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Shrine of the
Text : Tachyon & Terryl
Images : Tachyon
My artist friends woke me up for morning coffee and an early start. The early start worked out all right, but the coffee didn't. Heading south on the Chiang Mai - Hod road, I was still feeling drowsy.
And with reason. This might well be a Sunday with the
nicest possible weather after the previous night's rain. But - let's face it -
on a nice Sunday morning like this, there's nothing else that you
want to do but keep your head stuck to the pillow as long as possible.
Anyway, the trip had to be made that morning because
we'd agreed to go along to the annual celebration at the Ganesha
shrine. It's the belief of my friends, as well as most Thai artists, that it
would bring good luck for the following year if we paid our respects to
this specific (originally Hindu) divinity known to us as
Phra Phi Kanet.
What you have to understand is that where modern-day
Thai art and culture are concerned, Hinduism's important. Whether
we're Buddhist, Christian or Muslim, Hinduism is an inseparable part
of our daily lives. Most religious ceremonies here are hybrid,
with strong infusions of age-old mythologies, particularly those of
Especially when it comes to arts, writers like me, and most
of the artists in Thailand still have great respect for this one
particular Hindu deity, Ganesha, who is considered to be the god of
success, with the power to override all barriers facing his worshippers.
In Thailand, he's generally held as the divine master of the arts.
(According to the on-line Wikipedia, he is the master of intellect
and wisdom, while Sarasvati is the Goddess of Knowledge and all literary arts.) Every art school and facility in Thailand is bound to
have a shrine devoted to him, and the students are told to pay
their respects on a regular basis if they want their future artistic
careers to be successful.
So, we kicked off on our personal pilgrimage on my old
bike. The ride was smooth, either because of Ganesha's blessing
or because we know this road so well - Airport Plaza and from
there down towards Hang Dong.
Anyway, for those who want to visit this shrine, at about
km 35, after crossing a small bridge (so small you might not notice
it), you will see a Bangchak gas station. Make a u-turn there and
turn left at the next turn-off. Follow that small road for 5.5 kms and
the museum, called Ganesh Himal, is unmistakably visible on the left.
While you're driving down here, you can also stop by at Ban Tawai road, famous for leading to the village of woodcarving artists and their shops. Just take a left turn-off at about the 10th kilometer. Browsing should take the casual visitor only an hour or so, but if you're a real shopaholic ... well, no saying when you'll get away.
Now, as we're now approaching the shrine, let's get back to our business here. Since Chiang Mai is like a spawning playground for ever-increasing numbers of artists, a huge number had congregated there that day. These weren't just out-of-this world people with long hair in rugged clothes, but also apparently local villagers too. All in all, about twelve hundred people showed up to pay their respects.
The annual celebration is actually a sort of birthday ceremony of the elephant-headed god. This particular day it was Sunday 27th of August, though you might need to know next year it'll be a different date since the Hindus measure their year by a lunar calendar rather than the Western Gregorian one.
The shrine itself is an eye-catching structure, brick-red in colour and three storeys high. The statue of Ganesha had been removed from the shrine and put out in the open where the Brahman priest and his acolytes were chanting Ganesha's 108 names and bathing the image with milk, honey, and scented water. Other offerings included fruits such as sugar cane, banana, coconut, and some brightly colored flowers.
As the ceremony was - to be honest - rather slow and long, I took the opportunity to look around the Ganesh Himal compound. Curiously enough, the surrounding buildings are arranged as a six-pointed star, so commonly a symbol of power in other religions too - two triangles superimposed on each other.
At each corner of the star stands, in clockwise order, the gate, the museum of Ganesha-related arts, the horphra (a wooden house storing Ganesha images), the shrine, the temple, and the pavilion by the pond. Don't ask me just what the star's significance is. One of the officiates explained something to me but I couldn't take it all in - see, Sunday morning, the coffee still not working. But try looking it up in a good encyclopedia of religions. It'll all be there.
The museum should be of interest to anyone. There are numerous antique artifacts well as items of exotic Indian art. Unfortunately, this is not a rich museum so don't fancy any extravagant lighting. It's just a building full of artifacts under one cohesive theme, Ganesha.
Here we can see different images of Ganesha, who has perhaps the most confusing biography of all Hindu gods. According to one of the myths, he was beheaded by his moody 'father' Siva (actually, born of Parvati, Goddess Maiden of the Mountain, he had no real father), but regarding him as an obstacle and rival to the affections of his rather ferocious wife, Siva had his severed human head replaced by that of an elephant - and not just any old common-or-garden tusker, but Airavata, the mount of the King of the Gods, Indra...However, don't take my word for it in this matter. Once again, consult the encyclopedias of mythology, because the myths associated with Siva, Parvati and Ganesh are complex indeed, and running to many versions, no less than four of them dealing with this matter of the loss of his head and its replacement.
Birthday respects at Ganesh Himal
Oh, and by the way, if you don't get a chance to visit the Ganesh Himal shrine, out on the road to Hang Dong, you can conveniently see a nice little image of the deity in the outer courtyard of the Wat Phra That on Doi Suthep. And what on earth is he doing there, in a Buddhist temple, you might ask. Well, let's leave that till later.
Because, right now, the Sun God had moved to well above my head, and my stomach was crying out for sustenance. It was time to say goodbye to the world of the devas and move on to something more solid and satisfying at our own terrestrial level.
Now, though, having made my pilgrimage, like any other artistic type I could look ahead with increased confidence, sure that luck would be on my side in the year to come.
Text : Tachyon & Terryl
Images : Tachyon