Driving along the highways of Thailand, you see a lot of the same things you see when driving in the US. The same patterns of gas stations happens, 7-11’s, Amazon Coffee, and food stalls. Rice fields become more expansive and you might start to see buffalo or cows as you head away from towns; the grass changes color and occasionally you note the trees have different colored blossoms that let’s you know you’re in the North now.
Occasionally an enormous gold or white statue of a Pha Luang (abbot monk) or the Buddha will appear, as if spotting a giant seated in a field or amidst the treetops. It never fails to be incredible, but sometimes it’s breath-taking. On our way home from one of my fights last month, we spotted this towering, pink Ganesha in the middle of what appeared to be empty fields. His back was to us at the time, but he was just… immense. I quickly read the signs on the sides of the road and found the entrance to the temple. We navigated up a dirt road that wound around the actual temple and then led out farther into the field, where the front of the Ganesha revealed itself. He was seated, and around his body was a black cobra, which I had never seen before in Thailand. Looking it up now, it appears that the black cobra can symbolize many things here, everything from his father Shiva to kundalini energy bounding the cosmos together.
Climbing out of the car, the heat of this dry-grass field hit us hard. We put a leash on Jaidee and scrambled up to the steps that lead up to the enormous statue, to the right was a rat bigger than myself. But when we moved to the “back”, which was really just underneath a low ceiling that rings the outside of the pedestal, there was a ring of smaller Ganesha statues of different, vibrant and pearly, colors all the way around. I didn’t count them, but there must have been more than 30, they seem to be part of a prayer/offering circumnavigation. Again: I’ve never seen this before. See video below.
above, video of the giant Ganesha and some of the ring of Ganeshas
The rat I’ve been told represents worldly desires and it is the divine vehicle for Ganesha. You’ll see him, this enormous elephant deity, riding on the backs of a little rat sometimes. But on huge statues like this you’ll often see the rats as independent statues at the feet of Genesha, holding bowls and sometimes quite large with ear-holes for suppliants to whisper their wishes into, like the one below. Ganesha is the placer and remover of obstacles, so people looking to start new ventures or do business often come to him to give offerings with the hope that he’ll move obstacles out of their way for such things. Whispering into the ear of the rat is kind of like asking the rat to “remind” Ganesha of your intentions and wishes, like putting in a good word. Sometimes the rats are so big you need a little step ladder to reach his ears.
At the very end of the ring of Ganesha statues we saw a little girl in an ornate costume, preparing to do a short dance performance. Next to her was a middle-aged monk who was seated, I think resting between chanting sessions as he was carrying a cordless microphone. There was a temple dog that got up and was a bit excited when we came around with Jaidee, so the monk got up to kind of quiet the dog down and let me know that she doesn’t bite. I smiled and told him Jaidee doesn’t bit either and so we watched closely as the dogs introduced themselves and got even more excited from sniffing each other, Jaidee jumping about. We chatted a little bit, about the temple and the dogs. Supposedly there was a Pra Rahu in another area but when we went over there I was told it had moved – like, it was on tour, which temples do to raise funds for construction, usually. I wanted to ask the monk about the cobra that was wrapped around Ganesha but I forgot while we were talking about the dogs. He thought Jaidee’s name was just fantastic.
This temple felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, and yet it was a little busy that day. Lots of people coming by to give offerings (simple, like incense, candles and bananas) and take selfies in front of the giant Ganesha. My Thai friends on Facebook, if they’re over the age of 30, are mostly posting pictures of their trips to different temples. What still feels odd to me, as many of the aspects of “exoticness” have faded, is how abrupt and magnificent these statues are. When you see them from afar it’s totally like that scene in Never Ending Story when the castle with the child-like empress has survived the Nothing and the music swells. There’s this, “oh my GOD, look at that!” as it reveals itself from a distance. But when we have time and inclination to stop and go look up close… I’m sorry for the language, but it is fucking incredible. You come up to these enormous statues, of a deity or an abbot, and you stand at their feet looking almost straight up and feel awe. Sometimes there are other large statues at the same temple, but often there aren’t. It’s like this oasis of immensity, and maybe they’re in these fields surrounded by nothing because the temple owns the land around it so it’s just empty, but the contrast of flat nothingness compared to these mountainous statues just makes you gravitate toward them. And when you drive away, the temple and figures becoming smaller and smaller in the rearview mirrors, you don’t forget it. They become place-markers in your memory’s layout of the land. And of that time.
The Map of Wat Phrong Akat (Phra Archan Somchai)
My husband wrote about Ganesha and the Art of Fighting