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It is believed that the name “BiaGae”, was derived from the words “Bia” and “GaeBon”. Bia refers to a shell, and GaeBon describes a process where one gives offerings in appreciation for wishes granted by deities and Sing Saksit. Thais would string flowers into garlands to hang around the statue.

There is much symbolism associated with the conch shell, particularly with the creation of the universe. The sound made by blowing through the conch shell is symbolic of the “Om” sound, which heralded the beginning of existence itself.

Legend has it that when the new universe was created, and life began to flourish on Earth, a demon named SangAhSoon

(Shankhasura in Hinduism) appeared, threatening all who lived there. He stole the scriptures (Vedas), and hid in a conch shell, far below in the depths of the ocean.


Phra Wisanu (Vishnu in Hindusim) was alerted to this treachery by Phra Phrom (Brahma, the Creator). He transformed himself into a fish, preparing to battle the demon and retrieve the scriptures, which contained the secrets of life. Dispatching the demon in combat, Phra Wisanu ripped the scriptures from SangAhSoon’s stomach and claimed the conch shell for himself.

As a result of this close association, Phra Wisanu is invoked whenever conch shells are used for ceremonies. Phra Wisanu, is associated with the preservation of life, as well as the triumph of good over evil. There are many transformations of Phra Wisanu, and Phra Narai (Narayana) is one of them. In Brahmanism, Nara means “water”. It has reference to the waters of creation, mostly referring to human beings. Ayana means “resting place”. Thus the name Narayana roughly translates as “a refuge for human beings”.

The legends also say that it was Matsya

(the fish form of Vishnu) who rescued the first man on Earth. Over time, we guess that the closer resemblance between Matsya and Narayana (Phra Narai), led the Thais to invoke Phra Narai instead of Phra Wisanu whenever a wicha for BiaGae is performed.
Transformation of Vishnu into Matsya
(Picture References: AnilD/

The spiralling dome of the conch shell is symbolic of infinite space. It is also symbolic of the feminine life force (Shakti); the shell’s spiral form and relation to water are representative of the beginning of existence (birth), which is presided over by Goddesses such Phra Mae Uma, Phra Mae Laksami and Phra Mae Srasawadee. This is why all seashells are considered sacred.

Close up view of the spiral formation on a conch-shell in comparison to a picture of Bode’s Galaxy M81,M82 in Ursa Major constellation (Picture References: (left) Viktor Loki/, (right) Antares_StarExplorer/


Bia, are cowry shells, brought to the kingdom of Siam by Persians and Arabs in ages past. They travelled to East Siam via the sea. The cowry shells were acquired in the Maldives and Philippines. They are beautiful and hard, and difficult to find in Thailand. The Thais used them to make ornaments, and also as a primitive form of currency. A Silajareuk (stele) dating to the Sukhothai

period (B.E. 1792 to B.E.2126) was found with the words “Panombia PanomMak PanomDokmai
” inscribed on it, translated as “Many cowry shells were used to form a molehill resembling Pan Baisri.” indicating their prevalence in the culture of that era. Cowry shells became precious. Some used them as offerings to deva, monks, spirits and Buddha statues (called “sing saksit tewa arlak” or “pisang nang mai” in Thai). They were later also used to make Kreung Rang, such as rings and necklaces.
Bia used as a form of currency
(Picture References: TRADOL/

Until the period of King Rama IV, it was popular to embed precious gems in cowry shells, and wear them as a display wealth. The King was worried that this might lead to an increase in robberies and looting, and issued a decree barring commoners from wearing such jewellery. These bejewelled BiaGae were called PakaWahJan



These were made from the shells of Hoi Taley Gup Deow

/ Hoi Bia
(a hard, semi-circle shaped shell with a flat base bearing a “toothed” gap). They vary in size, from the size of a fingernail to palm-size. These shells are sometimes also referred to as Hoi Jan
, possibly due to variations in language between provinces.
Hoi Taley Gup Deow
(Picture References: TRADOL/

How to make BiaGae

A cowry shell with 32 “teeth” must be selected; 16 on the right, 16 on the left. Mercury is placed into the shell, and the shell is covered with chanloong (a paste derived from the hives of Apidae Trigona Apicalis, a type of stingless bee). The shell is then covered with lead, and inscribed with yant. The shells are then wrapped in string, and sealed with longrak, a type of smooth, shiny lacquer.

Cowry shell with teeth
(Picture References: Mitel Daniel/
Stingless bees and its hives. A black lacquer paste named Chanloong is derived by mixing the hives, honey and other materials. It is then used to seal the cowry shell with mercury inside.
(Picture References: (left) Papornning/, (right) Fong Yewin/


(left) BiaGae wrapped in string, (right) Longrak BiaGae

The craftsman will then pluksek

the shells according to the practices of his respective school of wicha. BiaGae has the power to protect against sing leow rai (evil), saiyasart (black magic), payan antarai
(dangers) and bring Metta Mahaniyom.
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