Standing on a circular stone platform overlooking the Wat Suthat temple in Bangkok are a pair of 21 metre high red posts.
These are what remain of The Giant Swing, a structure used in an unusual and often lethal religious ceremony that took place across Thailand until it was finally banned in 1935.
The ceremony was a symbolic ritual based on Hindu creation mythology. In the myth, Shiva assists Brahma in testing the stability of the newly created world by climbing a mountain while giant snakes shake the ground.
During the religious ritual, the teak poles represented the mountains while the circular stone platform was the Earth. As for the shaking, this was the swing itself which was little more than a narrow wooden board suspended high above the ground.
In the ultimate display of risk versus reward, teams of 4 or 5 men would climb ladders to the swinging platform. They would then use their momentum ( and a rope pulled by helpers on the ground) to raise the swing level with bags of gold coins that were fixed atop a separate pole nearby.
One particularly brave soul would stand at the end of the swing, closest to the bag of booty, and attempt to grab the bag of coins WITH HIS TEETH. (At least according to some sources.)
If you successfully grabbed the gold it was yours to keep. If you lost your balance and toppled from the swing it was game over. Often permanently.
Predictably, the height, speed, momentum and lack of safety equipment meant horrible injuries and death were common. So common that the ceremony was eventually banned in the mid 1930s.
Today the swing that stands at Wat Suthat is a replica but sections of the original can be found on display in the Bangkok National Museum.
Read more about Thailand here:
Historical Fiction: The Bridge on the River Kwai
Breaking Bread: Night Train to Chiang Mai
FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES:
A Brief History of the Giant Swing in Bangkok – theculturetrip.com