Lending to its well deserved reputation as an exotic travel destination, there’s no shortage of practices in Thailand that would be considered “bizarre” or “interesting” elsewhere in the world. As the only country in Southeast Asia to escape the Colonial Era unscathed, Thai culture marches to the beat of its own drum. And in no cultural practice is that strange and quintessentially Thai beat more obvious than the worship and devotion to the fables Brahmin named Chuchok.
As legend has it, Chuchok – an old beggar who amassed great fortune thanks to a good deed performed in a previous life – gave his fortune to a friend for safe keeping while he went off to earn more money. When he returned, though, he found that his friend had spent his fortune.
Without a means of repaying him, Chuchok’s friend offered him his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage instead. Despite Chuchok’s old age and ugly appearance, he suddenly had both wealth and a beautiful, caring spouse – and it was all because of the merit attained from good deeds in his previous life. The moral of the story was simple: if you do well, you too can attain these things.
Chuchok and the Coyote Dancers
Fast forward to the 21st century and many Thai Buddhists consider Chuchok the go-to deity to pray to if you’re in need of a bit of luck in business or love. Amulets adorning his likeness are worn by many Thais, and there is even a shrine dedicated to his worship in the north of Bangkok: Baan Phatiharn Chuchok. Devotees seeking to improve their fortune visit the shrine to pray to images of Chuchok.
If their prayers are answered, it is expected that the favor be returned to Chuchok, lest their good fortune be converted to bad fortune. While the means by which this favor is returned is up to the devotee, typically the debt is repaid in the form of a rather interesting and surreal practice: the “Coyote Dance.”
Photo credit: Jack Kurtz (http://ow.ly/OFSFa)
To the outside observer, this ritual could be perceived as scandalous or even irreverent; but, to those who believe in the power of Chuchok, it’s a necessary means of paying their respects to him and securing their good fortune for the future. For the ritual to take place, devotees must arrange for a troop of beautiful but scantily clad women to visit to shrine.
During the ritual, “coyote dancers” perform a stylized strip tease in front of statues of Chuchok to the beat of modern music. This ritual is said to please Chuchok and set him at ease – and perhaps a few of the onlookers, too.
Bizarre as it may seem to the uninitiated, Chuchok worship and the subsequent “Coyote Dances” are a legitimate religious practice in Thailand, and are seen as such by many Buddhists in the country. It’s a fascinating testament to the wonderfully intact culture that exists in Thailand, and to the unapologetically unique practices that exist in the Land of Smiles.