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Tiger God Shrine Rattanakosin's Only Chinese Temple

Tiger God Shrine

San Chao Por Seua, Bangkok

Tags: Bangkok, Thailand, Tiger God Shrine

Introduction to the Tiger God Shrine

Chinese immigrants have lived in Bangkok for over three centuries. Most settled near the river where they traded goods with foreign ships passing north to the former capital city of Ayutthaya. When King Rama 1 moved the capital to Bangkok, the Chinese community was relocated to make way for construction of the Grand Palace. Many moved here, and this area is now home to one of the largest concentrations of Chinese immigrants in the old city. These immigrants have played a key role in shaping the city. A perfect example is the Chao Por Seua Shrine.

Although a Taoist temple, the Chao Por Seua Shrine has become one of the main places of worship for Thai Buddhists. This shrine is considered by many to be one of the top 10 places of worship in the city. In fact, just a few years ago, the King urged the Thai people to worship here with the hopes of counteracting the supposed ill effects of a solar eclipse.

Chao Por Seua was built in 1834. At that time it was located on nearby Bamrung Muang Road. However King Rama 5 demanded that the shrine be moved to make way for a new row of shophouses. This upset the Chinese residents and prompted a local shaman to threaten that anybody who attempted to move the shrine would face the wrath of the gods. In response, the King announced that anybody who made predictions against the plan to expand the road would face the wrath of the King. Without delay the shaman decided that the gods could accept the king’s proposal, and the shrine was moved here in 1870.

Chao Por Seua is dedicated to the spirit of a tiger who once lived in the jungle surrounding this area. Legend says that the tiger once killed and ate the only son of a widowed old woman leaving her lonely and destitute. The tiger later regretted his actions and pledged to protect and provide for the old woman. In front of the gate, there are a couple of stone tigers who still look after this place.

Over the gate there is a black stone plaque with carved golden Chinese letters ‚ÄúSein Tein Zang Tee” the name of the god of the north stars. Chinese worship this deity twice a month. Also on the special occasion of his birthday, thousands of people come from all over the city and the crowds spill over into the street outside. At the far end of the shrine is an altar decorated with embroidered Chinese silk. Sein Tein Zang Tee is in the middle of the altar, and he is guarded on the left and right by images of other Chinese deities. Worshipers will stack these alters with flowers, fruits, and cookies. You will also see a good deal of pork, rice and eggs, which are the favored foods of the feline tiger gods that guard the shrine. The shrine is also a popular place for barren couples to make offerings of sugar tigers, with the hope that they might soon be blessed with a child.

In front of the alter you might see worshipers rattling cans full of wooden sticks. The can is shaken until one numbered stick falls to the floor. The number is then taken to the back of the hall where a corresponding fortune printed on a paper sheet can be found. You can also see worshipers throwing wooden blocks across the floor. Depending on how these blocks fall, the thrower can divine answers to pressing questions.

The shrine is very active and festivals, operas, and puppet shows are held here year round. During certain festivals so many patrons crowd the temple with incense sticks that it is sometimes quite difficult to breathe. Fans and ventilation tubes are mounted on the old wooden beams above to help clear out the smoke. A couple of staff members are also on hand to extinguish and throw out burning incense immediately after it is lit.

The incinerator located on the north end of the main chamber also contributes quite a bit to the thick air. Visitors to the shrine use this furnace to burn paper offerings for the dead. Next to the furnace is a small turtle pond with another pond located on the south side of the hall. In the past, locals would come to feed heaps of morning glory to the turtles in the ponds. They believed these good deeds would bring them merit and good luck. The overfed turtles have long since been removed, but the tanks remain full of water to be used in case of any accidental fire.

Actually, fires were quite common in this neighborhood. In 1958 and 1967 there were large fires outside the shrine that destroyed all of the surrounding homes. Only the shrine was left untouched. Some attribute this miracle to the protection of Sein Tein Zang Tee who provides his devotees with protection from fire, others attribute it to the short concrete wall that used to surround the shrine.

By Blaine Johnson

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