Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Sunday at the Shrine

Sunday at the Shrine

In a previous life, I used to stay at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok whenever I come to this city on business. it is a charmingly beautiful hotel located right in the heart of Bangkok. Many businessmen also like the hotel because the discotheque at the basement is a convenient pickup joint.

But what facinates me most about the hotel is that it is located right next to one of the most religious sites in Bangkok--the Erawan Shrine, which houses the four-faced Hindu god Brahma. This small but highly revered shrine is thronged with worshippers day and night: you can see them offering incense, candles and garlands of sweetly-scented jasmine to the golden image of Brahma which sits resplendently on top of an altar, sparklingly bedecked with multi-coloured glass-tiles.

The Erawan Shrine is a wonderfully unusual sight right in the heart of capitalist Bangkok--it looks somewhat out-of-place, even anachronistic, at that busy intersection of Ratchadamri and Ratchaprasong, within sight of the mammoth Central World Plaza shopping complex, right under a dizzy swirl of skytrain tracks. But somehow , the serenity of its candles and oil-lamps seem to hold its own against the incessant attack of garish neons and traffic-lights. It looks like the last bastion of spirituality in a world abandoned to materialistic greed.

I always enjoy observing the ceaseless line of worshippers turning the small square into a mountain of garlands and incense. Yesterday I even visited the place twice--to capture the scene there on camera during the day and at night.

Even though I am not a very religious person myself, I admire people with a devotional heart. People who study religion intellectually sometimes get mired in aimless philosophical gymnastics. Clever arguments and noisy debates about religious concepts will not get anyone closer to God. Religion is ultimately an experience that is beyond words.

Ritual worship, when practised correctly, bypasses the mind and puts us directly in touch with the spiritual core within our souls. And yesterday at the Erawan Shrine, having contented myself with endless photo-shots of the shrine, I spent a couple of minutes lighting some incense and candles and offered garlands of flowers at the feet of Brahma.

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