Who is Phra Mae Thorani? The inspiration behind Miss Universe Thailand’s national costume

If you have been to Thailand you might recognise the image of a beautiful lady wringing her long black ponytail on temple murals or as statues placed near bodies of water. Last month during the national costume segment, Anntonia Porsild represented Thailand in the Miss Universe competition as “The Goddess of Ayothaya”. As she gracefully picked her intricately adorned long ponytail up, she brought the iconic image of Phra Mae Thorani, the inspiration behind the national costume to the global stage. But who is Phra Mae Thorani and what is her significance?

image presents The Goddess of Ayothaya

“The Goddess of Ayothaya” national costume and the iconic hair wringing pose

 (Image source | Anntonia Porsild)

The word Phra in Thai is often used to address monks or as a title for divine beings, Mae translates to mother and Thorani means earth. Phra Mae Thorani is what Thai people refer to as Mother Earth or the Earth Goddess, a symbol of abundance and purity. Like many other significant figures in Thailand, her story has Buddhist origins.


According to the legend, as the Buddha was meditating and nearing his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (a large fig tree), Phaya Marn, also known as Mara – the devil who constantly found ways to prevent the Buddha from succeeding, caught wind of this news. Filled with hatred and jealousy, he assembled an army of other devils, images of temptations and wild animals to instil fear and interrupt the Buddha’s efforts. Facing the Phaya Marn, the Buddha states that with all his good deeds he has the right to meditate peacefully on his throne. With great objection, the Phaya Marn asks the Buddha to present a witness to validate his claims.


With his right index finger stretched, the Buddha slowly touched the ground and called upon Phra Mae Thorani (named Vasundhara) as his witness. She rose from the earth, appearing in a beautiful form and declared that she knows of his great deeds – from all his past lives to the present. Telling Phaya Marn that she will be witness for the Buddha, she unravels her long hair from a bun and starts to twist it. The water from her hair, an accumulation of all the Buddha’s donative water flowed like a great river, creating a flood that washed Phaya Marn and his army far far away, allowing the Buddha to continue his journey to enlightenment.

image presents Phra Mae Thorani twisting her hair creating a flood that washed Phaya Marn and his army away

Phra Mae Thorani twisting her hair creating a flood that washed Phaya Marn and his army away. (Image source unknown)

Although Phra Mae Thorani appears in Buddha’s biography, manuscripts from Thailand’s neighbouring countries such as Burma, Cambodia and Laos all tell a slightly different version of her legend. She is also known by many other names in those countries but the image of her wringing her long hair and her importance in Buddha’s enlightenment became synonymous with the symbol of good overcoming evil.

image presents Statue of Phra Mae Thorani at Wat Baan Ai, Chiang Mai

Statue of Phra Mae Thorani at Wat Baan Ai, Chiang Mai

(Image Source | Vaitaya Pamornniyom)

As you can see, Phra Mae Thorani’s legend is one that has great significance in Buddhist mythology. With 92% of Thai people identifying as Buddhists (according to Statista), it is easy to see why her image is seen all around the country. Today, Phra Mae Thorani is seen in many aspects of life – being worshipped on shrines, as a decorative statue on water fountains or even appearing on government logos.

Fun fact! The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (left) and the oldest political party in Thailand, the Democrat Party (right) both feature Phra Mae Thorani on their logos.

Article by Oun V.