Friday, November 26, 2010

Thailand Part 3: the Spirit House

The Thai are very religious people and Buddhism is practiced by nearly 95 percent of the population. The sect of Buddhism that is most common is Theravada, the oldest surviving Buddhist school in the world with its roots in India.

In Thailand, however, Buddhism is also mixed with folk beliefs, as well as aspects of Hinduism that made its way to Thailand from what is now Cambodia.

Buddhist temples are everywhere as are the monks clad in their burnt orange garments. Each morning, the monks walk out into their community with a large wooden bowl looking for food donations from nearby residents. All the food the monks eat comes via this ritual.

Also, as part of Thai Buddhism, on nearly every piece of property, from shopping malls to banks to golf courses, are found what are known as, "spirit houses," or, san phra phum in Thai. I took a photo of the one pictured here at Chiang Mai Highlands Golf and Spa Resort.

I asked Santi Chudintra, Director - The Americas Market Division for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who accompanied us for much of the trip, to tell me about the significance of the spirit house.

"Most Thai people believe that when a Thai family builds a new house, there is always the possibility that it has disturbed the spirits who live on the property. In order to protect their new home from retaliatory harm or mischief, some Thai families put up a little model house on a pole for the spirits to live in . Offerings of incense, fruit, flowers, and rice will be placed here, because the spirits must be kept happy at all costs. Inside the San Phra Phum, you will normally notice an image of Phra Chai Mongkol, an angel figurine, often gilded, and holding a sword in one hand, a money bag in the other hand. Phra Chai Mongkol’s origin lies in Hinduism. Suffice it to say, she is there to protect the land and its inhabitants.

"In addition, some spirit houses on the road were built to pacify the tormented spirits of people who have died violent deaths in crashes at that site."

A more in depth explanation of spirit houses can be found here and here.

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