AlisoninCambodia is officially back in Cambodia! On the way back to Phnom Penh I stopped in Bangkok to catch up with my Khmer teacher Lokkru Frank. I’ve been to Bangkok several times always in short stints so I’ve only really seen a few parts of the city. However on this trip Lokkru Frank took me to see a famous shrine in a Buddhist temple in a far part of the city. The shrine is dedicated to a particularly powerful female spirit and her story has apparently been made into several movies (including a recent very scary version that I hear is excellent). The temple is called Wat Mahaboob (my attempt at spelling the Thai) and is on On Nut, Soi 7. Click on “keep reading” to hear her story!
This story takes place about 150 years ago when the area around this temple was just a small countryside village surrounded by rice fields. In this story our heroine is pregnant and her husband is sent off to war for many months. While he is gone she and the baby die during childbirth.
Above: Sign outside the shrine
When the husband returns from war the woman’s spirit pretends that she and the baby are still alive and they live together as a family. The house has fallen apart but the woman is able to make her husband think everything is as it should be. Unfortunately, the villagers all KNOW that she and the baby died and that the husband is living with her ghost. He eventually finds out and flees to the Buddhist temple. The woman’s spirit is NOT happy.
Above: The golden image of the pregnant woman’s spirit with her baby.
In the movie versions the woman’s spirit wreaks havoc on the villagers and her husband in particularly scary ways. Women who die in childbirth are traditionally very angry, powerful, and dangerous spirits (I think for obvious reasons). Eventually the head monk tames the woman and convinces her to go back to the land of the dead. She does, but the monk keeps a piece of her skull and carries it with him as a way of harnessing her power. Many Buddhist temples who have spirit shrines are able to capture the power of the spirits and use it for good.
This particular shrine has only been around for 20 years but there was most likely a smaller localized version of the shrine to her spirit in the past. The statue of her was apparently made from the dirt of 7 graveyards in the area.
This photo is especially creepy- she is looking right at the camera!
Many people come to this temple to make offerings to her in order to get her blessing. People bring her make-up, perfume, magazines, dresses, fabric, and toys for her baby. Many people have also done drawings of her which are displayed around the shrine.
Above: A case full of offerings to her and many of the drawings people have done of her.
The shrine has a store where you can buy dresses and things to make as offerings.
The temple itself was down a quiet side street- it almost felt as if you weren’t in a city anymore. The shrine is just off this canal in the temple complex.
It was a fun field trip within the city.
One last picture I have to share comes from a platform at a Sky Train station. The Sky Train is a fantastic public transit system and is well used by locals and tourists alike (like Chicago’s El but newer and sleeker). It’s not unusual to see stray dogs hanging around the city, including some Sky Train stations. At one stop we passed by two dogs splayed out on the concrete sleeping and oblivious to the hubbub of the world around them. When I returned to the Sky Train station to head home I found that one of the dogs had a new accessory.
Yup, he was still fast asleep.
Awesome post, Alison. By the way, your readers may want to know the name of the spirit so that they can find that film: Nang Nak.
Thanks Erik! I realized while writing this post that I hadn’t gotten the name from LK Frank (I had meant to email him for it). Thanks for posting the link!
What an intriguing story! I’m going to have to do some serious reading; she’s apparently not a goddess, yet there’s a shrine to her….for someone interested in spirituality and faith and so on I’m painfully naive about any eastern beliefs. The movies sound like….well, not on my list, shall we say – but I’ll follow the link and see if it takes me somewhere to start…. (Glad you’re safe tucked back into your little nest in Cambodia!)