Phra Prom returns to Erawan Shrine

Bangkok Post, May 21, 2006

Bangkok, Thailand -- In a ritual harking back to Thailand's Hindu roots, a reconstructed Brahman statue was paraded Sunday to the Erawan shrine in the heart of Bangkok, where hundreds of worshippers were on hand to welcome the revered deity.

A procession of lion dances and gong-bangers escorted a motorcade transporting the renovated statue from the Fine Arts Department, leaving at exactly 11:39 a.m., to the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok, where more than 1,000 worshippers including Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra awaited it.

The orginal Phra Prom statue was destroyed exactly two months ago by a mentally ill man who was forthwith beaten to death, allegedly by guards of the shrine.

"I feel at peace now that Phra Phom has returned to the shrine and we can worship him again," said Absorn Keowsopha, 52, one of hundreds of mostly elderly women dressed in white who had gathered outside the shrine to welcome the returning Hindu god.

Many of the worshippers wrote down the license plate number of the car carrying the statue in the hopes that it would prove the lucky lottery draw.

Thai Culture Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who presided over the placement of the statue, noted that the government had made two copies, keeping the second at the National Museum in case of another mishap.

The shrine, built in 1956 to ward off bad luck at the adjacent Erawan Hotel, is one of Thailand's most popular places of worship, especially among those seeking good fortune in business, love, the birth of a male child or a lottery jackpot.

The destruction of the Brahman statue was deemed a national disaster, prompting predictions of the fall of Prime Minister Thaksin and political upheaval for the country.

The government quickly ordered a replacement statue built.

Although Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party went on to win a snap election on April 2, the poll was annulled earlier this month and Thailand is currently being managed by a caretaker administration until a new election can be held later this year.

Rear Admiral Luang Suwichanphaet, a specialist in astrology, first advised the Erawan Hotel management to construct a shrine for the statue on the corner of its property, to ensure good fortune after the hotel ran into a spate of unlucky accidents.

The Erawan Hotel was bought by the Hyatt hotel group about 14 years ago.

The shrine is a popular place of worship for Buddhists and Hindus from Thailand and abroad, especially among tourists from Hong Kong and Singapore.

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country but many popular religious practices hark back to Hinduism, the first world religion to be adopted in the Southeast Asian nation.