There’s a beautiful beach in southern Thailand where tourists are often surprised by a very unusual sight: a shrine which has been built inside a cave by the ocean. And it’s not any kind of shrine – it’s a shrine filled with wooden phallic symbols.
There is (of course) a story behind this shrine. In fact there are several stories.
Once upon a time, there was a local fisherman who lived in Krabi. Every day he went out into the ocean to catch fish, and every day he returned with a good catch. He was a very good husband to his wife, and they loved each other very much even after years of marriage. Until he went out one day with his boat, and never returned. This day it wasn’t he who caught fish, but it was he who got caught by the ocean.
His wife was in such a distress and so overcome with sorrow that she ran to the beach to watch out for her husband, hoping he’d return. She made the small cave her home and never left it, until she died. And now, it’s her spirit, Phra Nang, which is still there, waiting for her lost husband to return.
The Indian Princess Version
There is another story about this shrine too. According to this story, many years ago there was an Indian princess. Her ship sank nearby, and her spirit then occupied the cave.
There is no way to tell which version is the right version, but until this day local fisherman still come here to make offerings to Phra Nang, asking her to protect them while they’re out on the ocean.
The most common offerings are incense and flowers, just as at every other shrine in Thailand, but the wooden phalad khik or sivalueng (good luck charms of various sizes in the shape of male genitalia) are that are special to this place.
Thailand is a culturally and religiously rich country which has assimilated many practices and believes from different countries of the Asian region. This particular one can be traced back to Hinduism, where a lingam (a phallic symbol) represents the Hindu deity Shiva, who is the god of destruction or transformation. Even linguistically it can be traced back, sivalueng is a Thai version of Shiva lingam.
For Western visitors it might seem funny or obscene that there is a shrine filled with symbols of male genitalia, but please keep in mind that this is a sacred place where people pray and worship and if you go to visit the Phra Nang Cave in Krabi please be respectful of their culture.