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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Pillars and lingas

When I talked to my friends in Mahasarakham about my visits to the local wats, there was one that they felt I should not have missed as it is very old and interesting. So they took me there.

While we were wandering around the grounds we met an elderly monk who showed us around, including showing us this storehouse of some of their old treasures. Among the treasures my friends could not help but notice the magnificent Shiva linga that you can see in this picture.

This stirred a good deal of discussion which continued in the car after we left the temple. My friends, all women, seemed quite at ease calling the linga by its real name. Therefore, I was a little confused and said, 'Why do you refer to the city pillar as a pillar? Why not call it a linga?'

Well, according to my friends, it's not. This was my misunderstanding. The pillar represents a part of a building not a male organ. Somehow I had come to believe that the city pillar was some sort of fertility symbol.

'No,' one of my friends explained, 'when I come to a city I would pay my respects to the city pillar and ask the spirit of the city to take care of me and protect me while I am in this city.'

OK, so now I understand. (I think.)

One of the things that I have observed during my time in Mahasarakham over the years is that the city pillar appears to attract more reverence than the city Buddha image which is just down the road. And this among people who would mostly claim to be Buddhist.

If I catch a sorngtheaw down the street where both monuments are found about half the occupants will usually wai (put hands together and bow) to the city Buddha image. When the minibus passes the city pillar about 90% of the passengers will wai. Also cars are constantly tooting their horns as they pass. When I visited the pillar people were waiting for their turn to make offerings.

As I said these people are predominantly Buddhist however they also acknowledge both Hindu and animist beliefs which the Shiva linga and city pillar are more representative of.

If you'd like to see pictures of the city pillar, they are on my main photo page. Click the link in the sidebar. Pictures of the city Buddha image coming to the same page soon.

The following comment was emailed to me by one of the women involved in the discussion mentioned in the blog.

I agree, with the information that you got.But a bit more I would like to add.According to my thai experience, Shivalinga and the pillar were from Hindu belief and ritual. But they are a little bit differnt meaning though, the city pillar is generaly respect by most people in thailand ( not sure about other buddhist country )and it represents the spirits and devines of the city but some people ( including me ) not wai or belief in Shivalinga and it represents luck for some people.
So, I can say more of what you wrote that City Pillar is widely acceptable and Shivalingar is a group's belief......
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