A wooden art gallery and Ganesh shrine in Chiang Mai’s northwest manifests an artist’s vision blending Hindu, Buddhist, & Thai art traditions.
Name: Roitawarabarn Baan Devalai | ร้อยทวารบาล บ้านเทวาลัย
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Location: 18.793583, 98.947485
What to do: View a collective art endeavor depicting a variety of Asian spiritual traditions.
Getting there: The Shrine is biking or walking distance from Chiang Mai University.
Cost: Free (donations suggested)
What appears to be a modest shrine hiding in the forest backstreets at the foot of Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep is actually a masterpiece of traditional wooden artistry. Carved collectively by many artists over a decade, this property hosts an intricate amalgam of Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Thai, and several other mythological elements. It also boasts the world’s largest wooden carving of the Hindu god Ganesh.
The Story of Roitawarabarn Baan Devalai
Roitawarabarn Baandhawalai (ร้อยทวารบาล บ้านเทวาลัย) is an art museum and religious shrine owned by Khem Marukapitak. The shrine’s name translates as: “100 holy gatekeepers, living manor of the Deities”. This name is transliterated in several ways throughout its own documentation — so, for lack of a direct translation, is referred to here as Baan Devalai or “House of the Gods”.
The project was envisioned as a unique blending of artist space, holy sanctuary, and artistic endeavor. This places Baan Devalai in good company alongside Chalermchai Kositpipat’s world-famous Wat Rong Khon (the White Temple) in Chiang Rai and Bunleau Sulilat’s Sala Keoku and Buddha Park in Nong Khai and Vientiane, respectively.
The Artist’s Mission Statement
In an interview with the founder and lead artist Kem Maruekapitak, he describes finding a large, buried piece of wood when scouting locations to build a home. In a dream, he saw the halo of a full moon shining over the spot where the iconic Ganesh statue now stands, leading to that piece of wood becoming the first piece in the construction of the work of art standing on this location today.
A personal statement from Mr. Kem Maruekapitak is inscribed on the ornate gateway which leads to Baan Devalai. The inscription is translated into English, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and French, and reads:
Declaration of IntentionKem Maruekapitak
Built in 1998, the building was constructed with the aim of being:
1) An Art Center of Thai Paintings,
2) A Learning Center,
3) A Shrine for the gods and goddesses.
This building has 100 holy-gatekeeper doors that gave the name:
‘100 holy gatekeepers, living manor of the Deities’
All art pieces are hand crafted by more than 50 artists and craftsman,
taking more than 10 years to complete.
I hope all these art works come Siamese art heritages for eternity.
Having travelled here to worship the Deities and to cherish art,
may all of you enjoy and satisfaction, wealth and abundance, as well as
a special blessing of a clear mind and healthy body.
Declared on the 19th of October, 2011.
Mr. Kem Maruekapitak
Born on Sunday, 19th of October, 1952,
Deceased on ____
At the age of ___ years ___ months and ___ days.
Artwork at Baan Devalai
Baan Devalai’s unique art style spans over multiple structures on the property. This includes statues, murals, and and an entire teak home built in a traditional northern Lanna Thai style. These items have all been crafted by hand from individual artists.
The subjects contained in Baan Devalai’s artworks depict not only Ganesh, the iconic, elephant-headed Hindu god of prosperity, but many aspects cultural traditions stemming from South Asia, China, and several Southeastern Asian countries. These traditions include images from the broader scope of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, as well as many depictions of Chinese, Thai, and Khmer art.
Work from artists is always ongoing, as they continue to add to existing pieces and as well as beginning new projects to add to Baan Devalai’s collection. Additionally, some worshippers come to the shrine during both special events hosted at Baan Devalai and as everyday visitors.
Ganesha Chaturthi Festival
An annual festival called Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the largest events hosted at Baan Devalai. The festival takes place in September and commemorates the descent of the god Ganesh from Mount Kailash, the mountain at the center of the Hindu cosmological universe, also known in Buddhism as Mount Meru.
The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival is celebrated throughout a number of southern Asian countries. At Baan Devalai, the festival includes traditional displays of music and dance alongside and prayers, chanting, and other rituals meant to celebrate Ganesh. Ganesh Chaturthi is characterized by exotic colors, music, scents, and tastes. Baan Devalai welcomes anyone to attend their festival, even if they are not adherents to the religions.
Visiting Roitawarabarn Baan Devalai
When setting out to find Baan Devalai, I initially got lost in the maze of narrow and dead-ending streets straddling Doi Suthep mountain. Having seen the photos of Baan Devalai online, I presumed to be looking for some sign of intricate elephantine carvings, causing me to drive right by the building on my first pass.
The Baan Devali Front Gate
Standing at the front of Baan Devali is a 3-paneled wooden gate partly obscuring the view of a beautiful all-wooden home. When viewing the gate, you’d be forgiven for thinking you are facing an artistic interpretation of a temple (akin to Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai), while the building behind could easily be mistaken for a private home, particularly with the Astroturf and antique Volkswagens parked outside.
Indeed, it was the former.
The gates, built in proportions representing the Trimurti (similar to Khmer and Cham Hindu temples) show Thai depictions of Hindu mythological tales. For example, the central panel shows Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma, riding on a hams bird amidst flames. Several further deceptions of Brahma/Phra Phrom are to be found in the paintings inside.
Just as interesting as the paintings themselves, the door is lined with the artist’s inscribed mission statement for the Baan Devali project (detailed above) translated into 6 languages.
The Baan Devalai Sanctuary Grounds
A notable trend I’ve found in temples from the Hindu-Buddhist tradition is the enclosure wall, whereby the entirety of the temple’s sanctuary grounds will be marked off and visibly separated from the outside (or profane) world by a physical wall. This can be seen in modern Thai Buddhist temples, 1000-year-old Angkorian Hindu temples, as well as their ancestral counterparts in the Indian subcontinent.
While Baan Devalai’s front gate evokes this same sentiment, it also subverts this expectation with the open pathway of Astroturf leading around the right side of this spectacle of a gate. On the other side were parked two antique Volkswagens – a Type 2 van and a pink-and-white VW Beetle with decals of political revolutionaries and activists from throughout the 20th Century.
Dominating the Baan Devalai yard is a 6-meter tall wooden statue of Ganesh, the patron deity of this shrine. According to an interview with Kem Maruekapitak on their Facebook page, this statue is the single largest wooden carving of Ganesh in the world, being hand-carved from a single 6.5-meter piece of wood by artisans in San Pa Tong District in southern Chiang Mai Province.
Also adorning the landscape of the property are additional, smaller carved statues of Ganesh, as well as the Chinese goddess Guan Yin, and what appears to be a monster from some traditional tales, but I was not able to recognize. This creature reappears in other works around the property, and this large depiction held an offering of cash in his mouth.
The Baan Devalai Interior
As impressive as the carvings and artworks around the property are, and they are what the owner and lead artist Kem Maruekapitak touts as the main attraction — in my opinion, the true gem is the interior of the main building.
This three story-wooden house is a majestic display of not only traditional Lanna teak architecture but of so many ornate paintings and carvings, both completed and in progress, that I couldn’t hope to discern the meaning of all of them, even with proper English translations.
Either way, the result (if a work in progress can be called that?) is amazing to behold and pictures I’ve taken of the gallery certainly don’t do it justice.
Because the true ground floor on the sloping property is an ope-air shop selling offerings for the pilgrims and worshippers, the actual exhibit begins at the middle floor. The path from the front gate purposefully brings you around past the wooden statues to the rear of the building, where you enter to find a polished wooden floor surrounded by murals and paintings embossed with golden colors.
Unlike the exterior, which blends characteristics of Thai, Chinese, and Indian artworks, everything on the interior is characteristic of Thai art styles — mimicking or even exceeding those you might find in even some of Bangkok’s most prestigious royal temples.
How to Get to Roitawarabarn Baan Devalai
GPS Coordinates: 18.793583, 98.947485
The Baan Devali Shrine is located in the Suthep district of Chiang Mai, straddling the base of Doi Suthep mountain as well as Chiang Mai University. Despite a clear marking on GPS, the roads are a bit confusing to find your way through.
Near the end of Suthep road, there is a sidestreet heading south marked as Soi 9 Chorengdoi. By following this road with 2 right turns (the final directly before a concrete wall separating 2 parallel roads) and then a ride up a short slope will bring you to the wooden gates of Roitawarabarn Baan Devalai.
The attraction doesn’t charge any entrance fee for viewing the premises or entering the main home gallery. However, there are boxes for donation that go toward furthering the work onsite. Also, for obvious reasons, please don’t attempt smoking if you visit.
Thai world meaning house
Hindu creator god and member of the Trimurti.
Dharmic religion centered on the the belief of karma and release from the cycle of reincarnation. Based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.
Revered mountain on the western edge of Chiang Mai. The mountain peak has been used by both the Hariphunchai and Lanna Kingdoms to house sacred Buddhist relic temples.
Elephant-headed Hindu god who embodies prosperity and removal of obstacles.
Hindu festival celebrating the descent of Ganesh from Mount Kailash.
Dharmic religion centered on the belief of karma and release from the cycle of reincarnation. Stems from Vedic teachings and one of the oldest extant religions in the world.
A mountain in southwestern Tibet considered the dwelling place of Shiva and associated with Mt. Meru in Hindu-Buddhist traditions.
The metaphysical mountain said to represent the structure of the universe in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology.
Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma.
The Hindu trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
- Marukapitak, Khem. “Roi Tawarabaan Baan Devalai Chiangmai Ganesh Chaturthi 2019.” Facebook Watch, ร้อยทวารบาล บ้านเทวาลัย, 21 Sept. 2019, www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2473166652914655.
- Marukapitak, Khem. “ร้อยทวารบาล บ้านเทวาลัย.” Facebook, www.facebook.com/ganeshachiangmai/.
We hadn’t heard of this shrine when we were in Chiang Mai. Too ba, it looks incredible. Thanks for telling us about it.
Apparently it’s been here over a decade and I only recently heard of it after a couple years living here. It is surprising the amount of small Ganesh shrines and temples hidden around Chiang Mai. There’s even an entire large scale Ganesh museum and temple about 20km south of the city.
Next time I’ll have to do more research!
Wow, what a interesting post you are sharing with impressive photos.
I absolutely love that you include fast facts and a glossary. Your posts are easy to follow and interesting to read. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, I’m glad see see it’s helpful.
Just read your blog. I really the way you write. Im a newbie so can you follow me back too?
Hi Yashika, I enjoyed your post on Chandrigarh, you seem quite passionate about it. I didn’t see a space to leave a comment on the post, but I look forward to seeing more information with the same voice.
Thank you so much! I look forward to read works from you too
Secularism, agnosticism, atheism have yet to produce anything to compete with such a building.
I do see what you mean, however, I don’t know of any artworks or architecture that made in the name of atheism in the same way that such works are made in the name of various faiths. Although, in my opinion, there are plenty of non-religious art and architecture that can also measure up with even the best of religiously-inspired art.
Perhaps the non-religious art has carved out a different place for itself and a different road to get there.
I have been visiting this place regularly since 2015 and come every year for Ganesh Chaturhi, and sometimes other times. It’s easy for me to go, since it’s near the Chiang Mai University Engineering Department. Like you, I am so impressed with the artwork and landscape and ceremonies. It’s one of the best places in the city! This is a great, well-written article with excellent photos (so glad I have this when my many photos and videos I took last year disappeared in a memory card error!) and writing and information, and this Paths Unwritten seems to be an excellent resource. I enjoyed reading the story about the dream also – funny, I just heard this story first time from an American retired man with a Thai wife whom I met this past Sunday, who know the founders well. We had Ganesh Chaturhi this past weekend, but I went to ceremonies at 3 other temples in the main city area (the Master Best one at Pratu Chiang Mai Market on Thursday night, where they have started a large inside garden of plastic flowers and a children’s artwork program, and Devi Mandir on Friday night and the one at Arcade Bus Stand on Saturday night) and didn’t make it to this temple. I met a German friend in Chiang Mai on Sunday morning at Devi Mandir, who had been to this Suthep Road Ganesh temple earlier that morning, and he said they didn’t have a Chaturthi program that weekend. Does anyone know if they will have a Ganesh Chaturthi program this coming weekend? Usually it’s on a Sunday morning around 8 am to 1 pm. I am trying to get to their Facebook page but I am not a member of Facebook and don’t speak or read Thai, so may not be able to read it or get anything out of it. And the telephone numbers I called from their current brochure given to me by my German friend are not functioning.
Hi Jenny, thank you for writing. I’m sorry,but I don’t have any info on recent or upcoming events centered on the Ganesh Chathuri Festival this year. It might even be limited or cancelled with current restrictions in place, but I cant say for sure.