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Purachai battles for the soul of Bangkok

September 7, 2001

As a father of two sons and one daughter, Purachai Piumsombun, the interior minister, is instinctively quite concerned over the social environment into which his children are growing.

Although Bangkok is the City of Angels, it is occupied, you may say, for the most part by devils. To clean up Bangkok and the whole Kingdom, Purachai has found it necessary to launch a virtuous war against the unlawful and the immoral.

His Crusade into the Underworld of the Mara marks the first time ever that the law is being enforced on the zoning of nightspots, closing hours and the 20year age limit. It amounts not only to the creation of a New Social Order, but also represents a replay of the unending battle between Good and Evil.

Some understanding of history is probably necessary here. King Nangkhlao (18241851), or the Third Reign, presided over the construction of Krungthep (krung = city; thep = angel) with a grand vision beyond its literal meaning.

This new capital, founded by his grandfather in 1782, would not only manifest the heritage of Ayutthaya, the old capital, but it would also become a place where angels and human beings mingled intimately in harmony. All the permanent structures, from the Grand Palace to the beautiful temples on Rattanakosin Island were largely built or renovated under his commission to house both the angels and his subjects – the Siamese people.

Why or how the community of devils has proliferated to almost outnumber that of the angels remains a theological question. Purachai might not have time to contemplate the origin of evil, a question that has also perplexed Christian theologians for almost two thousand years. But as a man of religious tolerance, he probably wonders why the angels and the decent Thai people in Bangkok have to live in fear and in moral decay amid the growing presence of the devils.

Recently, Purachai ran across a story, which he read with great interest. One of the twin daughters of President George W Bush was arrested in Austin, Texas, for allegedly trying to buy an alcoholic beverage with an ID that did not belong to her. She had yet to reach the minimum drinking age of 18. Law enforcement in the US is so tough that even a president’s daughter could not get preferential treatment.

“What would have happened if it were my own daughter?” Purachai asked himself.

For most of his life, Purachai, who excels in the knowledge of the discipline, has been pursuing the path of dharma, which forms the heart of the Buddhist doctrine. The names of his three children all derive from the word dharma – Dharmathip (eternal taste of dharma), Thosadharma (10 commandments of dharma) and Dharmavisa (dharma on Visakhabucha Day). His last child is a girl.

Purachai’s zeal for dharma measures his humble character in parallel with that of the more flamboyant Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister. They became friends while studying at the police preparatory school.

Thaksin is more attuned to the quest for material gain and worldly honours. Thaksin also has three children, whose names are derived from the word thong or gold – Phanthongthae (genuine bowl of gold), Phinthongtha (goldencoated lute) and Phaethongtharn (stream of golden raft). The children indeed are basking in the glory of gold, standing to inherit at least Bt50 billion from their parents.

Thaksin and Purachai became police officers before resigning to pursue their own goals. While Thaksin succeeded in building his telecom empire and amassed all the money he’ll ever need, Purachai become an academic, reaching the pinnacle of his career as rector of the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida). Then, they both moved into politics, culminating in the landslide election victory in January.

Like most crusades, Purachai’s clampdown on nighttime entertainment venues faces strong resistance. So on Monday, September 4, in the Buddhist Era of 2544, you could see some 2,000 representatives of the Mara rising in revolt. Nobody knows the exact number because interior officials have never kept up with their registration. But their Houses of Pleasure, which outshine the Temples of Sacredness, are located on virtually every corner of Bangkok’s streets.

With their red and hollow eyes, pale faces and dry skin covering thin bones, they appeared in broad daylight to air their grievances against the New Social Order, which is hurting their nocturnal businesses. Since they are not farang ghosts – like Dracula, for instance – they did not perish in the sunlight. But you could clearly see they did not have a good night’s sleep because they would normally be awake until four in the morning when their Houses of Pleasure close for the day. Much to their dismay, Purachai wants them to go home and read bedtime stories to their kids at two o’clock in the morning.

Yet the walking ghosts demanded that Purachai leave them alone. In other words, the old agreement over the separation of the angels and the devils should be honoured. Snoh Thienthong, the Prince of Darkness, backs the Houses of Pleasure. He has threatened to create trouble for Purachai if he insists on continuing his crusade. In fact, the Prince of Darkness is unhappy because he had no say in the latest reshuffle of provincial governors, so he is trying to rock the boat.

Initially, Thaksin thought his friend’s crusade had gone too far. Later on he backed off when Purachai threatened to resign and when public sentiment appeared to swing in favour of the cause of Good. With that backing, the Prince of Darkness had to bow to pressure. He will strike again, though, when he has an opportunity.

Purachai’s confrontation with the Prince of Darkness is similar to a dramatic battle more than two thousand years ago. Then, the Lord Buddha came under attack from the Mara, or DemonKing. The Buddha was sitting under a Pho tree, surrounded by thousands of heavenly beings, when the Mara came over with his mighty army. Instead of calling for aid from the heavenly bodies, the Buddha, with his power, subdued the Mara and his army. It was one of the greatest battles between Good and Evil, hence the famous posture of the Buddha’s Subduing of the Mara.

Purachai could also have drawn inspiration from reading the BhagavadGita, India’s greatest religious classic, in which Lord Krishna provided counsel to Arjuna in time of war against his kinsmen. Lord Kirshna urged the reluctant Arjuna to enter battle and destroy his enemies, although the enemies were his kinsmen, because he would be waging a virtuous war against the immoral. His war against evil was necessary to restore peace and harmony.

The followings are the words of Lord Krishna to Arjuna:

Look to your duty;

do not tremble before it;

nothing is better for a warrior

than a battle of sacred duty.

The doors of heaven open

for warriors who rejoice

to have a battle like this

thrust on them by chance.

If you fail to wage this war

of sacred duty,

you will abandon your own duty

and fame only to gain evil

People will tell

of your undying shame,

and for a man of honour

shame is worse than death.

The great chariot warriors will think

you deserted in fear of battle;

you will be despised

by those who held you in esteem.

Your enemies will slander you,

scorning your skill

in so many unspeakable ways –

could any suffering be worse?

If you are killed, you win heaven;

if you triumph, you enjoy the earth;

therefore, Arjuna, stand up

and resolve to fight the battle!

Impartial to joy and suffering

gain and loss, victory and defeat,

arm yourself for the battle,

lest you fail into evil.


Thanong Khanthong



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