Every guidebook on Thailand or Bangkok features all the major sites to see in the city, Buddhist temples, floating markets and open-air restaurants, but hardly ever do you find information on the unique Penis Shrine.
Most Thais are devout Buddhists, yet a large proportion of the population also clings to aspects of pre-Buddhist folk religion, with influences from both India and China. An expression of this are the so-called spirit houses one encounters everywhere, mainly meant to protect the house one lives in, or to bring luck in general.
Related yet of a rather different order is the Penis Shrine, also known as the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine (ศาลเจ้าแม่ทับทิม) where people bring fresh offerings mainly in the form of flower garlands. The most visible and pointed offerings however, come in the form of phalli (plural of phallus), since Goddess Chao Mae Tuptim reigns over fertility.
The shrine was created in the first quarter of the 20th century by Thai businessman Nai Lert (1872-1945), who found a spirit house floating in the klong and placed it on the bank of his property.
It is believed that Chao Tuptim has been residing in the banyan tree next to the shrine for hundreds of years. As the legend goes: years ago, a woman came to pray at the shrine asking for help from Chao Tuptim because she couldn’t conceive. Nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy son. She was so pleased with her child that she came back to the shrine and left a large wooden carving of a giant penis in thanks.
Others followed her lead and today. If you visit, you will see literally hundreds of wooden (and even marble) penises, all different colours and sizes. Some have colourful pieces of fabric tied around them to protect them. Others are dyed red, blue or green. Some of these penises have penises themselves. It is a unique sight as they fill the garden surrounding the small center shrine where one also finds the other gifts of incense, lotus buds and jasmine flowers. Most often, such a phallic offering is made in order to be more fertile, others are made just in order to ‘get lucky’ or to be financially successful.
Many religions in the past worshiped body part including penises and breasts, for example. In Hindu mythology, when Shiva is killed, the goddess Kali squats over his body, rips out and eats his organs, and then mounts his still erect manrod to complete the cycle of creation. Most historians agree that fertility and phallus worship existed in prehistoric central and Eastern Asia, influencing the pre-Buddhist and pre-Shinto religions of the area. Min was an ancient Egyptian god of fertility. In Egyptian art and statues, Min is always shown holding his penis with his left hand and a threshing flail in his raised right hand.
The Penis Shrine located in the backyard of the Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel, but you do not have to live there to visit the place. Just dress appropriately and approach the guards at the front gate. State the purpose of your visit, to see the phallic shrine, and he’ll let you pass. Turn left and keep walking, which will bring you to the secluded and usually quiet shrine.