Lord Brahma, his four faces ever watchful, sits on a raised pedestal in a traditional Thai sala, or open pavilion. The Hindu deity is cast in bronze and coated with gold, and measures 99 centimetres (38.9 inches) from top to toe. Eight pillars support the roof that provides him shade. This resplendent structure, which reaches just over eight metres high, features two layers of carved gables and a tiered dome of various golden finishes. A miniature of the pavilion shines at each of the four corners of the roof.
Four ornate altars are provided for worship at each side of Lord Brahma’s glistening inner sanctum. The pavilion interior spans seven square metres, while the shrine covers more than 60 square metres. An octagonal step marks its perimeter, upon which stand four pairs of golden elephants, trunks raised and mouths open, and 12 red lamp posts, positioned in four sets of three. Within each trio, a tall post topped by an effigy of a golden phoenix is flanked by two shorter posts. The birds clutch a blown-glass lamp in their beaks, while the shorter lamp posts bear a large, rectangular, decorative lantern.
The shrine is protected by dragons, as is customary; the beasts’ wings and tails are artistically represented on the carved lower roof. Similarly, four small, golden angels, seen nestling at the centre of each gable, and the four phoenixes are designed to ward off evil spirits.
BUILDING THE SHRINE
The pavilion dome and columns are constructed of aluminium with an inner core of steel, the metals chosen for their durability, and their lightness and strength, respectively. The likeness of Lord Brahma, the elephants, the phoenixes and the lanterns are cast in bronze. The statue of the deity is gilded with 24-carat gold, while the other metal surfaces are painted gold and decorated. A traditional Thai mosaic embellishes the pavilion and the pedestal upon which the deity rests. Thousands of tiny pieces of cut glass and ceramic tiles – in golden tones as well as white, blue, yellow and red – were applied in a painstaking decorative process that occupied skilled workers for four months. The sala floor and the shrine’s outer rim are crafted from Giallo Cecilia granite.
Construction took place in Bangkok, Thailand, and Shenzhen, China, and lasted more than six months from design conception to completion. Thai craftsmen handled the bronze casting and intricate glass artistry. The individual parts were then transported to Hong Kong for assembly. Gilding was undertaken on site – it took a week for two artists, working in a dust-free room, to coat the 200-kilogram statue. More than 700 sheets of gold leaf were required to complete the task, with the deity’s folded legs, multiple underarms and bent fingers proving the most challenging.
The pavilion and its accountrements were erected in a gated corner of the Goldin Financial Global Centre courtyard in Kowloon Bay in January 2017. On January 23, the deity was mounted onto his pedestal in the sala. Traditional rituals were performed to symbolise the grand arrival of Lord Brahma.
The Hong Kong Brahma Shrine was designed by Thai creative master Mr Wongsawat Wongprasert, and it is the fifth such pavilion he has built in China. Trained in fine art, sculpture and graphic arts, Mr Wongprasert serves as a special adviser to his alma mater, Silpakorn University in Bangkok.
The shrine’s benefactor is Mr Pan Sutong, chairman of Goldin Group, which developed the adajcent office building.
MAINTAINING THE SHRINE
Caring for the Hong Kong Brahma Shrine is an around-the-clock operation, with a dedicated staff of five. Meticulous cleaning and polishing are required. Offerings and ornaments are laid out every morning and tidied away in the evening.
The pavilion, harbouring its precious deity, endures a harsher climate here than it would in its country of origin. Special preservation procedures are necessitated by Hong Kong’s humid sub-tropical climate. In the cool, dry winter temperatures may dip below eight degrees Celsius, and high winds and storms commonly occur during the typhoon season from July to September. The sala was designed with sufficient space for the altar tables to be moved inside for shelter when it rains.
The shrine benefits from the eco-friendly design of its adjacent office building – Goldin Financial Global Centre was awarded the prestigious international Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum certification. Rainwater collecting on the building roof or periphery is channelled into an underground irrigation tank. It is then recycled to clean the shrine and water the plants that provide its serene, green surround.
As a fire precaution, no timber was used in the construction of the pavilion. A metallic base also eliminates the danger of rotting wood. The steel supports were rust-proofed before painting, and the statue, after being plated with gold, received an additional coat of lacquer as protection against the elements. The statue will not tarnish easily, though the gilding may require attention after three years. With periodic restorative care by Thai and Chinese specialists, it is expected to have a lifespan of 10 years.
Hong Kong Brahma Shrine