• 2022.07.20
  • Thailand’s Small Shrines - Houses for the Spirits?
According to the news a few years ago, David Beckham, the English former soccer player, bought 4 of small Thai-style houses when he visited Thailand with his family and took them back home. Most people didn’t know that Beckham is Buddhist until this story came out in the news.

Are Thailand’s Small Shrines Houses for the Spirits?

These small houses are called “san phra phum” in Thai. A san phra phum is a small shrine that houses spirits, like the “hokora” (miniature Shinto shrines) in Japan. They have a beautifully made appearance, like small temples, they are made of timber or cement, are painted in white, gold, red, and pink, and are supported by a single pillar. San phra phum stand in front of the entrance of just about every house, office, department store, hotel, and so on. You find san phra phum in Laos and Cambodia, as well as Thailand, due to the influence of ancient Indian folk religions, Brahmanism (the religion called the predecessor to Hinduism) and the Thai folk religion “Phi” (“animism”), which has been practiced by Thai people longer than Brahmanism has.

Why are san phra phum built like temples?

They say the construction resembles the heavenly castle at the top of the mountain where it is said in Hinduism that the god Shiva lives.

In Thailand you put up a san phra phum in a sunny spot or near the front entrance of your house, within the grounds, when you build a house or when you move. When you put it up, you get a Brahman priest to come and pray so that your wishes for things like safety at home and prosperity in business are fulfilled, and deities and spirits come to live in your san phra phum. You pray individually at the san phra phum already on the grounds if you live somewhere where you can’t put up your own san phra phum on the grounds, like an apartment or condominium. They build the san phra phum on the rooftop if the building doesn’t allow for one to be put up within the grounds.

Some homes have 2 or more small shrines.

Some homes also put up a separate small shrine called a “san chao thi” next to their san phra phum. Most san chao thi are made of timber, they are supported by 4 pillars, and their structure is reminiscent of olden style Thai homes with a staircase. These small shrines enshrine an image of an aged man, a spirit of the land, and Thai people call these spirits of the land “san ta yai” (meaning “grandfather and grandmother”). San chao thi are part of the old traditional way of thinking, and people have considered the land to be the place where their ancestors died. People thought land was most important in olden times, so they believed that even after you’ve died, you reside on the land as a spirit and protect the land and your surviving family members so that no evil comes to them.

Hindu deities (such as Brahma and Ganesha) are enshrined in slightly larger, magnificent small shrines supported by 4 pillars, “san phra phrom,” which are found at large buildings like office blocks, factories, and hotels.
Very popular among Thai worshipers is the Erawan Shrine (San Phra Phrom), in front of the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel in Bangkok. Lots of people go past this small shrine every day and they always put their hands together in prayer for health, good fortune, love, prosperous business, and so on. There are 7 famous small shrines in that area, and they each enshrine different significant deities.
When your prayer is realized, you must give thanks by offering up fruit, candy, flowers, and the like, together with your gratitude. (At the Erawan Shrine you express your gratitude by dancing.)
I hope your prayers come true.

Depending on the shrine, there are different dolls that get put in it and different kinds of offerings that are made. People have slightly different things in the different types of small shrines. The things people offer up at san phra phum include 1 heavenly maiden doll, 1 pair of male and female dolls, dancer dolls, 1 elephant doll, 1 horse doll, and so on. At san chao thi, you offer up 1 pair of old man and woman dolls, instead of a heavenly maiden doll. (At any one time you place one pair, as the basic combination.) At san phra phrom you offer a bronze statue of Brahma. There are other things that you offer up and they differ depending on the type of small shrine.

It is important for Thai people to put up a san phra phum in prayer for happiness in the family before they move into a newly built home or before they move into a different home. But you can’t just put up a san phra phum anywhere. There are different theories, but you choose a good direction, a good time, a sunny spot, and so on, you prepare offerings, you make sure it is built with the attendance of a Brahman priest, and you conduct an enshrinement ceremony.

Most Thai people are very devout, but some modern Thais are not so devout.
Perhaps there are more realists around nowadays.
How about you, do you have faith in san phra phum?


  • Chuleeporn Suksabye
  • Job-

Hi, my name is Amm. I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Have you ever been to Thailand? I have many stories about Thailand to tell you. Let’s have fun with us!!

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