Bangkok: Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine (a.k.a. Penis Shrine)
Visiting Bangkok you will no doubt have plenty of tourist attractions to see and explore! However, there is one very unusual and fascinating place that you may not want to miss: Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine. Situated in an upscale neighborhood filled with foreign embassies, five-star hotels and luxury condos in central Bangkok, this obscure little shrine is dedicated to a female animist deity – the Goddess Tuptim. It is one of the oldest shrines in the city, believed to be built in the early 20th century, and also known as Penis Shrine, Phallic Shrine, Fertility Shrine or simply Tuptim Shrine.
Virtually unknown to tourists (largely due to the fact that it is not listed in most guidebooks!), Tuptim Shrine is located in a park on the bank of the Khlong Saen Saep canal, just inside the parking lot of the swanky Swissôtel Hotel Bangkok!
Upon entering the park, you will see a beautiful teak structure called “spirit house” (a miniature temple mounted on a pillar) festooned with flower garlands and surrounded by, yes, hundreds of penises! The penises – carved out of wood or stone – are offerings that people have brought to the shrine over the years. Painted brightly (mostly red) the penises are also adorned with colorful fabric ribbons. Some are small, some are gigantic – over 8 feet long! Some stand erect, others flop on the ground. Some have fine realistic detail, others are cartoonish looking! Many of
them are hurdled together at the base of several ancient banyan trees growing in the park.
ORIGIN OF TUPTIM SHRINE
No one knows exactly how the shrine came to be. According to legend, once upon a time there was a barren Thai woman who came to the park and prayed to the Goddess Tuptim (believed to reside in one of the banyan trees) for a blessing. Shortly afterward, the woman miraculously became pregnant and eventually gave birth to a baby boy. To thank the Goddess, she brought a lingam – phallic shaped ceremonial amulet – as an offering and placed it at the base of a banyan tree. Hearing the story, other women – who experienced child bearing problems – followed suit and soon, penises in all sizes and shapes started piling up around the shrine!
In Thai culture (and several other cultures around the world), a phallus is a symbol of luck, prosperity, and fertility. Many Thai women and men wear phallic shaped amulets or pendants (called palad khik) around their necks as good luck charms as well as to ward off evil spirits.
There is another interesting story behind the origin of the Penis Shrine. The park used to be a garden at the home of the “Beloved Millionaire” Nai Lert Sreshthaputra (1872-1945). Besides being Thailand’s most successful businessman, Nai Lert was also an inventor, philanthropist, environmentalist, and nature lover. To thank the beneficial “tree” spirits that bestowed great financial prosperity on him, Nai Lert built a spirit house in his garden near the banyan trees. (It’s a common practice in Thailand where many shops and private homes often build a spirit house in the most auspicious location on their property for good luck and protection.) After Nai Lert passed away, his garden became a park (officially named Nai Lert Park) and the spirit house turned into a shrine. In the beginning, people left traditional offerings like flowers and incenses at the shrine, but according to a sign posted near the park entrance, it says the shrine “has received yet another, rather unconventional kind of gift, phallic in shape, both small and large, stylized 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 dedicated to fertility.”
Today, when you visit Tuptim Shrine, you will see plenty of offerings of fresh flowers (rose, jasmine, marigold), as well as candles and incenses. There are also many food items like bowls of rice, cakes, and fruits like bananas, oranges, and coconuts that people put on the altar in front of the spirit house. There are even beautiful women’s costumes (Thai chakri silk dresses) hung on tree branches as gifts for the Goddess Tuptim. However, the vast majority of the offerings are, still, the incredible assortment of big and small penises!!!
People today still come to Tuptim Shrine looking for a miracle. Women from across Thailand and from other Asian countries visit here to pay respect to the Goddess Tuptim, believing she will grant pregnancy wishes as they worship her. Many of the women also pray for guidance on family life and marriage. Young girls ask for blessings on love and romance. Men come to pray for love as well, but also for luck on business and financial matters (i.e. to be rich and successful like businessman Nai Lert).
HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE PENIS SHRINE IN BANGKOK?
TO GET HERE
There are several ways to get to Tuptim Shrine. Some of the directions on the Internet have you walking through the Swissôtel Hotel lobby and garden/pool area to get to the shrine (technically located on the hotel property) but you may encounter problems with hotel securities as they try to discourage tourists from wandering around. The easiest way (and to avoid going through the hotel) is to take the Skytrain and get off at Chit Lom BTS Station. From there, walk east along the main road Rama I for about 2 blocks then turn left onto Som Khit Street. This lovely little street is lined with high-rise condos on one side and a small canal on the other side. You will walk pass the ultra-chic Central Chidlom Tower (bank/shopping/restaurant) on the left. Keep walking until you reach the end of the street. On your right is the back entrance/parking lot of the Swissôtel Hotel. Walk across the bridge to the guard station and tell the guards you want to visit the Tuptim Shrine. The friendly guards (who are used to this request from local residents and the few adventurous tourists!) will direct you to the shrine which is about 50 feet away at the end of the parking lot.
VISITING TUPTIM SHRINE
-Tuptim Shrine is open year round. Best to visit during daytime hours.
- When you visit Tuptim Shrine, or any temple in Thailand, be respectful of the local beliefs and cultural practices.
- Keep quiet and avoid laughing/joking loudly as you may disturb people who are praying or worshiping.
- Refrain from taking or moving the phalluses from their location. Locals believe by disturbing the phalluses, one can evoke the Goddess’s anger and she will heap all sorts of calamities on you!
- Take plenty of pictures, this may be the only place in the world where you find yourself surrounded by a forest of giant penises!
- Whether you wish to conceive or become rich and famous, you may want to leave an offering at the spirit house and ask for a blessing from the Goddess. You never know!
ABOUT THIS HUB
The author visited Bangkok’s Tuptim Shrine in August 2012. He felt like Alice in the wonderland of giant circumcised penises!
All photos were taken by the author with a SamsungPL120 DualView 14.2MP Digital Camera.
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Copyright © 2013 Viet Doan (punacoast)