Tuptim Shrine, Bangkok

Tuptim Shrine, Bangkok

There's nothing unusual about finding a shrine in Bangkok, apart from this one. Instead of the usual Buddhist gods and spirits the Tuptim Shrine (also known as the Lingam Shrine) revolves around something that some might consider quite unholy. Tucked away at the back of the Nai Lert Park Hotel, ignominiously hiding under some trees by the tradesmens' entrance the brightly coloured scarves and offerings beckon you in. In the middle there is a traditional Thai spirit house festooned with gifts and garlands. Nothing unusual there. But on closer inspection the large black pillar beside the spirit house reveals a familiar but unusual shape - a giant penis. And indeed, all around the things that look like little sticks of wood and statues are all the same - loads and loads of penises; all shapes and sizes - fat ones, thin ones, tall ones, small ones, some that even have legs and a tail.

A sign explains:

The origins of Chao Mae Tuptim are obscure. It can only be recalled that a spirit house was built by Nai Lert for the spirit who was believed to reside in the large Sai (Ficus) tree.

The basic offerings are fragrant wreaths of snow-white jasmine flowers, incense sticks, pink and white lotus buds. Chao Mae Tuptim has received yet another, rather unconventional kind of gift, phallic in shape, both small and large, stylised and highly realistic. Over the years they have been brought by the thousands and today fill the area around the shrine. Confronted by the extraordinary display the shrine has automatically been concluded to be decidated to fertility.

The sheer numbers and variety are dazzling. Even the fence around the shrine is made out of little penises all standing to attention. Although the comedy value is high for some, the variety of gifts and offerings show that it's serious to those who come to pray for a family. Bangkok has a reputation for its sexual exploits but this is a peaceful antidote to some of the more in-your-face spectacles on offer in the city.

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Nothing To See Here

In February 2007