The practice of worshipping the penis went back to even before the Buddhist religion arrived in the land that finally became Siam. It is most likely came from India, with the Brahman's practice of worshipping the penis of the supreme god, Shiva. (Shivalinga or ศิวลึงค์) The sculpture of his penis was used as a representation of the god himself. The Indian influence in the Thai culture is very strong, in the arts, beliefs and practices. Buddhism also came from India, as well as the Brahman practices.

The Supreme God Shiva
Shiva's penis, South India
The Thai people believed in ghosts and spirits (and they still do today). And, these bad spirits were always ready to take away their beloved sons before they became men. With little medical knowledge back then, young boys, and girls, often died young due to different illnesses that could not be cured. Once reaching manhood, they would have acquired some immune system to protect them from the illnesses. People believed that it was the bad spirits that took the lives of the boys. So, to fool these spirits, a wood carving in the shape of the adult circumcised penis was tied to the waste of a male child, letting it dangle in front of the boy's uncircumcised penis. The spirits and ghost would then believe that the boy is actually a man, and not take his life away.
Over time, men took to wearing the carvings around their neck as charms, to protect them against the spirits as well as bad luck. These charms are known in Thai as "Palad Kik." (ปลัดขิก) All of these wooden penises would have gone through some kind of blessing ceremony to give it "power" to protect the wearer against evil, as can be seen with the sacred carvings on them (right and below left). After Buddhism has entered the land, some of the monks held these ceremonies themselves, similar to the ceremony to legitimize and "powerize" buddhist amulets that can be seen to this day.
Sacred Carvings
After sometime, people started carving large sculptures of the penises to be worshipped. I assume that as the smaller versions worked well to ward off evil, then a much larger version should tripple or quadruple the strenghts! Places of worship sprang up all over the kingdom. I would also assume that as the penis could be a representation of a child, and many who had difficulty having children could have gone to ask for that miracle, and their wishes were granted. As word spread, many people would have built more statues, and invited monks to come and give their blessings. It was particularly popular during the Ayudhya period (AD1350-1767).
Penis Sculpture
When King Rama I came to the throne in 1782, the practice was downplayed as many foreigners had entered Siam by then. The king did not want the foreign visitors to be shocked by the practice. Some might have found it amusing, I'm sure. Nevertheless, the practice nearly saw its end of days during the premiership of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram (1942-1944), who found it to be a greatly embarrasing practice. With the administration's pro-western slant, having ordered the female population to wear hats and gloves, as well as hats for men, and banning Thai musical instruments among other things, the penis worship was to be abolished and the monuments tore down. Many Thais were abhorred at the administration's un-Thainess, so many monuments were hidden away. Today, one can find a few of these places of worship left, as some are on private land, or hidden in far-reaching locations. Tourists, as well as Thais, visit these places today, showing that many Thais are happy to embrace their own culture, their own individuality. Visitors find these places amusing, and many have come to ask for something, hoping that their wish will be granted by the mighty penis.

Shivalinga Worship site at Pra Nang cave, Krabi, Thailand (above)

and the famous shrine at the Swissotel Park Nai Lert Hotel, Bangkok (right)

Different sizes, shapes, colours, as found on the web (below)

Park Nai Lert Hotel
Penises, penises


References and photos:
Artgazine Articles (in Thai)
Places of Peace and Power: Shiva Shrines of India
Web search
Back to Siamese Showcase
by Bing, October 2010