By AFP and published by CNA
A HUGE black statue of an emaciated, winged figure with golden fangs and scarlet talons glares down on a busy Bangkok street, its sudden appearance triggering alarm and calls for its removal.
Bangkok authorities have ordered an investigation after the five-metre-tall Kru Kai Kaew statue – a bald man sitting cross-legged – was installed earlier this month outside the four-star Bazaar Hotel.
The capital of Buddhist Thailand has countless shrines to spirits and deities, big and small, and many pray and leave offerings in the belief that they will intervene and bring good fortune.
But the new figure, regarded by some as a god of wealth but by others as alien to Buddhism and even sacrilegious, is causing controversy.
There are calls for the statue, installed on Aug. 9 and then formally inaugurated with a prayer ceremony on Sunday (Aug. 13), to be moved or disposed of.
“When you worship something, it has to come with Buddhist belief,” said the Artists’ Council for the promotion of Buddhism of Thailand, which has asked the hotel to remove the statue.
“They can’t even answer what the statue is – you can’t just establish something random and worship it. It’s not in the Buddhist scriptures.”
The Nation reported a claim by a conservative group that worshippers planned “uncommon” rituals at the statue – even animal sacrifice.
The Bazaar Hotel has said it did not put the statue up, telling AFP that another party rented the land and installed it.
Napapat Kanyabandit, 40, a smoothie seller, insisted Kru Kai Kaew had brought her good fortune.
“I came to worship here because he is very sacred. As I am speaking I have goosebumps,” she told AFP after making an offering on Friday.
“I asked for my business to be successful and it came through.”
The statue was built by a factory in Nakhon Pathom west of Bangkok and briefly went viral when it got stuck under a bridge during its journey to Bangkok.
Some people claim to have had lottery wins after making offerings, though even worshippers voiced scepticism.
“About the people who won the lottery, we will have to see in the long term if they actually win every time,” spa worker Noppamas Artuyeun, 26, told AFP.
The origins of Kru Kai Kaew are somewhat unclear, Buddhism expert Sinchai Chaojaroenrat told AFP.
“The statue is a folklore belief. Some people think it’s a shaman, some people believe it’s a teacher of an ex-king in Khmer (Cambodia),” Sinchai said.
Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt ordered an investigation into the statue.
Since it is on the hotel’s private land, however, there is little the authorities can do.
But a city official told AFP they have suggested the hotel “might try to cover the statue with something so as not to scare people”.
While the statue’s powers of divine intervention may be in doubt, one party has certainly benefited from its appearance.
“Our business wasn’t doing well until the renter decided to put the statue up,” Bazaar Hotel representative Charlie Noppawong Na Ayuddhaya told AFP.
“Since then, our bookings have increased to 90 percent capacity until the end of this year.”
Top: A giant statue of the deity Kru Kai Kaew, regarded by some as a god of wealth but by others as alien to Buddhism, is pictured in Bangkok today, Aug, 18, 2023. Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha and published by CNA
Insert: An onlooker takes a photo of a giant statue of the deity Kru Kai Kaew in Bangkok today, Aug. 18, 2023. Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha and published by CNA
Front Page: A giant statue of the deity Kru Kai Kaew is pictured in Bangkok today, Aug. 18, 2023. Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha and published by CNA