PHETCHABURI – Soldiers were dispatched to a temple in Phetchaburi province today to inspect a statue of a mythical monkey warrior raising the forbidden "three-finger salute."
A group of soldiers from 15th Army District arrived at Rai Don Temple in Mueang district at around 10 am and talked with the temple abbot about the statue, which depicts Hanuman, the prominent character of the epic Ramakien, with three fingers raised.
The three-metre tall statue stands on a hill by Bangkok – Phetchaburi road, and has drawn attention from a local military unit for its hand gesture's resemblance to the "three-finger salute" anti-coup protesters have adopted as a symbol of resistance against the junta.
Samruay Em-oat, the sculptor who created the statue, said he assured soldiers that he did not design the statue with an anti-coup intent. According to the artist, the three fingers raised by Hanuman in fact refer to the so-called Three Pillars of Thailand – Nation, Religion, and Monarchy.
"They are the tools that unite all Thai people and create harmony, love, and peace in the society," Samruay said.
Samruay added that Hanuman is an exemplary warrior who fights evil with moral power.
"The same goes with the current government," Samruay said, "They should only exercise their power in a legitimate, correct, and just way for the sake of people's happiness."
Samruay Em-oat, the sculptor who created the artwork, told reporters that the statue did not carry any political message.
In the tale of Ramakien, which is heavily influenced by the Indian epic Ramayana, Hanuman is the captain of a monkey army loyal to King Rama, who wages a war against the evil giant Thotsakan. Ramakien has been the 'official' literature of the Thai Royal Court for hundreds of years; scenes of Ramakien stories are depicted in the massive mural at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Phra Kru Sri Thammarat, the abbot of Rai Don Temple, also insisted that Hanuman's three-finger gesture do not carry any political messages.
"Apart from the Three Pillars of the Nation, in Buddhism the three fingers can refer to the three Dharma that Lord Buddha has discovered: uncertainty, suffering, and illusion, which are the common law that [governs] all things in this world," Phra Kru Sri Thammarat explained. "The only thing that remains in this world is goodness. So, the statue of Hanuman is meant to remind those who pass by to always do good. That is what the temple wants to convey to all Buddhists."
The soldiers eventually left the temple without any incident.
The three-finger salute became a symbol of anti-coup resistance shortly after the military seized power on 22 May, and is said to be inspired by the popular sci-fi book and movie series, "The Hunger Games," where it is used to symbolize rebellion against totalitarian rule.
Under the junta's ban on all sort of political activities, flashing the three-finger salute in public has been banned along with other anti-coup gestures, such as eating sandwiches, posting a photo with anti-coup messages on Facebook, or reading George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen-Eightyfour.
Protester flashing the three-finger salute at an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok on 1 June 2014.
Some violators of the ban on protest have been tried and given suspended jail terms in military court, where appeals are not permitted.
Juna leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a televised address in June that anti-coup protesters are only allowed to raise the three-finger salute "in their own homes."
However, five student activists from Khon Kaen University defied Gen. Prayuth's order and flashed the salute in front of the junta chairman as he was making a speech in Khon Kaen province on 19 November. The students were quickly escorted away to a military camp, where they were interrogated and later released without any charges.
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