The large numbers of shrines and monuments that can be found in Thailand are important examples of the nations pride in its cultural and historical heritage. Although approached from a Buddhist perspective many if not all have themes that are either animist or Hindu in origin, or have a direct reference to Thai history.
Although some if not most tend to be obscure, many others are also famous both in and out of the Kingdom. One of the most famous is the Erewan shrine in Bangkok. The recent desecration at this shrine and the subsequent death of its perpetrator certainly showed the depth of feeling Thais have towards their shrines.
In the Isaan city of Nakhonratchasima resides one of Thailand’s most famous shrines. This of course is the shrine dedicated to the Lady Warrior – Khunying Mo. Also known as the Thao Suranari memorial shrine, it is dedicated to the wife of the Deputy Governor of Khorat who in 1826 led the successful resistance against an invading Laotian army.The stories of how she led the resistance vary, but are rooted in historical fact.
King Rama 111 bestowed the name Thao Suranari on the lady warrior after the victory in recognition of her bravery.
The memorial itself sits in the centre of Nakhonratchasima with its centre point an elegant bronze statue of Khunying Mo looking out over the shrine. Affectionately called “Ya Mo” by locals, the memorial is also the site of an important festival each march that is dedicated to her.
Sitting in the middle of the busiest part of Nakhonratchasima, the atmosphere is more frenetic than contemplative. A constant stream of people from all walks of life visit the shrine each day to light incense, pray and in general search for better outcomes in their lives. Interspersed amongst all this activity are garland vendors, sometimes traditional dancers and occasionally perplexed Farangs like myself.
When the memorial was built in 1933, Nakhonratchasima was just a small country town. However in present times, being located in the one of the busiest and noisiest parts of the City doesn’t seem to distract from the atmosphere of the place. Thais seem to have that knack of integrating spiritual practice into their lives and take distraction in its stride.
Of course it also has to be said that Thao Suranari is more than just a shrine. Like the Morlam, Khunying Mo has become one of the most recognizable symbols of North-East Thailand. Statues of the lady warrior can be found in other parts of Isaan and her image has appeared on stamps, posters and her image on amulets are worn about the necks of people from in and out of Isaan.
The reverence that Isaan people hold for this shrine cannot be underestimated. In some ways I would argue that in a sense you have not truly visited Isaan if you haven’t stopped to pay Homage to Khunying Mo.