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...In every Thai boxing camp, building and household, you will see the spiritual  side of Thailand and the Thai people...

By Srinual Kantakat  

The figurine of the spirit: In Thailand, one usually sees small models of a Thai house or replicas of Buddhist temples standing on pedestals in the grounds of most buildings. These small houses are spirit houses or (saan phra phum) which provides homes for the spirits.

A spirit house must be in a prominent place on the property but far enough to keep the spirits away from the main building. The spirit house is installed with proper ceremony, and daily offerings are made to keep its resident spirit content.

Building a spirit house is an animistic practice which is still prevalent in Thai culture. It is believed that the earth is inhabited by souls or spirits which command the good or bad fortune of people, depending on their pleasure. When the spirit is disturbed by people who settle down where he resides, he will cause the people illness, bad luck or misfortune. People have to placate the spirit by paying respect to him and by building a spirit house on a clean area which is far from the house's shadow. They must invite him to move in and become the phra phum chao thii or guardian spirit of the locality. A spirit house consists of four components:

The House:  Formerly, the spirit house used to be made of wood in the traditional Thai style or in the form of a wooden pavilion, mounted on a single column. Today the spirit house has become more decorative than in the past and is now made of cement instead of wood. Also, the style has changed from that of a Thai house to resemble that of a Thai Buddhist temple.  The figurine which holds a Thai style double edged sword in the right hand represents the spirit. The left hand of this figure used to hold a notebook. Now a money pouch is more popular.

The servants: Pairs of male and female dolls and small statues of elephants and horses are placed on the spirit house to serve the incumbent spirit.

The Color of the house: Usually the color of the spirit house is the same as the birthday color of the owner of the main house. For example, if the owner was born on a Monday the spirit house would be Yellow, Tuesday, Pink, Wednesday, Green, Thursday,, Golden, Friday, Blue. Saturday,, Purple, Sunday, Red.'

Formerly all spirit were called phii in Thai. A guardian spirit is a spirit who watches over the members in the house. Later spirits were ranked and grouped because of Indian cultural influence: thep or thevada is a high ranking spirit similar to the western concept of a god, goddess, or divinity. The phii has become an ordinary spirit, at best a guardian spirit, an ancestor spirit or a wood nymph.

The Myth of the Guardian Spirit: A King of Phle city named Thao Thodsara had nine children. He sent all of his smart brave young sons to protect inhabited areas. The first son Phra Chalmongkot protects a house, shops and buildings.

The second son Phya Nakonra] protects all the fortresses, city gates and stairs. The third son named as Phra Thevathain protects vending stalls, the fourth son Phra Chaiyasop protects ams. The fifth son named Phra Khontham protects homes for newly weds and theatres. The sixth son Phra Thamhora protects fields, forests and grounds. The seventh son Phra Valyathat protects temples, the eighth son, Phra Thammikaraj protects gardens, plantations. The ninth son Phra Thaithara protects rivers, canals and swamps. These sons are all known collectively as Phra Phum or the guardian spirit.

However, gods such as Brahma are also invited to become guardian spirit. The Brahma shire at the Phloenchit intersection in Bangkok is the most famous spirit house in Thailand and is popular among tourists from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia because the gods usually grants to them whatever they request.


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