The Hindu gods of Buddhist Thailand

Thailand is the largest Buddhist country in the world, with 95% of its 69 million population following the religion. Those who consider themselves of the Hindu faith constitute just 0.03% percent of Thais (22,100 people) according to the 2015 census. 

Despite the very small number of Hindus here, elements of Hinduism permeate Thailand’s socio-cultural life. Even as the group is a minority, various Hindu elements remain deeply embedded in the traditional culture and social life of the Thai people.

Hinduism arrived in Thailand partly along the land route from India via Burma, but also traversed the Bay of Bengal to Indonesia and was instrumental in the establishment of the maritime Sri Vijaya Empire. It is from Java that Hinduism also spread to Cambodia, and what is now Vietnam and northwards to Thailand – absorbing local cultural elements along the way.

Waves of invasions, and especially the Khmer rule, left the residue of Hinduism in the Thai culture. And as is often the case with external influences, the elements have been absorbed and overlaid with Buddhist rituals seamlessly, giving them Thai characteristics.

Alongside their Buddhist beliefs, many Thais worship Hindu deities. One of them is the Brahma (Phra Phrom) at the famous Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. People in deep anguish are known to go to this shrine, and when a wish has been granted, devotees hire dancers to perform Ram Kae Bon, to thank the god.

Statues of Ganesh, Indra (Phra In), and Shiva (Phra Isuan) can be found across Thailand.  Ganesh is known as Phra Phikanet in Thai and is worshipped as the remover of obstacles. He is the deity Thai Buddhists often pray to before they start an important venture — just as Hindus in Nepal and India do at Ganesh temples.

Buddhist relics in western Nepal, Sewa Bhattarai 

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