The Goddess Tuptim Shrine is located in the heart of Bangkok, on the grounds of Nai Lert Park Hotel (formerly a Hilton, now a Swissôtel) on Sukhumvit Road. The shrine is littered with hundreds of lingams, a phallic form of the Hindu god Shiva. Most of them are made of wood, with some made of metal, but palad khik are known to be made of horn, bone, black coral, and ivory. Some of them are even incised with special Buddhist inscriptions or have names written on. The inscriptions are usually in Pali or Sanskrit and are made by special monks who also perform the requisite blessings.
The lingams at Chao Mae Tuptim are of various sizes, ranging from huge to lilliputian, and of various colours, with most painted red, but also blue and green. According to Philip Rawson, who in his book, “Tantra: The Indian Cult of Ecstasy,” traced erotic imagery to Tantric beliefs within Hinduism and Buddhism, “The most powerful sexual rite, of re-integration, requires intercourse with the female partner when she is menstruating, and her ‘red’ sexual energy is at its peak. For these reasons, the representations in the art of the female counterpart, or initiator, are usually colored red.”
According to folklore, phallic images were brought to Thailand by Khmer monks in the 8th century AD. Although the origins of the shrine are unknown, the lingams that surrounds it hints at the fact that it has to do with fertility. A sign erected in the small park that hosts the Phallic Shrine informs us that the origins of Chao Mae Tuptim are obscure. All people can recall is that a spirit house was built by Nai Lert for the spirit who was believed to reside in the large Ficus tree in the park. The shrine was originally dedicated to Chao Tuptim, a female animist spirit who people believe has been residing in the tree for hundreds of years.
True to this legend, the shrine that stands in middle of the park hosts the wooden carving depicting the Goddess Tuptim. Her image is located in the spirit house and is about 20 cm high. As the park is shaded by the trees and thus quite dark, you would have to use the flash on your camera to get a good picture of the goddess. Apart from the main shrine, there is also a Thai spirit house festooned with gifts and garlands, while, all around you, brightly coloured scarves, food offerings, and even Thai traditional costumes arrest your eyes.
Another legend tells of a woman who, many years ago, prayed at the shrine asking for help from Chao Tuptim. As she couldn’t conceive, she offered the Goddess fragrant wreaths of snow-white jasmine flowers, incense sticks with pink and white lotus buds and, nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy son. As a way of thanking Chao Tuptim, she placed a large wooden carving of a giant phallus in front of the shrine. To this day, others followed her lead: women pray for help with fertility; and men for luck in business as, in Thai culture, the phallus is also known as a symbol of financial prosperity.
There is also a variety of gifts that worshipers bring to the shrine, ranging from personal possession to small figurines of people and animals. The human ones represent the “Lords of the Land” and are traditionally found in Thai spirit houses.
You can imagine that the PR manager of Nai Lert Park Hotel is not too happy of hosting such a spicy tourist attraction, but as the land does not belong to them, they have no choice at all. Although the shrine’s vicinity to Saen Saeb Canal gives the air quite a foul smell, the small park is very quiet, a nice change from the busy Sukhumvit Road.
It is important to mention that the Phallic Shrine from Bangkok is unique neither to Thailand nor to Asia. There is another phallic shrine in Phra Nang Cave in Krabi and the Japanese celebrate the Shinto festival of Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) every spring.