Located at the Ratchaprasong intersection Erawan is surrounded by the highest concentration of Hindu shrines in the Thai capital. Besides Brahma, there are Lakshmi, Vishnu or Narayana, Ganesh, Indra and the Trimurti Shrine of the Holy Trinity – each being dedicated as the guardian and patron saint of a neighbouring building. History tells us that when Indian scholars brought, and spread Buddhism across Thailand, they also brought with them Hindu religion, culture and folklore, which has since merged with Thai culture and beliefs.
The four faces of Brahma represent the four books of the Vedas, while the eight hands are representative of His omnipresence and power. The upper right hand carries a rosary symbolising the cycle of life from creation to death, the upper left hand holds a pot of water representing cosmic energy of creation, while the lower right bestows grace and protection.
While the four headed deity is found in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan too, where He is worshipped by the Chinese as the God of Fortune and Protection, the aura and devotion of Erawan is very strong. The belief that if you pray faithfully, your prayers will be answered, could perhaps be the biggest attraction.
We were told that the method of praying here was to start by stating your name, date of birth and promising to return to say thank you when your wish is fulfilled. Then, moving in a clockwise direction, pray for one specific thing fronting each face. The four directions are said to represent peace and harmony in relationships; fortune and success; good health; and protection against evil
Enshrined here on 9 November 1956, the Erawan Shrine, was built as part of the original government-owned Erawan Hotel to appease the land spirits and remove the bad karma believed to have been brought on by the laying of the foundation stone on an inauspicious date.
This resulted in a number of obstacles causing delays during the hotel's construction. Incidents occured such as injuries to and lost of life labourers, loss of a shipload of Italian marble, and resultant cost overruns. Furthermore, the Ratchaprasong Intersection had once been used to put criminals on public display, which again was considered to generate negative vibes.
An astrologer was consulted who advised building Lord Brahma's shrine to negate bad influences. The gold statue, designed and built by the Department of Fine Arts, was erected and construction proceeded without further incident and the hotel grew very prosperous. In 1987, the original hotel was demolished and the current Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel was built, apparently deeply influenced by the name of the shrine.
Reports say that on 21 March 2006, a man, believed to be demented, vandalised the shrine and was killed by angry worshippers and bystanders. Two months later, on 21 May at 11.39 am, with the sun shining directly above the shrine a new gilted Brahma statue was placed in the shrine.
Besides Thailand, Lord Brahma is also worshipped in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as the four-faced Buddha. But Erawan is reputed to have the largest following in the region, as evidenced by the throngs on the 9th.
The Buddha statue is relatively small, yet the experience of praying there and the collective atmosphere created by worshippers is very unique. Judging from the flowing multitude of believers, it is a common sight to see the premises filled with devotees day and night. Interestingly, many young faces were spotted among the crowds stopping to pay obesience.
Offerings range from floral garlands, burning incense, cash donations, fruit and teakwood elephants in the hope of getting one's wishes fulfilled. When wishes are granted, devotees return and thank-yous are said often in the form of performances by resident Thai dancers hired by worshippers, and by the release of caged birds.
During our four days stay at the hotel next door, we were drawn to the shrine – getting the opportunity to go daily to profess our gratitude for all that we have been blessed with – and left hoping our prayers would be answered.
While Erawan is not old, as far as places of worship go, the comparatively young 56-year old shrine is an interesting testament of the role of religion in contemporary Thai society.