Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Bangkok celebrates return of statue

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thai devotees carry a statue of Brahma in a procession to install it at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok yesterday. The statue was smashed on March 21 by a mentally ill man who was later beaten to death.

PHOTO: AFP

In a ceremony harking back to Thailand's Hindu roots, a statue of Brahma was paraded through the streets of Bangkok yesterday to the Erawan shrine, where worshippers were on hand to welcome the revered deity.

Thousands of people carrying incense sticks and wearing flower garlands braved the rain to celebrated the return of the Phra Prom statue that was destroyed on March 21 when a Muslim man attacked it with a hammer.

People lined the pavements and crowded the streets to cheer as white-hatted priests lifted the four-faced statue of Brahma to its former place of honor, snarling the city's notorious traffic for hours.

Vendor Boonsom Amorn, who travelled from Pathum Thani to witness the event, said any inconvenience was worth it.

"I am very satisfied," she said, her hands raised in a wai to respect a statue that many Thais believe can grant anything from a child to a fortune.

"I hope that the country will be living in peace from now on. Buddhist tourists can now come back to Thailand," she said.

The statue of Brahma, venerated by Hindus as the creator, has drawn Buddhists, Hindus and other tourists from around Asia to the shrine beside the five-star Erawan hotel.

A sign at the shrine says it was built 50 years ago to protect the Erawan hotel because the hotel's foundation stone was laid on an inauspicious day.

Devotees from Hong Kong had chartered flights for the ceremony, which was broadcast live on Thai TV and was also attended by hundreds of people from Singapore, Malaysia and other parts of Asia, Television of Thailand said.

To mark the occasion, caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra became the first Thai to pray at the shrine since March attack.

Many Thais interpreted the destruction of the statue as a bad omen as it happened in the midst of political turmoil between Thaksin and his opponents.

The government funded the repairs, which included elevating the statue of the deity and installing a police guard. Culture Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who presided over the placement of the statue, said the government had made two copies, keeping the second at the National Museum in case of another mishap.

Thai musicians pounded drums garlanded by flowers as people danced in the rain, holding incense sticks aloft while waiting for their turn to pray.

"I was shocked when the statue was destroyed," said Anon Kuntiranon, a 21-year-old Bangkok office worker. "Now, he is back to help give us moral support."

"I feel at peace now that Phra Phom has returned to the shrine and we can worship him again," said Absorn Keowsopha, 52.

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