A Stroke of Luck: The History of Penis Shrines in Thailand

Thai penis shrines. Yeah, they’re a thing. No, they’re vulgar.

Chances are you are familiar with our Island Awesomeness Tour, in which case you are also aware of the lovingly nicknamed “Penis Cave” on Phra Nang Beach. Countless of pictures float around the Internet with groups of people… “interacting” with the wooden dicks and having a jolly good time. But this is Thailand, after all, so shrines of this kind and the public’s general devotion to phallic symbols must have a deeper meaning, no pun intended.

Therefore, today we will dive into the historical and cultural lore of the phallus as well as cover two of the biggest dick(s)…. shrines.

We will do our best to keep the penis jokes at a minimum because we are classy and have high standards.*

*no, we are not and no, we don’t. All lies.

Where Does the Devotion Come From?

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It is easy to dismiss this religious worship as “just another Thai thing”, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The phallus as a symbol of fertility dates back more than 10.000 years to the end of the Stone Age. From this period onward it was worshipped in ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece, and Babylon, for example. Festivals were organized to commemorate this symbol and with it the associated historical figures and Gods such as Hermes, Priapus, and Biggus Dickus. If you look up some of the paintings of those gentlemen, you would be surprised at how… exaggerated their penises are. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that they were the real OGs of dick pics. Many architectural structures, works of art, and domestic items were designed in this particular shape as well and belong to the subcategory of phallic architecture.

Eventually, the linga, as the imageries are also known, found their way into the Indonesian, Indian, Japanese, and Thai culture, amongst others, where they still exist as symbols of fertility and good luck.

Shrines of Fertility in Thailand

Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine

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This used to be the most popular shrine, which was located behind the Swissôtel Hotel in Bangkok. We say “used to be” because in early 2017 the shrine was closed down and all the variously sized, decorated, and ornamented penises were buried. The remains were moved to a new location near the Nai Lert Heritage Home a few blocks away from the old spot. Unfortunately, there is not much to see anymore and what is left now is a pale shadow of the tale surrounding the female fertility spirit, Chao Mae Tuptim.

The story goes that in the early 20th Century the affluent businessman Nai Lert found a spirit house in a nearby canal and placed it on his property. Shortly afterward a woman visited the site and made an offering to the Goddess in the hope of getting pregnant. Her wish was miraculously granted and nine months later she gave birth to a healthy boy. She was so overcome with joy that she placed a wooden penis next to the shrine as a tribute. This caught the attention of millions of other women who followed her example, with phallic carvings and imagery as well as candles, jasmine, necklaces, combs, lotus flowers, and incense sticks. Colorful sashes and ribbons adorned the large ficus tree close to the shrine, which is where Chao Mae Tuptim is supposed to reside.

Even though the original shrine is gone and the new one lacks the history and mystery – at least for now – the legend and its cultural impact live on to this day.

Phra Nang Cave

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The story about this cave also revolves around a woman, fertility, and the associated phallic symbols. But the similarities end there. Instead of a woman hoping to get pregnant, the protagonist, in this case, was either an Indian princess who perished in a shipwreck or the wife of a fisherman who was lost at sea. In the latter story, she awaited her husbands return in the cave but to no avail.

Because of this tragedy, local fishermen pay their respects to Phra Nang before setting out on a fishing trip. By doing so, they pray for good luck and a safe journey. If their prayers were indeed answered and the Goddess protected them from harm, the fishermen would make an offering upon their return.

And, of course, women visit the shrine as well for the same reasons and with the same gifts as mentioned above.

And tourists flock to the site, because… well, that’s what tourists do.

Wrap Up

The fertility shrines are yet another example of how the everyday lives of Thais are not only influenced by Buddhism but also by Hindu and Animistic iconography and practices. For example, the phallus, in this case, is closely associated with the Hindu God Shiva, whereas the spirit houses are rooted in Animism.

But that’s enough knowledge for today! Let us know, as usual, in the comments below about your visits to the penis shrines in Thailand! And in order to bring back the fun, tell us your best dick joke! The naughtier, the better.

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