Highs and Lows: The History of the Giant Swing of Bangkok
Swinging to Heaven on the Giant Swing of Bangkok
The history of the famous Giant Swing of Bangkok is a fascinating one. Once a place of pilgrimage and sacrifice, today the swing is a symbol of religious devotion at the entrance of one of Bangkok’s most beautiful temples. Make the trip to check out the towering structure and take a minute to appreciate the history behind this unusual place.
A Constantly Changing Monument
The Giant Swing was first commissioned by King Rama I in 1784. As a particularly pious monarch, King Rama wanted to build something that could help him and his subjects ‘touch the heavens’, and the swing definitely looks like it can do that!
Towering nearly 70 feet (21 meters) tall, the latest incarnation was fashioned out of five huge teak tree trunks from Phrae province in 2007 after the ravages of the tropical weather had taken their toll and the older version had become unsafe. There have actually been several versions of the swing since it was first constructed, each one as huge and impressive as the last.
The Origins of the Giant Swing of Bangkok
The first Giant Swing was the focal point of an annual Hindu religious ceremony to commemorate the beginnings of Earth. So the story goes, Lord Brahma wanted to check that the newly created world was stable and so ordered Lord Shiva to stand on a mountain while giant snakes assaulted him from all sides. If he remained standing, the world was secure. If he fell then we had big problems!
The Giant Swing was a way for devotees to recreate this experience, with the cords of the swing representing the snakes and the seat of the swing representing the mountain. Successfully swinging high meant that the world remained safe!
A Dangerous Game
Swinging around in front of a beautiful temple sounds like a fun game, and in fact it used to be a lucrative one for those who dared to take on the challenge. Men would take it in turns to jump on the swing and propel themselves high, then higher, then even higher, with the aim of reaching a bag of gold coins that would be suspended far above the ground. If they made it then great, they could keep the gold. This would have been a small fortune and was well worth the effort for many people.
The downside was the danger involved. Swinging that high above the ground comes with risks, and while some succeeded in reaching the money, an even bigger number of people failed, and fell to the ground. Some were badly injured but a significant number were killed, and in 1935 King Rama VII cancelled the annual ritual after one too many people met an unfortunate end.
Swing By To See What All The Fuss Is About
Wat Suthat temple is in the Phra Nakhon area of Bangkok, a short walk from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. The interior is sumptuous and ornate and is well worth a visit after you’ve had your fill of marveling at the swing. It’s open daily and all the normal rules about temple visiting apply, like dressing appropriately in Thailand and showing respect to the monks.
A trip to the Giant Swing and Wat Suthat is a great addition to any trip to Bangkok. Just make sure you pack your sense of wonder to help you enjoy all the history here!