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Monk Accessory Shops

Monk Accessory Shops

Monk Accessory Shops

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Introduction to Bamrung Muang Road

Bangkok may be full of shopping centers today, but 100 years ago this street was all there was. Bamrung Muang Road is the location of Bangkok’s first western-style shopping mall, and it was at one point the most diverse shopping and commercial zone in Bangkok. During the Reign of Rama 5 the shophouses lining the street held 19 sewing shops, two watch-repair shops, five carpenters, 73 textile shops, 25 stores selling ceramics, crystal, gold, brass and silver, five hardware stores, nine pharmacies, 19 stationers, one bookshop, three cosmetic outlets, three food shops, 29 pawnshops and 49 grocery and coffee houses.

Siam’s first barber shops were opened on Bamrung Muang, undermining the traditional traveling barbers that would pass from door to door with their mobile haircutting salons. Siam’s first laundry services were also located here, and became enormously popular with royal court staff who were not familiar with the intricacies of washing and ironing the western pants and shirts they were required to wear on duty.

Bamrung Muang, which in Thai means “the road embellishing the city,” is one of the oldest roads in the city. Since the very first days it has served as the main footpath from the river to Wat Suthat. The bridge at the beginning of this road was made of brick and strong enough to hold elephants. For this reason elephants would often be seen walking up and down Bamrung Muang which itself is reinforced with one meter of stacked brick underneath. The road was modified in 1863 when Bangkok’s first sewer system was installed, something we can all thank King Rama 5 for.

Small wooden shops once lined the entire length of Bamrung Muang. After King Rama 5 returned from Singapore in 1870, he razed the wooden shops and built rowhouses resembling those he saw in Singapore. These were the first concrete buildings in Siam. When people first saw the thick walls and arched gates, they were awed and astonished by their beauty and uniformity. This style became quite popular and was used through the reign of King Rama 6.

All these arcade buildings once had an arched walkway where customers could walk through the entire row of buildings, but later the owners closed the entrances between each room. To this day there is no proper footpath on Bamrung Muang, so take care as you walk along.

Monk Accessory Shops

Nowadays the western-style stores are no longer, and Bamrung Muang is the largest Buddhist artifacts thoroughfare in Siam. In an unusual reversal of Bangkok’s trend toward modernization, scores of stores selling foreign products and luxury items have been replaced by ma and pa shops producing and selling traditional Buddhist accessories. These shops are called sanghaput in Thai, a word which literally means ‘things for monks.’ According to the Buddhist canon there are 8 specific items that a Buddhist monk requires: an under robe, upper robe, outer robe, alms bowl, straight razor, needle, string belt, and water strainer. In the past, shops such as these only sold these bare requisites, but later they added more accessories. Today, all items for Buddhist practice can be found here.

Explore the shops and you will find all sorts of curious things: there are bells made from spent bomb casings from the Vietnam War; human-sized sculpted wax candles as well as life-like wax monks and forest hermits; colorful ceremonial fans; spirit shrines in the shape of popular temples; triangular pillows; gongs and wooden drums. There are heavy-duty monk bags for forest monks who live and meditate in the jungle, and the umbrella-shaped tents that they meditate within. There are thousands of shining Buddhas of all shapes, styles and sizes stacked in rows. Many of them wrapped in sheets of cellophane to protect them from corrosive car fumes. Amongst all the shining images you can see the laughing Buddha and Guan Yin from China, as well as replicas of images unique to Thailand such as the famous Emerald Buddha. There are also statues of famous Siamese kings such as Naresuan, Taksin, and Rama 5 seated on a horse.

But most common are the monk buckets. After performing rituals, monks are usually given a donation of supplies. Traditionally these were offered on ornate ceremonial pedestal trays, but these days it most often comes in a plastic bucket. Colored saffron like the robes, the monk bucket has become the symbol of urban Thai spirituality, sometimes called fast-food Buddhism. Buckets contain all the monks need for daily living: things like soap, incense, candles, matches and flip-flops. They often contain things that no monk would ever need, such as bullion cubes, canned milk, and stale biscuits.

Ideally, Buddhist monks are not to buy or ask these supplies, instead they were to take everything they needed from corpses in the cemetery or from scraps found in the forest. In earlier times, people would often leave robes and assorted accessories hanging on trees for the monks to take and use. Thai Buddhists, in a symbolic gesture, continue to place offerings on fake plastic trees called Thot Phra Pha. These novelty trees are loaded down with modern conveniences such as toothpaste and laundry detergent, things that monks in the Buddha’s time surely never stumbled across in the jungle.


Buddha Image Foundries & Workshops

Not only are all Buddhist accessories sold here, but most are also manufactured and produced on location behind the scenes. In the small alleys behind the row buildings you can find craftsmen sewing monk robes and belts, ceremonial fans, and pillows.

Near the end of the sanghaput thoroughfare, in the small lane to your left just behind the Brahmin Chapel, are some foundry factories where Buddha statues are made. If you walk down the lane you can see the images being sanded, painted, wrapped in orange cloth and loaded into pickup trucks for delivery. In some workshops the craftsmen work deep into the night, and you may watch them.

By Blaine Johnson

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