Bangkok blast: Erawan Shrine a bizarre choice of targets – here’s why

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Monday night saw one of the worst terror attacks in Thailand’s history, but what’s odd is the choice of targets.

The Erawan Shrine is not just a “popular tourist destination” as we are seeing reported over and over by Western media such as the BBC. Rather, it’s the go-to site for Thai politicians, businessmen, students and everyday Thai Buddhists who revere the “saksit” (sacred) powers of this particular image, Robert A. Dayley, author of “Southeast Asia in the New International Era,” told Borderless.

“That anyone would target this shrine is pretty remarkable. Anyone within the believing community of Thai Buddhism would be highly unlikely to attack this shrine — out of fear of spiritual consequences,” Dayley said.

“In fact it is so revered in Thailand that in 2006 when a mentally-ill man (who happened to be Muslim) attacked the shrine and began to destroy the image, Thai bystanders responded by seizing the man and then proceeded to beat him to death….to death!” he said.

Indeed, there must be a million sanphraphum shrines (residential spirit shrines) in Thailand. Anyone who spends time in Thailand sees them everywhere. Almost every home, building, or structure occupying land has an associated spirit shine on site. The gods, local deities, or images that occupy them must be supplicated with incense and offerings to ward off evil and access a wish, Dayley said.

But the Erawan Shrine has become famous for its powers. When the Erawan hotel was being built in the 50s, workers refused to continue working due to frequent accidents and a foreboding sense that the area’s spirit needed supplication. The government, which had taken over the building of the hotel, constructed this shrine and the workers continued, with greater safety than before, at least according to legend.

In 2010, when Red Shirt protesters occupied the shopping district and security forces moved them out with live rounds of fire, some angry protesters lit the nearby shopping malls on fire. They didn’t dare touch the nearby Erawan shrine.

The deity enjoys dancers so there is a daily troupe of beautiful Thai dancers there that devotees pay to dance as a supplication. The mix of a golden four-faced image God in a shrine, surrounded by images of elephants, classical Thai dancers at the ready, incense burning, music playing, jasmine flower garland’s mixing in the aroma of the place, and devotees pouring in at all times of the day to make supplication is truly spectacular from a cultural perspective, Dayley said.

And it’s smack-dab in the middle of Bangkok’s most central shopping district. Dayley said the Erawan shrine is a very special place in Thailand. Before elections politicians come there to make offerings. Before exams students arrive as well. Have a big business negotiation ahead? People go to the Erawan shrine.

“To me, if there is one truly unique aspect of this bombing, it’s the location. It could have been at a mall, on the Skytrain, or at a public gathering or other tourist site, but the target was the Erawan shrine,” he said.

“I’m not sure if the bomber understood everything I mentioned…probably not. But, if he did, then this is truly an un-Thai political act, in the religious sense of ‘Thainess,’ he said.

 

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