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The Erawan Shrine (Erawan Sanctuary) is a well-known place to visit in the center of Bangkok. Most tourists visit sanctuaries such as the Erawan Shrine often to look, take pictures and soak up culture. But the Thai, Hindu and Chinese visit the Erawan Shrine for a very different reason. At this place believers pray for happiness and that their wishes may come true. Special is that the history of the Erawan Shrine has unfortunately also had a lot of misfortune. It is only in the last few years that happiness reigns again, luckily!
The junction at which the Erawan Shrine lies | Image: Mark Hathaway (Flickr.com)
DO YOU KNOW?
The Ratchaprasong intersection is one of the busiest intersections in all of Bangkok.
The construction of the Erawan Hotel and the birth of the Erawan Shrine
In 1951 approval was given for the construction of the Erawan Hotel (now Grand Hyatt Erawan) at the intersection of Ratchaprasong in Siam Square. This hotel had to offer a place to sleep to the growing number of visitors including tourists to the city of Bangkok. During the construction of the hotel there were delays due to several accidents. Workers were injured and, to make matters worse, a ship with a load of Italian marble destined for the hotel perished. After all this calamity a large part of the superstitious workers refused to continue working and construction had to be stopped. In 1956 the hotel was still not completed and the prestigious project seemed to fail.
The reason for all the mischief
To prevent further accidents, a number of dignitaries including an astrologer and senior clergymen were asked for advice. According to the astrologer, the cause of all the mischief was an incorrectly chosen starting date of the construction of the foundation of the hotel. Another contribution of all that mischief was that in the past the intersection of the construction site was used to show criminals to the people. These two facts resulted in bad karma for the construction project.
The solution to avert the accident
To avert all that misfortune, a number of highly placed Brahmins Hindu priests advised to build an altar in honor of the Hindu god Phra Phrom. And so the construction of the Erawan Shrine was completed on November 9, 1956. After the construction of the sanctuary there were no more incidents and this turned out to be the right solution for the problems surrounding the construction of the Erawan Hotel.
The designers of Erawan
The designers of the Erawan altar are Mr. R. Chomeseri and Mr. M.L. Poom Malakul. These two gentlemen are well known and highly regarded in Thai art history. The bronze gilded plaster statue of the god Phra Phrom was designed and cast by Mr. Jitr Pimkowit who worked in the Visual Arts Department in Bangkok at the time.
The god Phra Phrom
The god Phra Phrom is the Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma, the god of creation and of the manifested world. In Thai culture this god stands for happiness and protection. Phra Phrom has four faces that symbolize knowledge from the four directions (north, east, south and west). Through his four faces Phra Phrom can see and protect both the human and the spiritual world. The four faces also symbolize the four virtues, kindness, grace, sympathy and impartiality. The statue has six arms of which four are left arms and two are right arms. In a number of hands Phra Phrom is holding objects.
All day long it is a coming and going of believers who come here to pray so that their wishes may come true. There are also countless offerings such as garlands of flowers, wooden elephants, fruit and money in the hope that the wish will come true. The Erawan Shrine Foundation donates the sacrificed money back to charities.
God Phra Phrom (Hindu god Bhrama) | Image: Khalil Daoud (Flickr)
Dancing and singing for happiness
In the back of the little square where the Erawan Shrine stands is a place where a number of musicians and traditional Thai dancers stand. After payment, a traditional song with blessings and dance is performed. As an outsider you stand there and look at it but for those who pay for this ceremony it’s usually much more than just a dance. Often a song is bought to thank god Brahma (Phra Phrom) for the fulfilled wish. And so the vow is finished. There are also many (western) tourists queuing up to have a traditional Thai dance performed for them. The income from the donations and performances is divided over several charities and over 250 hospitals in provinces where mainly poor people live.
DO YOU KNOW?
A traditional dancer at the Erawan Shrine needs to memorise more than twenty songs and be able to perform them both singing and dancing. On a busy day, there are more than 200 performances per service.
Dancing, singing and praying as thanking | Image: Kompakin Borwornpakramil (Flickr)
The Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel
The old Erawan Hotel which saw the light of day in 1956 was demolished in 1987 after more than 30 years of loyal service. The new Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel replaced the grounds in 1991. This hotel still exists and if you want to sleep here you can book this hotel for around 200 euros per night.
Grand Erawan Hyatt | Image: Khalil Daoud (Flickr)
More mischief in the twentieth century
Unfortunately, the beautiful Erawan Shrine and its surroundings have been in the news in recent years due to more unfortunate events. Below a list, let’s hope it stays that way!
Incense and candles at the Erawan Shrine | Image: Sarah Marston (Flickr)
March 21st 2006
The original statue of Phra Phrom was destroyed with a big hammer by a 27-year-old man with a mental disorder. The boy climbed into the altar and smashed the hollow statue to smithereens. Almost the whole statue was destroyed, a small part of the statue under which a leg of Phra Phrom was all that was left. The angry crowd that witnessed this act beat the boy to death immediately after his deed. A number of people were eventually arrested and trialed for this. On May the 21st, 2006 at 11:39, exactly two months later and at the moment that the sun was exactly above the Erawan Shrine, a new statue of Phra Phrom was placed. This statue is made of plaster and gilded with a mixture of molten gold, bronze and the remains of the original statue. There is also another statue cast in metal from the same mould. This one is now kept in the National Museum of Bangkok.
May 19th 2010
Less than five minutes walk from the Erawan Shrine was Bangkok’s World Trade Center, Thailand’s largest shopping mall. On May the 19th, this shopping center was set on fire by a group of demonstrators after a protest against the government. This happened after the leaders of the same protest movement had surrendered themselves to the police. After the majority of the shopping center was reopened to the public at the end of September 2010, the name was changed to Central World. The ZEN building that had suffered the most fire damage could only be reopened in January 2012.
May 22nd 2014
Because of fierce fighting around the Erawan Shrine, the sanctuary was damaged by a number of bullet holes. The outbursts of violence between the people and the army eventually resulted in a military coup. After the peace had returned, the damage to the Erawan Shrine could be repaired.
August 17th 2015
On the 17th of August 2015 at 18:55 an explosive detonated near the Erawan Shrine. a backpack containing a bar bomb had been placed near the sacred altar. More than 125 bystanders were injured and 20 were killed on this pitch-black day. It is claimed that the bomb was placed by a member of the Turkish ultranationalists (the Grey Wolves). This was in retaliation for the deportation of a number of terrorist suspects to China instead of offering them asylum in Turkey. In spite of the many dead and wounded, the image of god Phra Phrom himself suffered little damage. The most striking damage was a hole in the chin of one of Phra Phrom’s faces.
July 23rd 2016
After a 51 year old Thai woman behind the wheel of her car had a stroke, she drove through the fence of the Erawan Shrine. She stopped just a few meters in front of the sacred altar. She injured herself as well as 6 other visitors, but fortunately there were no fatalities.
DO YOU KNOW?
Because a number of large shopping malls have opened in this area in recent years, the management of these shopping malls has chosen to have an altar built for various Hindu gods here as well:
- Central World, Phra Timurati
- Amarin Plaza, Phra Indra
- Yasorn Plaza, Phra Lakshmi
Little girl praying at the Erawan Shrine | Image: Ho YC (Flickr)
Sleeping near the Erawan Shrine
The Erawan Shrine is located in the region called Siam Square. Siam Square is a small area full of large shopping malls, bars, restaurants and attractions. In this area are also the two BTS lines together so you can easily get here by public transport.