The Banished Brahma migrated to South-East Asia

fourth storyContinued from: The third sin of Brahma

It is surprising that Brahma lost his reverence in the Indian subcontinent slowly. But his glory did not perish totally. His fame travelled across the Indian Ocean and he gained popularity in the South-East Asia.

Two thousand years ago traders from South India crossed the Indian Ocean and began trading with various countries of South East Asia. Indian culture and religion also migrated through these traders and sailors who set base in the foreign lands. Several natives began to follow Hinduism and it spread all over South-East Asia.

Later the countries that were taken over by Buddhist, European or Islamic rule, lost the Hindu ethos. Some of the strong ones like Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia have preserved it till date. Till the time of Cholas kings in South the trade links remained. Indian artisans and sculptors were invited by foreign Hindu rulers and wealthy people to construct temples and idols.

In the medieval times Hindu priests forbade the upper caste Hindus from crossing the seas. The defaulters of the rules were downgraded to lower castes on return. This discouraged them from pursuing further overseas trade. The marine transport and commerce was then lost to the Arabs and Europeans.

This was also beginning of influence of Khmer people starting in the 10th century. In Thailand, many Brahminic statues can be seen in old Khmer temples. Thai people seized Angkor, in Cambodia, in 1431. A new Thai Khmer culture began. With the reduced ties from parent land, the Hinduism in these countries evolved on its own. Some concepts remained same, some changed.

The Thai royal family still has a Brahmin priest of Thai descent to perform religious rites. Even their present day script is based on the South Indian Grantha script. Though 95% of their 62 million populations is now Buddhist. Among the rest only 1 lakh are Hindus. Yet there are eleven major Hindu temples, surprisingly they visited predominantly by the Buddhists.

Thai people have been praying to Hindu Gods for centuries, they believe that Hinduism is an offshoot of Buddhism. The Hindu Gods according to their faith are patrons of Buddha’s followers; they look after the day-to-day affairs of human beings. While Buddha teaches them to cut desires to attain Nirvana, for worldly necessities the lesser Gods suffice. among them are Goddess Mariamman, Brahma, Shiva and Ganesha.

Thai women in traditional costumes praying with incense sticks.

In Thai faith Brahma is one of the main Gods known as Than Tao Phra Phrom (Great God Vara Brahma). His idols have four heads facing four directions. Four arms hold the articles required to perform Vedic fire sacrifices a staff, a spoon, a rosary and a book. In his lap he holds a pot.


Over the last millennium some characteristics of Indra have also merged with Brahma. In the Hindus Indra’s mount is Airavat the white elephant with four trunks. Phra Phrom’s ride is a three-headed elephant called Erawan. He is perceived as the God of fortune and prosperity just like Indra. And lastly he is said to be pleased when beautiful women dance in his honour just like the Apsaras danced in the court of Indra.

The legend of the Erawan temple

In the 1950s Government of Thailand commissioned a hotel on International standards to host foreign dignitaries. It turned out to be a jinxed project right from beginning, all kinds of delays and loses made the crew very superstitious. To appease the angry Gods an open to all shrine of Phra Phrom in the court yard of the hotel. It is famous that the hotel never looked back after that. It was known as Erawan hotel after the three headed elephant mount of Phra phrom.

This is an outdoor temple inside a low walled compound. Over the gold plated statue is an ornate Thai architecture pergola or dome. There are no priests and devotees approach with shoes on. They light incense sticks, offer flowers and bow once in front of each head of Brahma. They pray with folded hands and shut eyes just like Hindus. Offerings of wooden Erawan elephants are also made to grant the needed wisdom for professional world.

Airavat with four tusks transformed to Erawan with three heads-Triheaded elephant sculpture at Erawan museum

There is so much faith that each new hotel or restaurant in Thailand begins with a statue of Erawan elephant borrowed from this shrine. There are also musicians and dancers in nearby pavilion. They wear traditional Thai attire and make up and perform devotional dances in the honour of the deity when devotees pay for it. Brahma or Phra phrom is considered most auspicious for prosperity and well being among Thais and such small shrines are considered a good omen outside hotels specially.

Brahma shrine near Ceaser Palace at Las Vegas advertised on a travel brochure

The fame of Phra Phrom for Hotel Industry has crossed the seas and reached the shores of United States. A twin shrine of Brahma stands outside the Caesar’s palace at Las Vegas with a fourteen feet Gold plated statue. It is a replica of the Erawan shrine Phra Phrom to bring fortune and luck to the casino visitors.

Brahma on his mount Hongsa the swan like  creature at Wat Chaimongkon- Cambodia
Another Phra Phrom statue of Chuk Lam Sim Monastery- HongKong

This way Brahma got banished out of his own land but is revered overseas to bestow kindness, mercy, sympathy and equanimity by his each of the four heads to the Thai people all over the world. There are similar shrines in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Macau.

Other stories in this series of four:



The third sin of Brahma


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