Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

5 - The Bangkok Shop House as Ganesha Temple: Innovations of Capitalist Hinduism

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Magnolia, Lower Ground Floor

This talk examines a Ganesha temple in Bangkok that exemplifies the convergence of commercial and spiritual interests in contemporary Thai urban society. As Thailand’s ethos of unrestrained capitalism matures, setting up a temple in a shophouse that can double as a retail outlet selling religious paraphernalia could make good economic sense. Such is the case for the devotional group called Ganesh Insuan. Led by a young Thai guru who dresses in fancy Indian clothes and makes a point of displaying his luxury cars, this group invokes the mystique of Indianness-as-magic to enthuse followers in its promise of quick prosperity.  In prayers, the group at times chants, “Wealth, wealth, wealth!” in Thai as its primary mantra. Indeed, the guru and his followers demonstrate a willingness to innovate Hindu practice in the interest of economic upward mobility. For instance, embracing a mindset in which all are socially equal in the pursuit of prosperity, the guru routinely embraces each devotee who approaches the altar and provides personal advice on how to achieve their ambitions. Young career women looking for a supportive alternative to traditional Thai Buddhist protocol, in which male monks keep their distance, seem particularly partial to this approach.  Meanwhile, the attached shop sells implements needed for worship at home to realize quick prosperity. Ganesh Insuan’s temple protocol thus indicates the fundamental adaptability and attractiveness of Hindu deities across cultural boundaries as conveyers of practical benefits in an era of economic ambition. 

Jeremy Saul

Mahidol University, Thailand

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5 - The Bangkok Shop House as Ganesha Temple: Innovations of Capitalist Hinduism



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