History of Mae Tollani
People familiar with Thai Buddhism and culture will have already noticed that there are many Goddesses within the belief system. The most commonly seen Goddess in Thailand is perhaps the Goddess of Fortune Mae Nangkwak whose statues are seen in most shops and stalls across the country. However, in this article, we are going to talk about the Earth Goddess who has existed prior to Buddhism and who has been widely worshipped since the period known as Sasana Phi and hitherto.
The belief in Earth Goddess as a primordial anthropomorphic celestial deity was almost common throughout ancient civilizations from East to West. To the Greeks, she was known as Gaia; to the Aztecs, she was Goddess Toci; to Indo-Europeans, she was known either as Demeter or Semele; to the native Americans, she was known as Atira; to the Chinapeople, she was known as Dimu; to the Indonesians, she was known as Ibu Pertiwi; in India, she was known either as Prithvi or Dharti Mata, and et cetera. To the modern people today, she is simply called Mother Earth. Therefore, it can be said that the Earth Goddess has been with human beings since time immemorial and prior to the creation of religions.
Calling Earth to Witness
The Earth Goddess is Phra Sri Suwanthara or popularly known as Mae Tollani to the Thais. The most popular reference to Mae Tollani in Buddhism is the chapter known as “Calling Earth to Witness.” The chapter depicts Lord Buddha’s final stage towards enlightenment under the bodhi tree when Mara, accompanied by his warriors and daughters, attempted to drive Lord Buddha from His throne. The dark forces were so aggressive that they managed to terrify all Gods and sent them scurrying away, leaving Lord Buddha to face the devils all by Himself.
Lord Buddha stretched down his right hand and touched the earth (known as the Māravijaya or mara vichai posture), summoning the Goddess of Earth to be His witness. Mae Tollani appeared in the form of a beautiful young woman and avowed Lord Buddha’s right. When the devil forces remained adamant, Mae Tollani twisted her long cascading hair and torrents of water collected from the innumerable donatives libations over the ages created a flood which washed Mara and his army away.
The Māravijaya or mara vichai posture where the seated Buddha puts His right hand casually on His knee cap with fingers pointing towards to the ground, and His other hand on His lap with His eyes either closed or looking down to the ground became known as “subduing Mara.” Buddha images in that posture are associated with the power of invincibility, warding away evil, success, victory, and great wealth. The most popular sacred object of this category originating from a temple is the Somdej Channa Manbandal Sapo made and consecrated by Luang Phor Thongdaam, Wat Tham Thapian Thong in Buddhist year 2552. The amulet depicts Lord Buddha in the mara vichai posture under the bodhi tree with Mae Tollani under the throne and Mae Bosok on the rear of the amulet.
At the same time, the name Mae Tollani appears in many Thai literature, such as the book of the First Mahachat sermon (the Vessantara, Jataka), Lilit Taleng Phai and etc. with different names, such as the Mae Tollani and Phra Mae Vasuntharapsutha which all possess the same meaning – owner of wealth. The chapter “Calling Earth to Witness” has also influenced the outlook of Mae Tollani whereby her image is created with her twisting her long cascading hair. According to various Thai reviews, the most expensive and effective image of Mae Tollani ever made and consecrated in modern days is that of Luang Phor Pae of Wat Pikulthong whereas, in terms of beauty and exquisiteness, the unanimous vote went to the image from Luang Phor Kuay’s temple, Wat Kositaram.
Rituals and Traditions in Construction
Paying homage to Mae Tollani plays an important role in Thai Buddhism and Thai culture. Before the commencement of anything, homage has to be paid to Mae Tollani first because she is the guardian who sustains the land from which everything in this world is born. This is particularly so pertaining to works requiring pounding, digging, drilling, and hitting the ground. It is believed that these activities not only disturb Mae Tollani but also other spirits, especially the Nagas. Therefore, in some temples there are also four Nagas statues enshrined together with Mae Tollani.
There is no universal ritual in this regards. It varies according to the various schools of thoughts. People from different provinces may also have their own traditions as well. Therefore, whatever procedures elaborated in this article is by no means authoritative and/or exhaustive but a mere window into the belief system.
Relocation of Mae Tollani
Generally, prior to any building construction, homage has to be made to Mae Tollani whereby a “petition” for the intended activities is “submitted” to Mae Tollani seeking her approval, forgiveness and blessing. This is followed by the ritual of “Relocation of Mae Tollani” known commonly as the relocation ceremony. This ceremony can either be very grand or merely symbolic depending on individuals. In the least, the property owner will bring a pair of joss sticks, a yellow candle, a pair of jasmine garland on a pedestal or a silver bowl into the middle of the courtyard where the house would be built and recite a spell (usually under the guidance of a guru). After the recitation is completed, the joss sticks and candle will be placed on the west side of the area where the house is to be built.
Offerings to Mae Tollani
Immediately following the relocation ceremony is the ritual of offerings. The property owner will present offerings to Mae Tollani in 5 containers (trays), namely, (a) 5 pairs of white flowers except Champa flowers; (b) 1 bowl of rain water; (c) 1 comb; (d) 1 ripe banana; (e) 1 hard-boiled egg; and (f) five bowls consisting of white flowers and 5 pairs of white candles each with matches. The person who performs the ceremony will hold the 5 bowls while those who attend the ceremony will walk behind the person who performs the ritual to the ceremonial area. The property owner will then light two candles and place them on the five bowls and raise the five bowls up to about his chest level. He will make another recitation after which all offerings will be moved to a place where no one will step on them. This completes the relocation ceremony.
Most people will proceed to initiate the ritual of “Perd Tollani” or ground opening immediately after offerings to Mae Tollani. “Perd Tollani” means a ritual pertaining to working the ground that serves as a prelude to the commencement of construction work. However, according to Luang Phor Somjit’s linage, we will conduct a “Wai Kru” ritual to pay homage to our ancestral teachers, Rheesis, and Gods in-between these two ceremonies.
There will also be other rituals pertaining to the selection of direction, the raising of the main pillar or setting of the foundation stone, and et cetera but which are all-in-all beyond the purview of this article.
Similarly, in the process of buying and selling properties, renovation, and moving into a new home, homage and offerings are also made to Mae Tollani to ensure all transactions and works go on smoothly and people moving into a new house will enjoy peace, good health and prosperity.
Phitti Boon Nang Din
In Northern Thailand, there are also various rituals relating to Mae Tollani that are regarded as traditions and the most important being “Phitti Boon Nang Din.” This is a very complicated ceremony involving various homage and rituals to different Gods including Mae Tollani, Mae Khongkha, Mae Bosok and other Gods involved in the process of planting rice.
As we now know, Mae Tollani is the guardian Goddess of Earth and rice planting involves working on the earth so it is inevitable that homage to Mae Tollani has to be conducted. But what about Mae Khongkha? Well, the history of Mae Khongkha is beyond the scope of this article but suffice to state herein that she is the sister of Phra Mae Uma (Lord Shiva’s wife and Lord Ganesha’s mother). Mae Khongkha is responsible for the water element that can either be a creative or destructive source for which rice planting is intrinsically dependent upon. Hence, it is necessary to pay homage to Mae Khongkha as well. Whereas Mae Bosok is the guardian of rice and, hence, the primary Goddess involved in “Phitti Boon Nang Din”. Homage will be made to Mae Bosok before and during planting as well as during harvesting.
Mae Tollani as a Witness of Merits
Pursuant to the chapter “Calling Earth to Witness” the Goddess of Earth Mae Tollani has been revered as an impartial witness of merits in all rituals and ceremonies. Practitioners of the inner path, especially “Wethmon Khao,” often pay homage to and invite Mae Tollani as a witness, a protector, or a facilitator in their chants and rituals. Many rituals cannot succeed without her approval and help. Even in the creation of “nammoon Mae Tollani” or holy water to drive away negative energies and evil, practitioners will have to dedicate 21 days of prayers to Mae Tollani.
Mae Tollani is also the principal Goddess overseeing the “Kruad Nam” or water libation ritual that forms an essential part of almost all ceremonies in Thailand, for examples, merit making, “sedok krok” or extracting bad luck, wedding, funeral, and et cetera where water is deposited into the earth through Mae Tollani as an impartial witness. For those who have participated in the water libation ritual, you will remember hearing the monks begin the chant with “Yatha Wariwaha Pura Paripurenti Sakarang …” and you will start pouring water without interruption, dedicating merits to the intended benefactor(s) both seen and/or unseen. It is believed that water and earth are the mediators between the human world and the other worlds, especially afterlife. The water libation ritual is said to have a long tradition going back to the time when Lord Buddha taught King Bimbisarn to pour water (Thaksinotok) onto the ground to dedicate merits to deceased relatives. In this regard, it has become something that has been adhered to for generations.
Worshipping Mae Tollani
It is believed that worshipping a genuinely consecrated image of Mae Tollani at home or in an office will bring about harmony, happiness, good fortune and wealth. At the same time, she will protect the territory from negative energies and dispel all evil. For the general believers the process is simply as follows:
Prepare the followings:
1. Five kinds of fruit (preferably including young coconut and banana)
2. Three colours satin fabric
3. Yellow or orange flowers
4. Seven kinds of sweets
5. Rice, hard boiled eggs
6. Water, milk, red sago
7. Betel nuts
8. Light 21 joss sticks and 9 candles
The chant of Mother Earth
(Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa 3 times)
Tassa Kesi Sato Yathaganga Sotang Pavattanti Marasena
Patitatung Parimanubhavena Marasena Parachija Nisonisang
Palayanti Withangsenti Asesato Sathu Sathu Sathu Sathu
Sangkhatang Lotangavitu Tantiputting Namo Putthaya Namapata
Panmare Chino Nato Patto Sambodhimuttamang Catusacchan Pakaseti
Dhammacakkan Pavattayi Etena Saccavajjena Hotu Mechayamangalang
Repeat the chant 3 times and if possible chant it 21 times because the strength of Mae Tollani is 21. After the chant has been completed, say your prayers.