Travel has numerous advantages but a really big one is that it’s the most fun way to study and remember the history and culture of new places. The amount that I have learnt on this during my travels in the last 1 year is far more than what I have ever read till date. So in my endeavor to share these stories on different cultures and practices, this is one small piece on Spirit Houses in South East Asia.
During our trip to Thailand and Cambodia this year, we kept coming across numerous small / miniature houses or temples built in traditional Thai style and kept prominently outside all commercial and residential establishments i.e. houses, hotels, discs, offices, markets, shops – basically everywhere. At first we didn’t understand what they were and what was the purpose was it a temple for worship? a bird house? a piece of decoration? the possibilities were endless. But then in Cambodia we asked someone and they told us that these are Spirit Houses. Well, of all possible answers, this had never struck us.
A spirit house is a kind of shrine built for the protective spirits of the place and is part of the ancient religion and culture of this region. These houses are placed in the most auspicious corners of the property (we even saw one on the roof of a building) and this place is determined by a local Brahmin priest. These houses can be built by specific builders only and can be simple or opulent; small or big; made of either brick, cement or wood and can be mounted on a pillar or a dais. Everything about these houses is based on the affordability of the person building it and the spirit it is being built for. Many times you see numerous spirit houses all placed close to each other.
These houses are found all over South East Asian countires of Thailand, Cambodia Burma and Laos and provide a shelter for spirits or celestail beings. According to local folklores, the spirits can be either good or evil and can cause damage / mischief if not appeased. The shrines often include images of people and animals and locals make offerings in the form of incense, candles, flowers, fruits etc to these spirits.
So the next time you are in this region do check out some of these houses and best of all – they are FREE to SEE. 🙂