Thailand is a country where technology and tradition co-exist peacefully. Here Buddhist philosophy with some traces of Hindu mythology form a unique mysticism where spirits play an important role as harbinger good luck and hence good life.
The most visible manifestation of this faith is Sam Phra Phum –House for the Spirit of the Land. Phi or Spirit House, in short.
One finds them everywhere, office buildings, housing complexes, shopping malls, factories….These Spirit Houses are beautifully curved and coloured oriental shrines, traditionally made of wood but now can be seen in metal, glass and other materials too.
These ornamental structures house the spirit of the land, who is worshipped and appeased every day so that it protects the house or building and shield its inhabitants from harm and bring them good luck.
These Spirit Houses are washed and cleaned every morning, decorated with fresh flowers, lit with candles, fragrant with incense, offered fruits, cooked and canned food and soft drinks, mostly strawberry Fanta as the red colour symbolizes blood, which in Thai culture is life itself. Once upon a time live animals were offered but this was banned by King Rama I.
There are two types of Spirit Houses, one set on single pillar and the other set on four pillars. The former is set little higher, houses figurines of an old man and old woman, personifying ancestors of the owner of the land. Next to them stands angle Phra Chai Mongkol, who is usually golden in colour, four headed and is linked to Hindu mythology.
He holds a bag of money in one hand and a sword in other. His task is to protect the land-owner against negative agents and curses and bring about peace and prosperity. The later is for the spirit of the land that lives on that particular ground and can bring about fortune or misfortune to the people who live or work in that place and is to be kept happy.
Thais are staunch believer of supernatural energy and the power of the spirits.It is needless therefore to say that installation of a Spirit House demands very special rites and rituals which can be carried out only by a Brahmin Priest or a Buddhist Monk.
The first job of the priest or the monk is to draw up an astrological chart of the owner of the land because on it depend not only the size and colour of the spirit house but also the date and time of the installation ceremony. The placement of the spirit house is of utmost importance.
Architects will even change their design to accommodate the auspicious placement of the Spirit House if required. Thumb rules being it should not be on the left side of the entrance, and should not face a road or toilet and preferably be in front of a tree.
Elaborate sacred ceremony for installing the Spirit House begins with chanting by the priest or the monk. Apart from family, friends and neighbors , inhabitants from unseen world such as Gods ,angles ,spirits and nagas are also invited.
Offering of food is followed by a land buying ritual as a tribute to the Goddess of the earth, who as her blessings removes the negative energies from the land. The master of the ceremony will then remove evil entities if any, from the land by making a hole for the pillar/s by placing nine lucky leaves, flowers stalks of lucky Lanna inscribed wood inside the hole along with a matrix of geometric figures and nine gem stones that relates to the planets in the astrological chart o the land owner.
The Spirit House is then placed in this location amidst collective chanting to invite the unseens and invoke all the positive energy of the spirit world into the statute of Phra Chai Mongkol and a gold leaf is placed on the figurine.
The land owner then places this idol inside the Spirit House. The invitees offer flowers and San Jao Til ,a ritual follows to let Land God know that they will be looked after and honored. Sprinkling of holy water on the Spirit House marks the end of the ceremony.
Generally a Spirit House is not removed. New owner may install a new spirit house along side the old one. In case it becomes necessary to remove spirit house, date and time is once again calculated and with chanting and scared procedure as in the time of the installation the Spirit House makes its funeral march to final resting place, a designated and blessed cemetery for spirit houses. It is believed if a spirit house does not rest in peace , the owner will also not find peace ever.