Chao Mae Tuptim fertility shrine guide

Wooden phalluses are everywhere!

On the surface Bangkok seems like a modern city with sleek high rise structures, high-tech advertising hoardings and the Monorail all visible on the skyline. Visitors wandering the streets of the Thai capital will quickly realise that it has a hidden facet which sees local residents pray at ancient shrines, spirit houses and temples bedecked with colourful decorations and good-luck charms.

One of the more unusual of the shrines is the one dedicated to the Goddess Tuptim (Chao Mae Tuptim) in the gardens of the Swissotel Nai Lert Hotel, which is located in the central area of the city. The shrine is surrounded by hundreds of penis sculptures, some over three metres high, which have garlands, ribbons and other ornamentation attached to them.  

Many local residents believe that Chao Mae Tuptim is a fertility goddess. Women who are trying to conceive often visit this shrine and make merit with donations of lotus buds and aromatic jasmine garlands, as well as lighting incense sticks, in the hope that the mighty goddess will smile favourably on them and grant them a healthy child.

Even Thai women who do not believe in the legend surrounding Chao Mae Tuptim visit the shrine, after all it cannot hurt to pay homage to an ancient tradition. Rumour has it that Chao Mae Tuptim is quite successful at helping ladies become pregnant. This fact seems to be borne out by the occasional female visitor, who is obviously carrying a child, returning to offer thanks in the form of another phallus for the collection.  

The phalluses around the shrine range from miniature wooden carvings to gigantic stone edifices. One or two of them have legs to ensure the luck becomes mobile and can travel. From a distance the shrine looks like a typical Thai worship spot with vibrant colours and clouds of smoke from the burning incense.

Women pray here for a healthy child

As visitors draw closer to the tree-shaded spit house in the Nai Lert’s car park they catch sight of the unique penis collection. The pavilion housing the statues of the Chinese goddess and her acolytes is all but hidden by the stature of the phalluses. More on Bangkok attractions.

At first glance, visitors might form the opinion that the Chao Mae Tuptim shrine is unusual in a country where the people are polite and not given to showing sexual imagery in public palaces. A more careful look around will reveal that phallic charms and amulets are not as rare as people might think.    

The smaller phallus charms are available at select market stalls in the capital, although tourists may have to look hard, and might be found by the cash register of a small shop, as the proprietor may believe it will improve business, or hanging from a car’s rear-view mirror.

The phallic charms are known as Shiva Leung in Thai and are believed to originate from Hindus’ belief in the god Shiva. Contemporary Buddhism derives much of its roots from India's ancient Hinduism, a fact evidenced by the amount of rituals, images and symbols that the two religions have in common.

The origins of the Chao Mae Tuptim shrine are shrouded in the mists of time, but older local people say that there was a small spirit house erected by a character known as Nai Lert here. They say it was put up to appease the spirits he believed dwelt in the tree at the site. As with all such shrines in Thailand, daily offerings that included incense, jasmine, food and drink would have been placed at the front of it.

The shrine contrasts pleasantly with its surroundings as the five-star Nai Lert faces it and embassies including the UK’s are on nearby Wireless Road (Thanon Vittayu). Visitors, especially ladies wishing to improve their fertility and hopes of conceiving, can reach this rather unusual Bangkok site by taking the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit Line and getting off at Chit Lom or Phloen Chit stations. More on getting around Bangkok.

From the stations it is a short walk north to the lush gardens that the Nai Lert Hotel is set in. As the route to the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine is not particularly well signposted, it is adjacent to a canal (klong), it is probably easier to ask for directions at the hotel’s reception desk.

In Thailand, spirit houses (known as san) can be found at almost every house and business. In houses with their own gardens it is usually a small pavilion around 30cm² at its base perched on top of a pedestal and column. In shops, bars and other commercial premises, the spirit house might be affixed high up on a wall.

There will usually be offerings of a glass of juice, a tiny morsel to eat and incense sticks on the spirit house’s front altar to encourage the gods to look favourably on the day’s transactions. These are changed every day and ensure that the deities remain focussed on providing good fortune to their patrons. 

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