Brahma. Sometimes referred to as the four-faced Buddha, the shrine is made of plaster, as well as a mixture of gold, bronze and other precious metals.
!The shrine’s origins date back to 1956 and the construction of the Erawan hotel. The project was considered cursed with workplace mishaps resulting in labourers’ deaths and the construction was delayed repeatedly. Spooked workers walked off the job site, fearing the bad spirits.
The Erawan Shrine was then constructed to ward off the bad spirits and bring good fortune to the site. Popular belief has it that it has been granting favours ever since.
I decided to experience this spiritual centre for myself. I turned off my mobile phone and tucked away my appointment book as I entered the shrine, the shouts of street vendors fading behind me. I lit the incense and gave a wai to all four sides of the shrine, tuning out the surrounding metropolis. As my concentration grew stronger, a realisation dawned on me: Amid the commotion of modern life, a place that allows a moment of quiet meditation is a gift, no matter where it is. The Erawan Shrine exists not in opposition to the mega-consumerism that surrounds it, but as an escape from it.
As for my prayers, I am waiting to see whether the gods will smile upon me.