When it comes to the Four-Faced Buddha, we can hear all kinds of rumours that make inevitably make many people sceptical about Thai Buddhism. There are also many unlearned fools who are fond of fabricating many unfounded stories to describe the Four-Faced Buddha, depicting the deity close to the characteristics of demons.
Who actually is Four-Faced Buddha? Do we make vegetarian or non-vegetarian offerings to Him? Do you really need to strip dance or perform an erotic dance in making thanksgiving? The source of the The Origin of Phra Prom (“Four-Face Buddha”)…
When it comes to Thai Buddhism, many people, especially the HongKongers, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and Malaysians, often mistook Phra Prom, commonly referred to as Four-Face Buddha, to be representative of the religion oblivious that Phra Prom is rooted in Hinduism. Thai Buddhism, as the noun denotes, is centred on Lord Buddha. In Hinduism, Phra Prom is known as Lord Brahma and is He is the God of Creation.
In our upcoming article on Phra Pikaniat, we will introduce to our readers the Hindu concept of Trimurti comprising Lords Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu as Supreme Gods. When these three Supreme Gods combined into one single super Being, they are collectively known as Phra Trimurti represented by a Three-Face God symbolising Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer in toto. According to the Puranas, the origin of Lord Brahma is varied and incoherent but it is not the interest of this article to delve into each and every version contained therein but suffice to summarise Lord Brahma as the leader of Phra Trimurti. The Siva Puranas, however, claim Lord Siva as the leader and, of course, the Vishnu Puranas also claim Lord Vishnu as the leader.
Lord Brahma, owing to his supreme position, is less portrayed in myths just like the Jade Emperor in Taoism. Both Gods in their initial stages do not have any visual conceptualisation whilst other Gods in both these religions are oftentimes represented in human forms and take on human characteristics in their spiritual voyages to connect with human believers. Visual depictions were all later creations. Lord Brahma is subsequently depicted as having four heads of which represented wisdom and where-from all the four Vedas originated, four arms, and has a peacock as vahanam (‘坐骑’).
To the astonishment of many people is that despite being the leader of the Supreme Gods, Lord Brahma is not widely worshipped amongst Hindus.
Legend of Curse of Lord Shiva
According to SivaPurana, once Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu were overwhelmed by pomposity as to who was the superior of the two. Their argument became impassioned and intense that Lord Shiva had to intervene and arbitrate. Lord Shiva transformed himself into a gigantic lingam (the phallic representation of Lord Shiva which is known as Palakit in Thailand). The lingam stretched in both directions from heaven to hell. Lord Siva told both Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu that whoever finds the ends of the lingam will the greater of the two. Both Lords Brahma and Vishnu took on the challenge and set out in opposite directions to find the lingam’s end. The search went on for many earth years and both their Lordships realized that the lingam had no end. Lord Vishnu then realized the fact that Lord Shiva was the greatest of Trimurti. However, Lord Brahma decided to deceive Lord Siva. He collaborated with the flower of Ketaki at the uppermost part of the lingam to lie to Lord Siva that He had reached the uppermost part of the lingam and had seen the end. When summoned, the Ketaki flower falsely testified that Lord Brahma had indeed seen the end of the lingam. Lord Siva became so infuriated by the dishonesty that He cursed Lord Brahma that He will thereafter never be worshipped by any human being. He also forbade the Ketaki flower to be used in any future Hindu ritual. Therefore, not many Lord Brahma’s temples survived in India today.
However, among the few Lord Brahma’s temples surviving Lord Siva’s curse is a fourteenth century temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India which sees large number of pilgrims annually. Lord Brahma may not have much remaining temples in India and may not have retained as many Hindu believers as He should, however, He undoubtedly did well in exile and has gain a wider and diverse base of believers in Thailand which helps Him expand territorially throughout the whole of SE Asia especially in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and now, in Taiwan.
Lord Brahma in Thailand
Although there is no Lord Brahma’s temple in Thailand but you are able to see statues of Lord Brahma worshipped in many temples and shrines across the Kingdom of Thailand. Perhaps the largest statue of Phra Prom measuring 7.8 meters high and 4.99 meters wide is located in Wat Chong Samaesan Sathirhip, Chon Buri, a historical temple constructed during the reign of King Chulalongkorn.
Another gigantic Phra Prom statue may be seen in Wat Saman Rattanaram Chachoengsao which has became a top tourist attraction in recent years.
Most foreigners who are not familiar with Thailand have only heard of the shrine at Erawan Hotel and are oblivious of other prominent places which housed and worshipped Phra Prom on larger scales. Besides those afore-mentioned, Wat Bangkudeethong also houses a majestically constructed statue of Phra Prom.
Foreigners are mostly familiar with the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine at the ceremonial court in Earwan Hotel at Ratchaprasong intersection. However, most, if not all, of them mistook the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine as a temple.
There are two stories in relation to the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine. One was pre-Internet version and another post-Internet version.
The latest version of the story relating to the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine omitted all mysticism from it. It was said that in 1951, Pol. Gen. Pao Sriyanon was appointed the Police Commissioner of Thailand. The Erawan Hotel at Ratchaprasong intersection was scheduled to be built to accommodate foreign guests. However, during the early stages of construction, many accidents occurred. Finally, after five long years, the project was completed at the end of 1956 and Rear Admiral Luang Suvachan was invited to the opening ceremony. Rear Admiral Luang Suvachan, however, complained that no proper ritual was conducted prior to the construction and the foundation stone was not laid in accordance to auspice of astrological requirement. Furthermore, the name of the hotel “Erawan” is the name of Lord Indra, the God of heavens, lightning, thunder, storms, rains and river flows and, hence, sacred. More misfortunes were prone to occur without appropriate blessings. Rear Admiral Luang Suwachan instructed that it is necessary to seek the blessings of Phra Prom, the Creator so as to absolve all obstacles.
The Phra Prom court was immediately built. The initial intention was to cast a bronze statue of Phra Prom and has it coated with gold leaves but, due to want of time, a gilded stucco statue was constructed instead. The Phra Prom shrine was finally completed in front of the Erawan Hotel on November 9, 1956.
The pre-Internet version of the story was infused with mysticism instead of astrological perceptions. It was speculated that the location in which the Erawan Hotel sits was an elephant burial ground during ancient time. The construction of the hotel, its pile caps and columns construction had disturbed the spirits of the elephants which thus ran amok causing accidents in the construction site. A monk was invited to perform some rituals at the site and saw the cause of problem. He, therefore, instructed that Phra Prom’s shrine be constructed to subdue the elephant spirits.
Whichever the version of Thao Maha Phrom Shrine is correct does not really matters because it is believed that the worshipping of Phra Prom helps dispel bad luck and frustration, and at the same time, promote good luck and success.
Today, the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine houses a new Phra Prom statue made in May 21, 2006 exactly two months after the original statue was destroyed in an isolated incident of vandalism. Nonetheless, the current Thao Maha Phrom Shrine serves as a generator of myths and tales for foreigners and a source of livelihood for some Thais who facilitate the needs to fulfilling the religious fantasies of foreigners.
As consistently mentioned in our other articles, sacred artefacts must be properly created and consecrated by Thai temples. It has all along been part of the Thai temple culture to make statues and amulets of Buddhas and Gods for believers to own and Phra Prom is also among the legion of highly demanded sacred objects. There are many temples making statues and amulets of Phra Prom but the most famous of them are Wat KiaoJamfar and Wat Noak.
Statues and amulets made and consecrated by Luang Pu Phrathep of Wat KiaoJamfar are quite pricey including the several batches of Phra Prom made. In contrast, those made and consecrated by Ajahn Jet of Wat Noak are more reasonably priced. Nevertheless, Phra Prom originating from both these temples are highly sought after for their effects.
Praying Phra Prom at Home
Another aspect of Phra Prom commonly misunderstood by foreigners is the setting up of a shrine at home. It is commonly misapprehended that Phra Prom must be worshipped outside of the house because He has four faces and neither must face the wall. His shrine should be analogous to that of the Thao Maha Phrom Shrine. Only if believers were to take a step back and look at Lord Brahma’s images in temples, it is not difficult for them to understand the above-mentioned misapprehension arose from stupidity. Once this stupidity is uncovered, the same will go for walking around Phra Prom’s statues when praying. Otherwise only the very rich people with their own yards may worship Phra Prom.
It is our culture and conceptualization passed down from our great teacher Luang Phor Somjit Sukkho that Phra Prom should be honoured on the same altar table as any other Buddhas and Gods unless for specific purposes such as that of Thao Maha Phrom Shrine.
When it comes to thanksgiving we are never short-supplied with funny actions from funny people. It is already sinful to offer meat to Phra Prom who is vegetarian and it is even more aberrant to strip dance before Him. The advocacy of strip dancing is probably influenced by the Hindu Story of Sarawati which is not within the discussion of this article but suffice to advise believers herein to discard such foolish act.
Actually offerings to Phra Prom are simple. The primary offerings comprise all types of flowers, fruits (especially coconuts), brown rice, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, herbs, pepper seeds, coriander leaves, basil leaves, fresh vegetables, incense, and frankincense. Just remember not to mix offerings.