The Shrine of Goddess Tubtim
A fertility shrine with a strong focus on the male phallus
I’ve seen a lot of peculiar shrines in my time, though none with an overly strong focus on the male phallus. Well, that was until the other day. Upon approaching this tucked away shrine, you are greeted by a garden of clay children figurines playing and laughing amongst the plants. You will then come across a small spirit house, typically found around Thailand, both in homes and temples alike. With a quick look around, you will very quickly realize you are surrounded by literally hundreds of penis statues They’re everywhere! Some of the penises are small enough to be worn as necklaces, others are the size of small phallic totem poles coming in around 6 feet (180 cm). Some of the penis statues are plain, while others are intricately painted. Some penises have been creatively altered to have feet, or hung from chains, or propped up right, and some are even studded or decorated with ribbons. Some of the penis statues are made of cement, while others are made from good old fashioned wood (no pun intended). The Shrine of Goddess Tubtim certainly has no shortage of penis statues of every variety.
So what the heck is the connection with the garden of children, the spirit house and the penis fetish? The Shrine of Goddess Tubtim is a fertility shrine. It was erected (that one is too easy) to honour Chao Mae Tubtim, the female fertility goddess. Women of all ages who are typically in the early stages of trying to start a family will pay their respects to Miss Tubtim. They bring with them offerings of white lotus buds & white jasmine flowers, and ask her in return to ensure a happy and healthy child will be conceived. Rumour has it that the success rate is astonishingly high! If the woman’s wish comes true, it is expected that she will return to the shrine with her own penis statue for Goddess Tubtim’s personal collection. That still doesn’t explain the spirit house – well, where else would you think a fertility goddess would want to hang out? There’s a small statue representation of Chao Mae Tubtim found within. Who doesn’t like hanging out with life sized statues of themselves?
Little is known about the origins of how this shrine came to be, or what started the practice of bringing the offerings or penises as thanks. All that is known is that at one point in it’s existence, the spirit house was constructed by Nai Lert, owner of the neighbouring hotel, for the spirit of Chao Mae Tubtim who was believed to live in the large Sai (Ficus) tree next to the hotel. This was probably to keep the Mae Tubtim happy and to not haunt or torment the hotel’s guests.This attraction is certainly out of character with the impression of the polite nature of Thais. However, these particular statues of phalluses are used as a symbol of good luck and fortune. Given that most of the world’s modern Buddhism has very close ties to Hinduism, not so surprisingly many rituals and practices are actually quite similar. These particular penis statues have their roots (Aussies might find that statement funny) with the Hindu god Shiva. The phalluses, locally known as ‘lingams’, are sold at many markets for protection, or as good luck amulets. In fact, it’s also believed that they can influence the cash flow of a business. You might occasionally find little penises next to cash registers, or even hanging from rear view mirrors in taxis! It would appear Miss Tubtim is not the only one with a penis fetish.
Interestingly, the important fertility shrine of Goddess Tubtim is located in the very heart of Bangkok, tucked away behind the very busy Swissotel Nai Lert Hotel, and yet remains quite unknown and off the beaten path to many visitors, even to the guest of the hotel. It seems to really just be known on the down low, or if you have an in. Well – as always, Where Sidewalks End is happy to be your ‘in’. If you are coming by BTS (Bangkok’s Sky train), you will want to get off at Chit Lom station. Heading for exit 5, you will walk towards Wireless road (aka Wyuthia). Turn right onto wireless, and either take a 2 min taxi or tuk tuk, or simply walk 7-8 mins up the street. n the opposite side of the street you will see the Swissotel. Walking into the hotel, you will pass through the lobby and down the stairs. You can then walk into the hotel’s back court yard, where their large outdoor pool is located. Taking a right upon entering the pool’s yard, you will walk around the pool to the car park area. Again, entering the car park, you will need to take a sharp right. Continue walking out of the carpark and down the little lane. Continue walking straight to the dead end. Here you will find the child filled garden, and of course the pathway to the shrine. You are now entering penis ville.
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Hours of Operation
I’m unsure about the hours, as it is really unguarded – my assumption would be, however, similar to regular temple hours, anytime between 7am – 7pm is generally ok – when the sun goes down, it’s usually a no-go.
Admission is Free. If anyone is asking you for some type of admission, they’re simply trying to have you buy them lunch. Smile, nod, and pretend you don’t understand. This is a public shrine.
Considering the location, this is quite an easy attraction to go check out. The hotel didn’t seem to mind us just walking straight through their lobby, past their pool and into their car park. In fact, I don’t think they even noticed. It’s not a huge shrine or attraction, and I would think 15 mins would be ample to wander around and explore all the elements, penises, shrine and all. Depending if you plan on performing your own fertility rituals with lotus and jasmine, you may need an extra 5 mins or so, but you could easily squeeze this into a morning or afternoon without any problem. In fact, it’s only a 15 mins walk away from Lumphini park, so if you have any plans on visiting Lumphini, it wouldn’t be a bad way of maximizing your time and getting in an extra dose of culture without too much effort. I didn’t find the shrine mind blowing, but I certainly enjoy getting as much of a cultural experience as I can with where I am, so I’d say this is worth the visit if you’re exploring that part of the city – or if you just really like penis.
Have you ever been to a fertility shrine before? Have you ever been to an attraction, or even religious place, which had such a strong focus on sex or the male (or female) phallus before? Please feel free to share your stories and opinions in the comment section below!