Part IV     The Hindu Gods and Animist Spirits in Thai Buddhism...

by Terri Cotta

Hindu deities and many Bra manic practices have been retained in Thai Buddhism, most notably in the coronation rites of the kings of Thailand and other royal ceremonies, and many of the fundamental features of Hindu cosmography have been incorporated into Buddhist cosmography. Rama has been adopted as a regal name or part of it by many of the kings of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya and by all nine kings of the

spirit-house-pic.JPG (22324 bytes)

Chakri dynasty, and the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana, plays an essential role in Thai religious art and in Thai literature. The shrine of Erewan, the three-headed elephant mount of Indra, in Bangkok is one of the most popular shrines in Thailand, and thousands of offerings are made there every day.

The Thais have also retained many of the ancient animist beliefs and practices which they brought with them when they first migrated into Southeast Asia, and they still pay respect to the spirits (phi) of the ancestors and the spirits of place, who live in hills, springs, trees and caves and who protect their houses, shops, villages and cities. Some of these spirits are malign and have to be mollified and appeased with offerings.
Spirit houses in the form of a miniature Thai dwelling house or a temple building are set on a pillar in front of most houses and public buildings to provide accommodation for the spirits that have been disturbed by the construction of the building and for those who will act as its guardians, and every time improvements are carried out to the building the spirit house has to be improved commensurately.   Offerings of incense, candles, flowers, fruit and food are placed in the spirit houses every day. Actors, dancers and musicians make offerings to the phi before every performance, and the performances themselves are often commissioned by people in thanksgiving to the spirit for some favor granted. Drivers buy garlands of sweet scented jasmine and marigolds made by women and children at the side of the road and known as malai, and hang them in their cars to give protection against accidents.
The primary purpose of tattooing, which, though in decline, is still customary among many Thai men. is to ward off evil spirits and ensure good fortune. None of these beliefs and practices is deemed to be superstitious or to conflict with Buddhism: on the, contrary they are inextricably interwoven with it. For example, the ordination of monks is often preceded on the previous evening by a ceremony called bai sii in which the soul of the ordained is summoned up by a medium specializing in rites of passage.

                Copyright 1998 USMTA Inc.  All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004.