David Beckham looks down from a billboard beside Bangkok’s busiest – and most unlikely – pilgrimage site. Traffic roars by on all sides. Hyperactive digital screens advertise Chang Beer, Coca-Cola and Oppo smartphones on neighbouring department store buildings. Skytrains screech past overhead.
It is the least serene setting imaginable. Yet here in the midst of mayhem, pilgrims flock to pray and give thanks to a small gold idol. In Buddhist Thailand, this shrine honours the Hindu god Brahma, his gilded figure housed on an altar of mirrored mosaics beneath a thousand-petalled lotus.
The four-faced creator is thronged day and night by supplicants seeking divine intervention and, when it’s granted, showering him with gifts. Hence the mountains of marigolds draping iron railings by the altar and the heady perfume of incense sticks smouldering in beds of sand. On a side stage, musicians and silk- clad dancers perform for Brahma’s pleasure.
Elsewhere in this busy scene, caged birds are bought and released to earn religious merit. Lotus buds are used to sprinkle holy water over heads and bodies. Beneath David Beckham stands a phalanx of elephants, the rear guard in gold, the forward ranks rendered in glossy black, their heads pasted with squares of gold leaf by the faithful seeking good fortune.
No other site in Bangkok embodies the Thais’ superstitious side like Erawan Shrine. It was built in 1956 to ward off bad spirits thought to be plaguing the construction of the adjacent hotel. The hotel’s troubles ceased and Brahma became known as a shrine where prayers will be answered. It’s open 24/7. Drop by to see the power of hope.