Many of Thailand’s everyday features and sights are worthy of closer inspection because they often have a special significance. For instance, many temples and gardens feature fountains or water features which depict a woman with long hair. As shown below in the photo I took at Khao Tao in Hua Hin, the woman is shown wringing her hair so that water flows out. This is a representation of the deity, Phra Mae Thoranee, the Thai version of Mother Earth, who has her own special place in the story of the Buddha.
According to the legend, Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree when Mara (the Evil One or devil) tried to prevent him from reaching his goal of enlightenment. Mara, accompanied by his daughters and his demon army, set about dislodging the Buddha during his meditation. It is said that the gods protecting Buddha were driven away by Mara and his army leaving the Buddha alone to face his demons. Stretching down his right hand, Buddha touched the earth and summoned her to be his witness to his previous good deeds and merit. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from the earth. Twisting her long hair, she created floods of water that represented the good merit that Buddha had previously earned. The waters from Mother Earth washed away Mara and his demons and freed the Buddha to attain enlightenment.
As a symbol of Buddha’s goodness, Mae Thoranee is a popular theme for fountains in temples or domestic gardens. Mother Earth is also believed to have protective powers as well as the power to bring rain and consequently has been a popular ‘mascot’ over the years for various groups in Thailand ranging from farmers to soldiers. Mae Thoranee will also feature a lot in the coming weeks as Thailand approaches next month’s general election because she is depicted on the official emblem of the ruling Thai Democrat party.