|The Lak Mueang or City Pillar is situated on the city island in the Historical Park shrine
dedicated to one of the city's tutelary spirits, the Black Lord of Holy Victory (Phra Kan
Chai Sri) . The Lak Mueang shrine here is a post-Ayutthaya era construction and built
in function of the Ratanakosin Celebration of 1982.
The city pillar is believed to be the abode of the Phra Lak Mueang, one of the guardian
spirits of the city, but besides housing the spirits of the city deities, it also served political
ends. These wooden structures were initially used by the ruling class for political
purposes, and over time their roles have evolved in accordance with changes in the
Following Oliver Raendchen is the Thai term "Lak Mueang" inadequately translated as
"city pillar"; as it is only one sort of Lak, the other one in that category being the Lak Ban
(Lak belonging to the village). He sums up different authors who wrote about the Lak
Mueang. Terwiel stated that a Lak Mueang was erected in the name of the highest
political authority and the religious practices connected with the guardian spirit of the Lak
were reminiscent of attitudes towards a seat of political power. (1) Others wrote that the
cult of Phi Mueang (2) remains primarily agricultural in orientation (Davis) and had a
unifying character, standing as strong symbol of civic administration (Udom) or even as
the defender of laws, ensuring a just juridical process (Naichanth). All these descriptions
include several aspects of social and political life. From the statements above Raendchen
deduced that the Lak is a social institution of special importance, having its own ritual and
fulfilling an important socio-political function. The Lak is as thus, a central cultural element
in Tai societies. 
The first documented erection (3) of a Lak Mueang dates from the reign of King Rama I.
The king had a pillar erected in 1782 at Bangkok, just 15 days after his coronation,
before anything else was constructed. Kerdphol states that before its set-up, there is no
reliable evidence the practice existed before the Ratanakosin Period. The records from
the Ayutthaya period fail to mention anything about a city pillar and Phra Lak Mueang.
They refer only to Phra Sua Mueang, Phra Song Mueang and Phra Kan as the guardian
deities of the former capital (4). The lack of evidence from earlier periods though, means
of course not that King Rama I's city pillar was the first of its kind. It is only in the
Ratanakosin Period that the name Phra Lak Mueang began to appear alongside other
city guardian spirits in royal ceremony incantations. 
In the epic poem of the Ayutthaya era "Khun Chang Khun Phaen", we find though an
indication of the existence of a city pillar in Ayutthaya: "Also the guardian spirits of the
royal umbrella who sustain the religion, the powerful guardian spirits of the city,
the city pillar of mighty Ayutthaya, come to receive the offerings of food."  At
the foundation of a city, rituals were conducted to strengthen the place’s atthap, the city’s
aura (5). Possibly these rituals included human and animal sacrifices. Most cities had
shrines where rituals were regularly held to sustain the atthap. Commonly these were
shrines with an obelisk known as the city pillar, or a tutelary deity. Those spirits provided
the city’s protection. 
As a symbol of Bangkok's power and as a demarcation of the Siamese empire, city
pillars were set up in a number of strategic towns - such as Songkhla (which oversaw
vassal states in the Malay peninsula) during the reign of King Rama I; Nakhon Khuen
Khan (present Phra Pradaeng) and Samut Prakan during the reign of King Rama II; and
Chachoengsao, Chanthaburi and Battambang (in Cambodia) during the reign of King
Rama III. 
Under the reign of Rama IV, the city pillar changed its symbolism. Rama IV created the
image of Phra Sayam Thevathirat and designated it as the supreme deity of the kingdom.
Phra Lak Mueang and the other guardian deities of the city lost part of their importance.
The practice of building city pillars ceased as the Royal power was executed by a
western styled system of government and civil servants. 
In 1944, Prime Minister Phibunsongkhram had a city pillar built in Phetchabun province,
which he intended to develop into the country's new capital. The relocation plan was
aborted by the parliament, but the city pillar idea was launched, partly as a result of his
government's nationalism policy. Though, such projects now were initiated by local
officials rather than the central government. In 1992 the Provincial Governors were
ordered by the Ministry of Interior to ensure that every provincial town had its city pillar.
City pillars thus became a strong symbol of the Thai state. 
Sometimes old stories go about pregnant women, who were thrown under the post in the
believe that after dying they would protect the whole city against misfortune (see also the
story of the city pillar at Wat Si Muang in Vientiane, Laos). This story is derived from the
Dutch VOC merchant Jeremias Van Vliet stationed in Ayutthaya who wrote the following
in his "Description of the Kingdom of Siam 1638" regarding the posts of the city gates:
"By the usurped authority of the kings and by the continuous praise of the people,
the pride of the former kings had reached such a height that it looks as if the king
was not there for the good of his community, but that the whole country and the
people were for his pleasure alone. The kings counted their subjects so little that if
palaces, towers, or resting places had to be built for them, under each post which
was put into the ground a pregnant woman was thrown, and the more near this
woman was to her time, the better. For this reason there was often great misery in
Judia during the time that palaces or towers had to be built or repaired. For as all
houses in Siam are built at a certain height above the ground and stand on wooden
posts, many women have endured this suffering. Although this description seems to
be fabulous, these executions have really taken place. The people, who are very
superstitious, believe that these women after dying turn into terrible monsters or
devils, who defend not only the post below which they are thrown but the whole
house against misfortune. The King usually ordered a few slaves to catch without
regard all the women who were in a pregnant state. But out of the houses no
women were taken in the streets unless nobody could be found. These women were
brought to the queen who treated them as if they were of high birth. After they had
been there a few days, they were (excuse these rude words) thrown into the pit with
the stomach turned upwards. After this the post was put on the stomach and driven
right through it." 
Ayutthaya's city pillar shrine is - as in many Thai cities - situated inside a highly
decorated mondop constructed on an elevated terrace. The square structure is open in
the four cardinal directions, leaving the city pillar visible from all sides. The city pillar
shrine is respectively Shaivic and animistic, but it has appropriated Buddhist architectural
forms. Every day all over the country, a lot of worshippers visit these shrines, hoping
Phra Lak Mueang will offer them protection or help fulfill their desires.
The first ceremony in order to set up the city pillar shrine in Ayutthaya occurred on 23
September 1982 at the auspicious time of 0859 Hr. The King of Thailand inaugurated
ceremonially the city pillar two years later on 9 August 1984 at the auspicious time of
1700 Hr. On 31 October of the same year the Crown Prince of Thailand presided the
final opening ceremony of the shrine.
(1) This statement we can find back in the epic poem Khun Chang Khun Phaen in which
the king articulates his claim to authority, he points to the fact of hierarchy and the role of
protective spirits: "I’m the pillar of the land. Though someone may have powers, he
cannot compete with me. It’s known throughout the city that the guardian deities protect
the royal lineage. How can those who are mere servants of the royal dust crave the
(2) "Phi" stands for ghost or spirit.
(3) The pillar has a phallic character, which could find its origin in Shaivism, where the
lingam is related to the depiction of Shiva (cosmic pillar - cosmological center of the
universe, as thus derived from the Khmer. On the other side in the animistic view, the
phallus is worshipped for its sensual and fertility longings. The phallic pillar could also
represent the shoot of a rice plant and possibly originating from an early fertility cult.
(4) Next to these three most important spirits are next in line Jao Jetkup and Jao Ho
Klong (the spirit of the drum tower). Another tutelary spirit of the city was Jao Ho
Khrueang, the spirit of the storehouse for valuables such as the royal jewels. 
(5) Atthap, from Atharveda, the fourth veda, originally an Indian text which amounted to
a manual of mantras. In Thai usage, atthap had come to the spiritual force of a place,
especially relating to defense.
 Khun Chang Khun Phaen - chapter 42.
 The Changes in the Belief in Chiang Mai Pillars During the Rattanakosin Period, from
1782 to 1992 - Pornpun Kerdphol - Thammasat University.
 The Thai lak: ritual and socio-political function - Oliver Raendchen (1998) -
 Khun Chang Khun Phaen - chapter 42.
 Ibid - chapter 40.
 Ibid - chapter 30.
 Van Vliet's Siam - Chris Baker, Dhiravat Na Pombejra, Alfons Van Der Kraan &
David K. Wyatt (2005) - page 114
|Photographs by Tricky Vandenberg & Somchai Pattanavaew - March 2012
|(View of the Lak Meuang from the east)
|(View of the Lak Mueang from the east)
|(City pillar from the north )
|(9 August 1987)
|(City pillar top-end at top floor)
|(City pillar at ground floor)
|(31 October 1984)
[observe the ruins of Wat Ket in the
background before restoration]
|(View of Lak Mueang from the east-west)