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The spirit houses of Thailand

Outside virtually every house and building in Thailand there is a miniature structure that looks like a little temple or old style Thai house. This is where the spirits that inhabit that particular plot of land live and it provides a comfortable shelter for spirits who might otherwise live in the heavens. The structure may include statutes, figures of animals or people, a platform for incense, candles and vases of flowers, even for bottles of water.

Although belief in guardian spirits in some ways contradicts the Buddhist religion (and about 95% of Thais are Buddhist), when Buddhism came to Southeast Asia it developed side by side with the ancient spirit religion so many of the old animistic beliefs are intertwined with Buddhism.

Whenever a new house is built, the spirit house must be installed immediately. It is usually given a prominent spot but should be placed where the shadow of the house will not fall on it. If that is not possible then it is given shade another way. When a new spirit house needs to be created, a ceremony is held to transfer the spirit from the old house to the new one. After that the old house can be discarded, often near a temple.

After setting up a spirit house residents should provide daily offerings, which would include at least flowers, joss sticks and candles. If people bestow offerings regularly and sincerely then they will gain the confidence and mental strength to lead successful lives and do only good things.  It the owners of the house themselves perform a regular offering ceremony then everyone in the house will have happiness and prosperity.

Thai people believe that spirits are everywhere even in grains of rice where the rice goddess lives. Spirits are not necessarily good. They can be difficult and demand respect. The rice goddess is usually depicted as a beautiful woman with long hair sitting with her legs folded backwards. She is believed to be fragile and easily scared, so farmers perform the rice offering ceremony to calm her so she will stay in the paddy fields.

The guardian spirit is called “Chao Pu” in Thai. Spirit houses are called “Phra Phum Chaothi”. The word “Phum” means “land” and “Phra Phum” means the “guardian spirit who protects the land”.

By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2012

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