Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December 12th, 2008

The Ghosts of Erawan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th December, 2008

One of the most unsettling things about returning to Bangkok after an absence of nearly four decades is that most parts of the city are completely unrecognisable. The Thai capital was an essentially low-rise conglomeration in the late 1960s, whereas now it is full of skyscrapers and the (very efficient) Skytrain dominates several major arteries. I was hoping to find a point of reference when I went to a meeting in the Erawan Hotel in the main business district, but the old government-owned hotel I knew had been knocked down and replaced with a an anonymous-chic Grand Hyatt edifice that could have been anywhere in the world — except for the Hindu shrine outside.

The shrine was built over 50 years ago, to try to assuage the bad karma brought about by allegedly starting the erection of the original Erawan Hotel on an inauspicious date. All sorts of mishaps occured during the hotel’s construction, including injury to workmen and the sinking of a ship bringing Italian marble for its decoration. So the shrine was erected and the mishaps miraculously stopped. It still attracts masses of worshippers and is sometimes the scene for classic Thai dancing.

Two years ago, the shrine attracted a new kind of notoriety when late one night a manic-depressive attacked a gilded plaster image of Brahma with a hammer. He was immediately set upon and beaten to death by two refuse collectors who happened to be there. It was claimed by some rabble-rousers that the attack on the image had been instigated by the then Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, so that the deity could be replaced by some dark force supportive of Thaksin (who was later ousted and now lives in exile). This is just one colourful example of how Thai politics and customs are unlike those almost anywhere else in the world!

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