Sunday, June 14, 2009

Goddess of Earth and Subduing of Mara and Spirit House

OVERDRIVE: Will the Goddess of Earth bless or destroy?

What will become of the Democrat Party after the ill omen that befell its emblem, the Goddess of Earth statue? Earlier this week as workers were trying to remove the statue from party headquarters, they accidentally dropped it and broke her ponytail.

The Goddess of Earth's ponytail had to be taped to prevent it from falling apart.

Nobody knows for sure what bad luck will follow.

But most Democrats must realise that their fate has already been written on the wall.

The Goddess of Earth is sculpted in the act of wringing water from her hair.

You can also see a similar statue at a corner near Sanam Luang.

Queen Saovabha, wife of King Chulalongkorn and mother of King Rama VI and King Rama VII, had the statue of the Goddess of Earth erected in 1917.

This was in celebration of her fiftieth birthday.

A day before the opening ceremony for this statue, Queen Saovabha wrote to Minister of the City Chao Phraya Yomarat as follows: "Tomorrow I will make merit for my anniversary here, as usual.

I ask you to open the ceremony of the Statue of the Goddess of Earth with a water fountain, which I have paid to be erected by the Phan Philip Lila Bridge.

And I would like to dedicate this water fountain for public use; for the people who are my friends of the earth to drink and quench their thirst as they please.

" Thus those who passed by Sanam Luang in the old days could drink and wash their faces from the water provided from the Goddess of Earth's hair, built as a water fountain.

Nowadays people may no longer need water from the Goddess of Earth but they still worship her.

Interestingly, the Goddess of Earth is one of the characters of the Buddhist era.

In the story, before the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha, he was attacked by the Mara King, Vassavati.

The Mara King rode on elephant back ahead of a fierce army, trying to disrupt his path to enlightenment.

The Lord Buddha called Vasundhara, or the Goddess of Earth, to witness this confrontation with the Mara King and his army.

The Goddess of Earth said she would return to the Buddha the water he had poured on the earth in an act of making merit (tham boon kruad nam).

Thus she began to wring water from her hair.

All of a sudden, the water flowing from her hair became a mighty ocean, sweeping away the Mara King and his army to the ends of the earth and killing most of them.

Frightened by this power, the Mara King fled in disgrace.

The Lord Buddha's confrontation with the Mara King has deeply caught the imagination of Thai artists, inspiring them to create statues and paintings of the Buddha in the act of subduing the Mara King.

More than half a century ago, the late Khuang Abhaiwong, a founder of the Democrat Party, was staging a political rally at Sanan Luang.

Suddenly, there was a heavy downpour.

But the people did not move.

They stayed on to listen to his campaign speech.

When Khuang went back to his party headquarters and talked to other members, he thought that there must have been some supernatural force that had protected him and his party from the rain.

He recalled the nearby statue of the Goddess of the Earth.

Afterward a decision was made to take the Goddess of the Earth as the symbol of the Democrat Party.

Now many wonder whether the Goddess of the Earth's broken ponytail will spell doom for the Democrat Party.

The Goddess of Earth not only extends her love and compassion to the people by giving water from her hair, but she can also destroy bad people by sending an angry ocean from her hair to drown them.

We will have to wait and see whether a broken ponytail can prevent the Goddess of Earth from manifesting her magical power.

Thanong Khanthong The Nation

OVERDRIVE: Civilisations in conflict - but we can handle it

Even at the very micro level, we routinely witness clashes between the khaek civilisation and the jek civilisation in Thailand.

Khaek is a convenient term that Thais use to refer to Indians.

Jek denotes the Chinese.

One such clash is taking place at a site where I am building a house on extended land for my family.

It would not be surprising to witness similar clashes between the khaek and the jek elsewhere - clashes that profoundly shape the way the Thai people live, speak, act, worship and believe.

In the backyard of my house will stand a spirit house.

Next month a Brahmin priest will conduct a sacred ceremony to erect the spirit house for the god or the gods to reside.

The gods will live side by side with my family and ensure that we live in peace and with happiness.

Coincidentally, my next door neighbour is also building a new house.

He is spying on what we are doing.

He has just consulted a feng shui master on the design and the construction of his house.

Feng shui is the Chinese art of living in harmony with nature.

My neighbour sometimes sneaks onto my site to send out a signal that I am not building my house within the principles of feng shui.

Apparently, he believes that the spirit house is not good enough for me to ensure luck and prosperity.

This is a big difference in our values.

I am more inclined toward the khaek civilisation.

For, through the spirit house, I want peace and happiness in my house.

My neighbour strictly follows feng shui because he wants luck and prosperity for his family.

Jamlong, the head of the construction site at my house, remarked with a good heart about the rivalry that is going on between the two beliefs.

"It is fun as we are going to see a fierce battle between the feng shui master and the priest," he said.

As Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister, leads a top-level delegation to Thailand to open up a new era of bilateral relations, he will immediately recognise the profound influence that India has had on Thailand for thousands of years.

Thailand is a recipient country of two great civilisations - India from the West and China from the North.

But the influence from India is deeper, forming layers and layers in the foundation of Thai civilisation.

From religion to the arts, language, music, culture, law and literature, you see significant Indian elements in the ways of the Thais.

We borrowed ideas from India and used them rather conveniently until they were considered Thai ideas.

It was Emperor Asoka of India who in the third century played a key role in turning Suvarnabhumi, or the Golden Land, into a more civilised land.

Before, the local people in Suvarnabhumi worshipped ghosts and gods, who were believed to reside everywhere in rivers, in trees, in mountains, in the fields.

Emperor Asoka sent two chief missionaries to the east to propagate Buddhism.

One missionary went to Suvarnabhumi, the other to China, to then go on and teach Buddhism in Korea and Japan.

But before that, Hinduism, brought to this region by Indian merchants, had strengthened its foothold in the Cham civilisation of Vietnam and the Khmer civilisation, as witnessed by the grandeur of Angkor Wat.

When King Rama I, who founded Bangkok in 1782, wrote his own version of "Ramayana", originally written in Sanskrit by Valmiki, he did so in a poetic style and it now has its theme rooted in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace of Bangkok.

"Ramayana" is widely read by Thais, who also adapted it into khlon plays.

It's immediately recognisable by the fact that the kings of the Chakri Dynasty use the title Rama, a name derived from the "Ramayana".

One of our deputy prime ministers, Dr Vishanu Krua-ngam, has a khaek first name.

Lord Vishnu is one of the Indian Gods.

But somehow the Indian elements have permeated Thai culture so deeply that we have forgotten their origin.

Pragmatic as we Thais are, we have also come to assume that the Indian elements are Thai.

Then the jek came later on with their forceful civilisation, their food, customs, beliefs and trading practices, to provide a topping for Thai civilisation.

Feng shui is only one of the examples.

The Chinese began building Chinatown from the founding of Bangkok.

We can also see the Indian community, around Phahurat near Chinatown.

Somehow the Chinese have overshadowed the Indians and now exert more influence on the Thais.

Yet the Indian spirit is always there in the consciousness of the Thais.

For the Thais, whether it is khaek or jek, we don't mind as long as it works.

Thanong Khanthong The Nation

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