To continue with my adventures in Bangkok's Chinatown, Yaowarat, I went back another time around eight o'clock at night to a point called Odeon Circle and was taken down the road to the Chinese temple of Tien Fah or Kuan Im/Guan Yin, the Chinese Mahalakshmi, goddess of fortune.
This is across the road from the great temple of Wat Traimit where the Golden Buddha I described last time resides. Wat Traimit was beautifully lit up at night and looked quite splendid.
Tien Fah's temple dates back to 1902 from what I gathered and the Tien Fah Foundation is reportedly Bangkok's oldest charitable society, providing medical care to the poor. If someone dies alone and unclaimed, the Foundation will arrange for the funeral and its members will pray for the person. The shrine is decorated in auspicious red and gold in front of a big hospital building. It is open 24 hours, a true sanctuary for prayer. You have to go past a little shrine on the left to ancestral deities from China, rather like our grama devata. Before you enter, it is respectful to light two candles and three incense sticks in offering.
Kuan Im's idol looked to be quite six feet tall and is beautifully gilded. I'm told her idol was carved in China from teak wood about 800 or more years ago and brought to Bangkok in 1958. Inside the hall were sacks of rice meant for dispatch to the victims of the recent floods in Thailand and stacks of devotional books and Chinese 'panchangam', printed for free distribution as an act of merit by the devout.
I was glad to find a 'Cause and Effect Sutra' (local karma theory booklet) that had portions in English. A Q&A that caught my eye: "If you doubt the efficacy of Cause and Effect… see how Maugalyayana could save his mother from suffering." 'Maudgalyayana' (origin of the modern Indian surname 'Mudgal') was one the Buddha's seniormost followers and a pillar of the Sangha.
It is de rigeur at this shrine to shake a fortune stick out of a box, see the number on that stick and read the corresponding fortune on a chart. Kuan Im had plenty to say to me, but that's between her, me and the Thai friend who translated. Suffice to say that above her altar it is emblazoned in English: 'Aryavalokiteswara', meaning 'The Noble One Who Gazes Compassionately Down'.
(Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture)