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The kuan yin shrine, bangkok ? the divinity of mercy on the chao phraya - in the open


The Kuan Yin Place of worship in Bangkok is in an old Chinese house within a area on the Chao Phraya River where time seems to have stood still for the last 200 years.

The site formerly had two shrines built in the reign of King Taksin (1767 - 1782) by his Chinese supporters. The dilapidated buildings were torn down in the reign of King Rama III (1824 - 1851) and rebuilt to house Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

Today, the Kuan Yin Holy place is in the care of a local Chinese family alive in the area. In Thai, the divinity of mercy is known as Jao Mae Kuan Im.

Kuan Yin, an antiquated Chinese goddess, embodies the virtues of love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness, a legend that goes back to 300 BC.

The youngest daughter of a Chinese king, she was blessed with virtue and spurned her besmirched father's greed for wealth and power. When she discarded his order for an agreed marriage, he drove her out of their home.

Rejected, persecuted and exiled by her father, she committed her lasting years as a nun remedial the sick and needy and as a liberator of high and dry sailors. When her priest was mortally ill, she sacrificed her eyes and arms for the antidote to save him.

Her self-sacrifice earned her eternal worship and the Kuan Yin Shrine became a Chinese cultural heritage. The early Chinese immigrants to Bangkok continual the tradition and built a shrine for the idol of mercy on the Chao Phraya River near where they lived.

An high-minded walkway, a contemporary addition, runs from the pier along the riverbanks and a small walkway with a red arch links the catwalk to the main gate of the shrine. At the end of a small red-tiled patio is the age Chinese arrange housing the Kuan Yin Shrine.

Images of classical Chinese typeset are fixed on the front walls and above the opened main door, two fiery dragons ride the crest of the roof, clear down fiercely. The stiff doors in the sidewalls most important to the inner quarters at the back are closed.

Inside the shrine, painted walls of Chinese warriors and old red Chinese lanterns execution from the rafters build a mood reminiscent of antediluvian China, a mood seemingly unchanged over the years in the Kuan Yin Shrine.

A lesser altar with quite a few Kuan Yin statues stands in the open yard in the concentrate of the shrine. In the main altar, in the covered area to the rear, a metre-high gold bust of Kuan Yin, the divinity of mercy, sits calmly facing the Chao Phraya River.

It's not a busy place of pilgrimage on non-festive days. The intermittent worshipper comes in to pray and pay greetings as the day goes lazily by. Life on the river is quiet bar for a few brood playing by the pier and the odd fisherman.

Meanwhile, in the Kuan Yin Shrine, the spirit of mercy, gazes gently at the busy river away from as the riverboats go streaming by.

The Kuan Yin Holy place is one of the many Bangkok Shrines in the old city.

The Kuan Yin Shrine is one of the legacies that make up the rich cultural environment of Bangkok. This commentary first appeared in Tour Bangkok Legacies, a chronological pass through site on people, places and measures that shaped the landscape of Bangkok. The author, Eric Lim, is a free-lance critic who lives in Bangkok Thailand.


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