This spindly red arch – a symbol of Bangkok – formerly hosted a Brahman festival in honour of Shiva, in which participants would swing in ever higher arcs in an effort to reach a bag of gold suspended from a 15m-high bamboo pole. Whoever grabbed the gold could keep it, but that was no mean feat, and deaths were as common as successes. A black-and-white photo illustrating the risky rite can be seen at the ticket counter at adjacent Wat Suthat.
The Brahmans once enjoyed a mystical position within the royal court, primarily in the coronation rituals. But after the 1932 revolution the Brahmans’ waning power was effectively terminated and the festival, including the swinging, was discontinued during the reign of Rama VII (King Prajadhipok; r 1925–35).
In 2007, the Giant Swing was replaced with the current model, which was made from six giant teak logs from Phrae, in northern Thailand. The previous version is kept at the National Museum.