Rats and Rabbits and Goats, but Why?

One thing we’ve noticed on some Buddhist temples in Thailand is unexpected animal symbols. Elephants, monkeys, and peacocks all show up regularly in temple carvings or murals, and all have royal or noble associations. But what about the temple we saw that had large carvings of white rats around it? And the one where Buddha was pictured surrounded by bunnies? We knew there was something we were missing. Then ace researcher Melissa learned the answer:

Each region in Thailand has at least one temple dedicated to each of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (which is also the Thai, Khmer, Lao, and Burmese zodiac). Thai people believe that it is important every year to visit a temple associated with their birth sign. In the country as a whole, there is also a main temple for each zodiac sign—according to legend, those 12 sites were either visited by Buddha or have extremely important relics. Ideally, you should visit the national holy site for your birth sign every 12 years, when that sign returns on the calendar. If that’s not possible, at the very least you should try to go to that main temple once in your life—after all, it’s where your spirit will reside between your death and reincarnation.

Being 12 years apart in age, Melissa and I were both born in a year of the rabbit. So it’s very cool that we happened to stumble on a regional year-of-the-rabbit temple in our brief Thai wanderings.

Starting in a couple of weeks, it will be the year of the ram—or here in Thailand, which doesn’t have male (or female) sheep, it will be the year of the goat. That’s one reason we’ve been seeing lots of goat imagery here in Chiang Mai: goats on signs and on a parade float, dancers in fuzzy white goat costumes performing on the street. But the big reason is that the mountain that looms above this city holds the national temple dedicated to the year of the goat. So those of you who were born in a goat year (such as 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, or 2003) should be sure to add Chiang Mai to your list of travel destinations this year.


  1. I was in Thailand and missed the “year of the goat” by one year. Love being able to take advantage of your research. Keep safe!


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