Saturday, October 17, 2009

Barbie Doll Shrine of Pulau Ubin

Malaysia's New Life Post paper on 17.10.2009 did a report on the peculiar Barbie Doll shrine on Pulau Ubin, Singapore's biggest offshore island. For the purpose of this report their reporters came over to Singapore and made a trip to Pulau Ubin. It is the only one of its kind in this region. The shrine has gotten so famous that even European tourists have come to pay their respects. Locals who have come here to pray for lucky 4-D numbers from her and managed to win also adore her like a wealth deity.
According to legend, the spirit residing in the Barbie Doll is that of a German girl, who resided on Pulau Ubin with her parents more than 100 yrs ago during the colonial era. Her parents started a small coffee plantation on the east side of the island, living a quiet life. However when WW1 started the Germans were treated with suspicion by the British rulers, and her family was no exception. In 1914, the British sent troops to arrest the German family with the intention of putting them in a concentration camp. The parents were captured but this German girl managed to escape to the hills behind the plantation. But in the end she accidentally fell down a cliff and got herself killed.
The photo of the lavishly decorated Barbie Doll. Even though the girl died, but her spirit continued to linger restlessly around that area for many years. So in order to pacify the girl's spirit, the villagers decided to build a shrine for her, naming it "Lady Datok Shrine". Datok is a Malay title for a noble person or respected elder. In the past devotees did not pray to a Barbie Doll, but an urn containing a lock of blond hair and crucifix necklace belonging to the German girl. But 3 years ago, she entered the dream of a local villager who has migrated to Australia, instructing him to go to such and such a shop to buy such and such a Barbie Doll. He was then to bring the doll back to the shrine from Australia. Though he was not fully convinced, he decided to follow her instructions to go look for the doll. And not surprisingly he did find the shop and doll described in his dream. So the villager brought the doll back to install inside the shrine, and from then on, the shrine started to become more and more popular. People came regularly to ask for various kinds of blessings from this German girl's spirit and in return, they brought offerings of perfume, cosmetics, facial products etc (things that a lady would like) to give thanks. That's why we see her "bucha" adorned like a goddess. This is not unlike the Mae Nak shrine in the Prakanong district of Bangkok.
This shabby looking shack is the German girl's shrine. Outwardly it looks unimpressive, but what draws people is the "powerful" spirit inside! It is indeed strange that a European girl can come to this part of Asia and become a deity after her death. If we look at it in Buddhist terms, she is one of those Petas (ghosts) with great merit 福德鬼 and thus has the ability to help people. Previously she did not have a proper rupa (form), but now she has taken up residence in a doll, which is called Upadana Khanda, or the aggregates of clinging. Although she enjoys the veneration and offerings of her devotees, she would still have to leave all that behind when her Peta lifespan comes to an end. Thus Petas are characterized by their strong clinging to the physical world. Mae Nak was like that, and the Ghosts of Bang Rajan were also like that. The Dhammapada says:
"Beset by craving,
People run about like an entrapped hare.
Held fast by mental fetters,
They come to suffering again and again for a long time."
Seeing the danger of clinging, the wise cultivate dispassion towards all physical possessions and mental phenomena, and will eventually reach the shores of Nibbana.

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