At a corner of the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok’s noisy and smoggy commercial center, the Erawan Shrine offers a peaceful refuge for busy city dwellers. It houses a statue of PhraPhrom, the Thai representation of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.
Formally named the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine, for more than 60 years the Erawan Shrine has swarmed with locals and tourists praying for good luck. Tragedy struck in 2015 when it was hit by a still-unsolved bomb attack that killed 20 people and injured more than 120. Yet it soon regained popularity, proving that that the shrine continues to be a symbolic place of Hinduism in the lives of Thai people. While the number of visitors has declined recently because of the viral pandemic, prayers, chants, and Ram Kae Bon (a dance performed to thank Brahma) go on all day long.
“We Thais believe that Buddhism and Hinduism are the same, including the rituals, so as a Buddhist I come here to pray without hesitation,” said Ms. Natcha Chalayonravin, a veteran flight attendant. “People have different reasons for praying here. Some wish for good luck, others for health or a job. I am here to purify my mind and think about the direction of my life.”
The Erawan Shrine has an engrossing history, linked to a government-owned project started in 1956 to construct the Erawan Hotel. Before completion this project met with a slew of misfortunes. Several workers died in the initial construction stages and labourers became reluctant to work on the site as they came to believe an evil spirit was casting a shadow over the area. Most ominous of all, a ship transporting marble from Italy for the hotel’s construction sank at sea. Hence construction was severely delayed and the budget overshot badly.
An astrologer then advised project managers to construct a shrine to counter negative influences. Although Erawan, which had already been chosen as the hotel’s name, is the elephant who carries the god Indra, the astrologer proposed constructing a shrine to Brahma, to whom this animal is also considered to be very dear. Hence a site at the corner of the Erawan Hotel was selected and an image of the deity was placed facing north and consecrated. A four-faced Brahma statue was then designed and built by the Department of Fine Arts and finally enshrined on 9 November 1956. Thereafter the hotel’s construction proceeded without further incident.
The hotel survived until 1987, when it was demolished to make way for the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok hotel that stands there today, but the shrine has remained and its fame continues today as a meeting point of religion, astrology and history.
After offering flowers to Brahma, dental nurse Ms. Siwiwan Nuchikaew recalled her deep connection to the shrine: “Just before I entered nursing school six years ago, my father developed heart disease and my mother disappeared. I was working at the 7Eleven to take care of my two younger sisters and my father as best I could but began to feel so desperate that I wanted to die.” Then one day she was wandering aimlessly and stopped by chance in front of this place where so many people were praying. Without really knowing who Brahma was at the time, she joined them to pray for her father to recover and for help to become a nurse. Amazingly, a few months later her wishes were granted. Her father was healed, her mother returned, and she was admitted to nursing school. The place where she had prayed was the Erawan Shrine, of course, and since then Siwiwan has visited every month to give thanks.
There are always circumstances and events beyond human will, and many people ultimately turn to God for help. For Thais, and perhaps even for many of the foreign tourists who come here, Erawan Shrine is the place to tell their story to Brahma in the hope that their wishes will be fulfilled.