Worth a visit is the pristine Nai Lert Park Hotel, close to the embassies of Wireless Road, in central Bangkok. It is a lush area, miles from Patpong or Nana, or any other of Bangkok’s fleshpots.
Those places are replete with stories of bar girls waving phalluses around in club doorways before the start of business. This brings good fortune, a successful session.
The Nai Lert Park Hotel
At Nai Lert Park Hotel, the gardens are quite famous botanical gardens. Young students take notes. Well-dressed families take walks through the grounds and photograph each other, posing in front of the orchid collection. Scantily clad bathers laze by and in the pool. All a rather bizarre combination.
However, a stranger sight is tucked behind the service entrance to the hotel, and next to a car park. The hotel never advertises this particular facility.
The Mae Tuptim Shrine
Here is something like a mushroom field of phalluses or lingams, spreading out under the branches of a ficus tree. There are lingams of all sizes, some up to several feet in length. Some are made of wood, some stone. In their midst is the Mae Tuptim Shrine, signified by a spirit house about which are offerings of fresh food and drink, all presided over by a plastic model or two of a traditional Thai dancer.
There never appears to be anybody at the shrine, but certainly, the offerings always seem newly placed. It is suggested that particularly women come here to pray for pregnancy.
The phalluses are mostly red. That has been a talking point. There again, their presence at all has been a talking point, as has the whole question of Mae Tuptim’s identity. Another area for concern, of course, is the relationship between Mae Tuptim and the phalluses.
Less of a question is how the Mae Tuptim Shrine came into being. It was likely built by Nai Lert as protection for his new hotel. Certainly, there is a large concentration of shrines in another area of Bangkok, Rajaprasong, built by shop and hotel owners to protect their enterprises and bring well-being. These include Bangkok’s most famous shrine, the Erawan Shrine, associated with the hotel of the same name.
The peculiarity of all these shrines, in a Buddhist land, is that they are shrines to Hindu deities. There again, animist elements are also in the mix for good measure.
Mae Tuptim shrine, or worship at it, embodies a similar multiplicity of strands. That said, of course, motives come down to the individual worshipper. In the face of dozen upon dozen lingams about the shrine, the obvious thought, fertility, may well be the truth for most worshippers.
There is a simple folklorist story supporting this that a woman came to the shrine wishing to become pregnant. She prayed, and her wish was granted. To celebrate the birth of her child, she returned to the shrine with an offering of a lingam. Others came, prayed, and left lingams. Over the years, this has built to the huge present-day scale of the shrine and its lingams.
Another simple idea is that it is easy to jump from the idea of fertility to general good fortune. This is in much the same way that money and general good fortune are equated around the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
However, there is a completely different way to interpret the Mae Tuptim shrine, its lingams, and its association with fertility. They may equally come out of Thai animist traditions.
Thai belief in spirits
The belief here is in spirits. These spirits may be appeased to create good. More specifically, procedures are available through which the spirits will do your bidding, notably through making offerings.
Often offerings are of a general kind, as the foods and drinks left at the shrine. Equally, offerings are often highly associational, making it very clear to the spirits that you want more than general good fortune, but something quite specific. This could explain the lingams.
At Mae Tuptim, the bright red of most lingams could be telling. It has alternately been associated with pomegranate juice or menstrual blood.
The association with pomegranate juice sees Tuptim as a corruption of Taptim, Thai for pomegranate. The relationship with menstrual blood relies upon the Tantric belief that the most powerful time for sexual intercourse is during menstruation.
There is plenty of room for thought and interpretation here. Especially interesting is what of the prominent virginal white lingam?
The place of lingams in Thai Society
Beyond the Mae Tuptim shrine, there is the general question of the place of lingams in Thai society, both historically and in the present. Any Thai antique shop will have a good stock of lingams, and there are antique shops specializing only in lingams. Equally, lingams can be purchased from the souvenir stalls along Sukhumvit Road.
Is all this to do with fertility or good fortune, or both? That said, the average tourist buying along the Sukhumvit Road, probably thinks of his purchase as a naughty souvenir of a naughty city, vaguely sex industry associated.
The views of the Thai seller may not be so different, a classic example of Thai pragmatism and how cultures develop. One thing is for sure that each sale brings good fortune to the seller.