Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani
|Pwo Karen:||Soung Th' Rui|
|Thai:||Phra Mae Thorani (พระแม่ธรณี)
Mae Phra Thorani (แม่พระธรณี)
Nang Thorani (นางธรณี)
|Glossary of Buddhism|
The earth deity's name changes in different countries, but is generally a form of a word for "earth," i.e. Pṛthivī, Kṣiti, Dharaṇī, Vasundharā, and so on. In Cambodia the earth deity is known simply by her title: nān ganhān (pronounced "neang kongheng") from nān, "lady," and gānhān, a Khmer word for "princess." In the Tai regions she is known as Nang Thoranee or Mae Thoranee: "lady earth" or "mother earth." In Burma and Arakan she is Vasundhara (transliterated variously as Wathundari, Wathundaye, Vasundari, and so on). Sometimes she is given the epithet Sundarī, "beautiful one," or Vanitā, "dear one." I use the name Vasundharā in this dissertation for consistency, but the reader should keep in mind that this particular form of the earth deity's name is unknown in Thailand or Cambodia.—A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia
Iconography and symbology
Images of Phra Mae Thorani are common in shrines and Buddhist temples of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. According to Buddhist myths, Phra Mae Thorani is personified as a young woman wringing the cool waters of detachment out of her hair to drown Mara, the demon sent to tempt Gautama Buddha as he meditated under the Bodhi Tree.
The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara's challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva's right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment.—A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia
In temple murals, Phra Mae Thorani is often depicted with the Buddha in the mudra known as calling the earth to witness. The waters flowing forth from her long hair wash away the armies of Mara and symbolize the water of the bodhisattva's perfection of generosity (dana parami).
Calling the earth to witness
In the iconography of Gautama Buddha in Laos and Thailand, "touching the earth" mudra refers to the Buddha's pointing towards the earth to summon the Earth Goddess to come to his assistance in obtaining enlightenment by witnessing to his past good deeds.
Buddhist water libation
In Buddhism in Burma, the water ceremony (yay zet cha), which involves the ceremonial pouring of water from a glass into a vase, drop by drop, concludes most Buddhist ceremonies including donation celebrations and feasts. This ceremonial libation is done to share the accrued merit with all other living beings in all 31 planes of existence. While the water is poured, a confession of faith, called the hsu taung imaya dhammanu, is recited and led by the monks. Then, the merit is distributed by the donors, called ahmya wei, by saying Ahmya ahmya ahmya yu daw mu gya ba gon law three times, with the audience responding thadu, Pali for "well done." The earth goddess, known in Burmese as Wathondara (ဝသုန္ဒရာ) or Wathondare (ဝသုန္ဒရေ), is invoked to witness these meritorious deeds. Afterward, the libated water is poured on soil outside, to return the water to the goddess.
Modern use as a symbol
Phra Mae Thorani is featured in the logo of:
- The Bangkok Metropolitan Waterworks Authority.
- The Democrat Party (Thailand) to emphasise the importance of earth and water for Thailand, together with the Pali proverb sachamwe amatta wacha (สจฺจํเว อมตา วาจา) "truth is indeed the undying word," to symbolise the values of the Party.
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