The Kuan Yin Shrine, Bangkok ? the Goddess of Mercy on the Chao Phraya

The Kuan Yin Shrine in Bangkok is in an old Chinese building within a community on the Chao Phraya River where time seems to have stood still for the last 200 years.

The site originally had two shrines built in the reign of King Taksin (1767 ? 1782) by his Chinese supporters. The dilapidated buildings were torn down in the reign of King Rama III (1824 ? 1851) and rebuilt to house Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

Today, the Kuan Yin Shrine is in the care of a local Chinese family living in the area. In Thai, the goddess of mercy is known as Jao Mae Kuan Im.

Kuan Yin, an ancient Chinese goddess, embodies the virtues of love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness, a legend that goes back to 300 BC.

The youngest daughter of a Chinese king, she was blessed with virtue and spurned her corrupted father's greed for wealth and power. When she rejected his order for an arranged marriage, he drove her out of their home.

Rejected, persecuted and exiled by her father, she dedicated her remaining years as a nun healing the sick and destitute and as a savior of shipwrecked sailors. When her father was mortally ill, she sacrificed her eyes and arms for the antidote to save him.

Her selflessness earned her eternal worship and the Kuan Yin Shrine became a Chinese cultural heritage. The early Chinese immigrants to Bangkok continued the tradition and built a shrine for the goddess of mercy on the Chao Phraya River near where they lived.

An elevated walkway, a recent addition, runs from the pier along the riverbanks and a small footbridge with a red arch links the walkway to the main gate of the shrine. At the end of a small red-tiled courtyard is the period Chinese structure housing the Kuan Yin Shrine.

Images of classical Chinese characters are engraved on the front walls and above the opened main door, two fiery dragons ride the crest of the roof, glaring down fiercely. The wooden doors in the sidewalls leading to the inner quarters behind are closed.

Inside the shrine, painted walls of Chinese warriors and old red Chinese lanterns hanging from the rafters create a mood reminiscent of ancient China, a mood seemingly unchanged over the years in the Kuan Yin Shrine.

A smaller altar with several Kuan Yin statues stands in the open yard in the center of the shrine. In the main altar, in the covered area to the rear, a metre-high gold statue of Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, sits serenely facing the Chao Phraya River.

It's not a busy shrine on non-festive days. The occasional worshipper comes in to pray and pay respects as the day goes lazily by. Life on the river is quiet except for a few children playing by the pier and the odd fisherman.

Meanwhile, in the Kuan Yin Shrine, the goddess of mercy, gazes benignly at the bustling river beyond as the riverboats go streaming by.

The Kuan Yin Shrine is one of the many Bangkok Shrines in the old city.

The Kuan Yin Shrine is one of the legacies that make up the rich cultural milieu of Bangkok. This article first appeared in Tour Bangkok Legacies, a historical travel site on people, places and events that shaped the landscape of Bangkok. The author, Eric Lim, is a free-lance writer who lives in Bangkok Thailand.

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