BANGKOK (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The worship of a grotesque statue in Thailand believed to offer wealth has piqued the interest of animal rights groups after devotees have begun soliciting puppies and kittens online to use as sacrificial tributes to the deity.
The 4m-tall statue of the mythical Khru Kai Kaeo – resembling a winged Victorian gargoyle with fangs and crimson red talon-like fingernails – recently made headlines on Aug 9 when it halted traffic for around two hours, the Bangkok Post reported.
A truck had been transporting the large statue from the central Thai province Ratchaburi to its current site in the Thai capital and contrived to get it stuck under a pedestrian bridge, leading to some chatter it was a calculated move to drum up public attention.
Multiple online groups and communities surfaced following the incident to discuss their devotion to Khru Kai Kaeo, a mythical figure rumoured to be a teacher of a former Khmer empire king, but seen by superstitious worshippers as a “god of wealth” figure.
But the methods of worship raised alarm bells when posts on social media saw devotees asking for puppies, kittens and rabbits, reportedly for use as sacrificial offerings to the deity in return for lottery numbers.
Worshippers’ use of pets as sacrifices may be offences against animal cruelty laws, the Watchdog Thailand Foundation said on Tuesday.
In a Facebook post, the group said they are investigating followers of Khru Kai Kaeo seeking pets as offerings using the #AnimalLovers hashtag, asking anyone with leads or evidence of those solicitations to share them.
Links to the root cause that led to worshippers offering animal sacrifices are unclear, but some trace it back to certain members of the online groups suggesting that pets may bolster their ritualistic offerings.
One social media post even advised performing the sacrifice before the statue while the animal was still alive.
Nattuwut Rattanasuk, a devotee of Khru Kai Kaeo who is also reportedly related to the sculptor of the statue, has dispelled the advice on animal sacrifices as misguided.
“Performing rites with animals is already a bad deed. How can you receive blessings through it?” he told Thai news site Khaosod.
Nattuwut, the founder of a Hindu Ganesha shrine in central province Nonthaburi instead suggested that fruits and sweets be presented as offerings to Khru Kai Kaeo.
A renowned monk from Wat Suan Kaew, Phra Payom Kalayano, was similarly sceptical about sacrificing animals.
“Even if you believe in a belief, you need to be clear about whether it is right or not, whether it has a benefit or not. Don’t fall into beliefs that cause pain,” he said, estimated that the popularity of Khru Kai Kaeo might last up to a year, similar to previous fleeting trends in Thai society.
According to Thailand’s Cruelty Prevention and Welfare of Animal Act, anyone performing acts deemed an act of cruelty without justification faces a two-year prison term and 40,000 baht (S$1,535) fine.
According to an amulet maker selling religious accessories related to Khru Kai Kaeo, the first statue of the occult deity was first created by a renowned monk from Lampang in northern Thailand, as a half-man, half-bird entity.
The deity is believed to have the capacity to fulfil its devotees’ wishes in businesses and monetary dividends, after some worshippers are believed to have received unexpected windfalls from praying to his image.