11 April 2013

Kathmandu's Tooth Fairy Shrine

Offering money for healthy teeth! Like the Tooth Fairy on opposite day!

One of my favourite things to do in Kathmandu is stroll through the labyrinthine streets between Thamel and Durbar Square. The sheer number of weird treasures - shrines, stupas, relics and architectural marvels - contained in this area never ceases to amaze me, and I find myself shaking my head with a mix of wonder and confusion at nearly every turn.

Nothing is stranger than Kathmandu's toothache shrine, known in Nepali as Vaisha Dev. This gnarled hunk of wood sits at an unassuming chowk (intersection) just past Thahiti Tole, and it is where locals come to make an offering to the god of sore chompers.

No shit, Sherlock. 
The shrine is smack dab in the middle of the dentist district, as oral surgeons and orthodontists - and this is Nepal, so it is mostly just guys with pliers - know an opportunity when they see one (they usually see them in the mouths of twelve year olds, but I digress). The logic is sound - people with tooth problems come to visit the shrine and on their way perhaps they are lured in by one of the brightly coloured signs advertising the dentists in the area.

Lovely signs, less lovely dental conditions.
And who wouldn't be? As a signage historian, Nepal's myriad handpainted signs compel me, and the dental offices are always home to my favourite examples. Human labour is still cheaper than printing costs in most of Asia, and so signs and adverts often have a charming retro feel. Sadly, this is a dying art - mass produced signs are slowly taking over. In Cambodia, artisans have recognized their appeal to tourists and have started offering one-of-a-kind signs for sale in shops and cafes, but I like mine used and dirty (like mother, like sign). My goal before I leave Nepal is to acquire one of its many dentist signs - hopefully it will be the one below. *Swoon* 

This is probably the best thing I have ever seen. 
The shrine is absolutely covered in coins - apparently there is a teeny tiny little idol inside of the main hole of the tooth god's shrine, and so devotees hammer a coin onto the outside of the wood in the hopes that they will have problem free pearly whites. I practically stuck my head inside the thing and couldn't see the bitsy god, but I trust that it is in there somewhere. (Hey! That is how all religion works! "...and Violet Dear learned a very important lesson that day....")

The Tooth Fairy shrine is legitimately the strangest thing I have seen in Kathmandu, and despite its confusing location I think it's something every visitor to the city should try to find. Even if you get lost, you are guaranteed to stumble onto many other bizarre treasures - and read some pretty cool signs along the way. 

It kind of looks like the Elephant Man. "You're so kind..." 
(And longtime readers will recognize this shirt.)


ihaq1111 said...

very interesting..i lived in kathmandu off and on for a couple of years but never got to thahiti cole...i suppose one can make do with any temple for any purpose or prayer

amanda said...

Remember when we did this walk? This was the coolest thing I remember us seeing that day (which is now over four years ago, terrifying). I'm glad you still think it's as cool as I do!