Shrine draws attention over relocation plan

Shrine draws attention over relocation plan

Unshaken belief: A youth offers prayers to the Thapthim Goddess Shrine in Saphan Lueang. People fear the shrine will be relocated to make way for a Chulalongkorn University building in the same location.
Unshaken belief: A youth offers prayers to the Thapthim Goddess Shrine in Saphan Lueang. People fear the shrine will be relocated to make way for a Chulalongkorn University building in the same location.

Many who have heard of Chulalongkorn University's plan to construct a high-rise structure at the site of the Thapthim Goddess Shrine in the Saphan Lueang neighbourhood hope the development will spare this highly revered shrine.

A shrine caretaker who goes only by the name Nok is related to the shrine's founders. She often recounts the tale behind the shrine's goddess statue, commonly known as Ama.

Ms Nok said Ama had been "floating against the currents" in a river for three days before Ms Nok's great grandparents brought the statue ashore. She believes the statue is scared because it was able to withstand the currents and Ama should not only belong to one family.

She said the shrine was built for Ama so other people can offer their prayers and respects.

"People who come to the shrine asked Ama for wishes to be granted such as love, relationship and fertility," she said. "People also pray to Ama for protection. This is faith."

Apart from the statue, the shrine contains other invaluable items such as an incense burner engraved with the initials of King Rama V, "Jor Por Ror". The incense burner was given to the shrine by King Rama VI.

The shrine is decorated with old photos of when it was still located behind the nearby Samyan Market. Singaporeans and Taiwanese visitors who came to pray to Ama are also featured in the photos.

Ms Nok said many of their wishes were granted.

Recently, Chulalongkorn University's property management office told the shrine owner to relocate it to make way for construction, despite the shrine's popularity with those who live in the neighbourhood.

The university wants to construct a 50-storey high-rise building, hoping the shrine will coexist with the development project.

A source at the property management office told the Bangkok Post the shrine will be placed in the Chulalongkorn University centenary park on Banthat Thong Road.

According to Ms Nok, the property management office wants the shrine owner to pay rent every year to the university and the site must not be occupied by a person.

She also said the office aims to dictate when the shrine is allowed to have visitors.

Ms Nok said her family cannot afford to rent a house in this expensive neighbourhood. Their only source of income is from the sale of silver and golden paper, incense sticks and candles offered to those who come to pray.

"Ama is really sacred. She protects those who pray to her, making them prosperous and successful," said Praphas Khanongkiat, a man who often visited the shrine to pray to Ama when he lived in the area. "The shrine has high [spiritual] value for a lot of people."

Ratchada, Mr Prapas' wife, said she visits the shrine once or twice per month. She said her mother had prayed to Ama for 50 years ever since the shrine was in its original location.

Ple, a Chulalongkorn University alumnus, said she came after learning on social media that it will be removed.

"If it really has to be moved out, the new location should not be far from here," Ms Ple said. "Its architectural features and stucco should also be preserved."


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