THAI AMULETS

According to historical milestone, first Thai amulets were made with clay some 1500 years ago (around 11th – 13th century) in today Mahasarakham province (Thailand’s city in northeast) known as Nadoon amulets and some 1300 years ago (around 13th century) in today Lampoon province (Thailand’s city in north) known as Lampoon amulets. With a distance of 700 kms and 13th century communication mean, it was not logical for Lampoon (north) and Mahasarakham (northeast) to share culture including amulet making process. This is a clear proof of strong faith in Buddhism during 13th century throughout Siam. The history of Nadoon amulets is not clearly and reliably recorded while the history of Lampoon amulets is much more explicit as they were made by the first (Lady)King of Hariphunchai (Hariphunjaya) Dynasty. However, this implies an establishment of strong faith in Buddhism throughout Siam in very early age of the Kingdom, at least since 13th Century.

Historically, Wats and Buddhist monks have always been essential parts of regular Thai day-to-day livings as Wats served as schools and clinics while Buddhist monks acted as teachers and traditional doctors. As modern medical treatments were at primitive stage, all illnesses depended on Buddhist monks instead for modern medical treatment. They used natural herbs and magical means to cure diseases . Buddhist monks have been practicing mediation and traditional medicine since Buddhism became Siam’s national religion. The practicing mediation led to unnatural or supernatural inner power of ascetics and Buddhist monks. The unnatural power in amulets was created by ascetics while the supernatural power in amulets was created by Buddhist monks. The levels of supernatural power vary depending on the levels of mind practice ascetics or Buddhist monks achieved and spiritual prays chosen to recite by ascetics or Buddhist monks. The combination of mind practice levels (mental concentration) and the prays (power of spells) dictate the degree of holiness in consecrating amulets. Ascetics are mind practitioners who focus on power of mind control to achieve physical expression of unnatural power such as invincibility. The nature of this power was used for amulet consecration in the past up to few hundred years ago due to need for soldiers to carry amulets with them to fight the war with bare hands such as Thai boxing and weapons such as sabers, sword, spears, arrows during times before early Rattanakosin Era (King Rama II) where almost all amulets were made by kings in large quantities, consecrated by ascetics, and gave away to soldiers at large. The the turning point from colonization to trading took shape during King Rama II (B.E. 2352) onwards. In parallel, the change from amulets for invincibility to amulets for trading, fortune, prosperity, mercy began to take shape. The consecration almost completely shifted its tone from black magic of ascetics to white magic of Buddhist monks. In the early stage of white magic amulets, amulets were given out to civilians for free. Not until some hundred years later, amulets were made for trade. Civilians must buy amulets in form of donation to Buddhist temples (Wat) signifying the beginning of economic influence on Buddhism in Thailand. This economic influence has continued since then and amulets has become commercial products where more emphasis on marketing tools is evident. Amulets become like most visible high value assets such as houses, cars, watches, handbags, etc, Simply put, amulets become a symbol of wealth and social prestige. This ration explains why amulets with pure religious aims like Somdej To’s amulets have forever been marked with high popularity and exchange price against million of amulets made during his time which contradicts the demand-supply principle.

Historically, Wats have always been learning centers and hospitals with Buddhist monks acted as teachers and traditional doctors who used natural herbs and magical means to cure diseases. Buddhist monks have 4 duties with Buddhism: (1) Study (2) Practice (3) Propagate (4) Sustain. Buddhist monks have been practicing mediation and traditional medicine since Buddhism became national religion of Siam. Both Ascetics and Buddhist monks practiced meditation to achieve mind control with different objectives and social needs. Ascetics emphasized on mind control to induce unnatural power such as invincibility to the amulet possessors suitable for colonization era. Buddhist monks emphasized on mind control to achieve supernatural power that bring about trade success, fortune, prosperity, mercy to the amulet possessors suitable to post-colonization and emerging global commerce. The unnatural power in amulets was created by ascetics while the supernatural power in amulets was created by Buddhist monks. The levels of special power vary depending on the levels of mind practice ascetics or Buddhist monks achieved and spiritual prays chosen to recite by ascetics or Buddhist monks. The combination of mind practice levels (mental concentration) and the prays (power of spells) dictate the degree of holiness in consecrating amulets. Ascetics are mind practitioners who focus on power of mind control to achieve physical expression of unnatural power such as invincibility. The nature of this power was used for amulet consecration in the past up to few hundred years ago due to need for soldiers to carry amulets with them to fight the war invincibly and invisibly with bare hands such as Thai boxing and weapons such as sabers, sword, spears, arrows during times before early Rattanakosin Era (King Rama II) where almost all amulets were made by kings in large quantities, consecrated by ascetics, and gave away to soldiers at large. The turning point from colonization to trading took shape during King Rama II (B.E. 2352) onwards. In parallel, the change from amulets for invincibility to amulets for enhancing trading, fortune, prosperity, mercy, and charm began to take shape in addition to invincibility and invisibility. The consecration almost completely shifted its tone from black magic of ascetics to white magic of Buddhist monks with limitation to honest uses. In the early stage of white magic amulets, amulets were given out to civilians for free. Not until some hundred years later, amulets were made for trade. Civilians must buy amulets in form of donation to Buddhist temples (Wat) signifying the beginning of economic influence on Buddhism in Thailand. This economic influence has continued since then and amulets has become commercial products where more emphasis on marketing tools is evident. Amulets become like most visible high value assets such as houses, cars, watches, handbags, etc. Simply put, amulets mistakenly become a symbol of wealth and social prestige. This ration explains why amulets with pure religious aims like Somdej To’s amulets have forever been marked with high popularity and price despite the millions of amulets made during his time which contradicts the demand-supply principle.

Buddhist monks have 4 duties with Buddhism: (1) Study (2) Practice (3) Propagate (4) Sustain. On a different perspective, it is common practice for Thai Buddhist monks to create amulets filled with supernatural power in order to (1) test their supernatural power through control of mindpower (2) leave behind some relics for Buddhists to worship as part of sustaining Buddhism (3) draw majority of Buddhists closer to Buddha, Buddhism, and Wats as they worship (rely on) supernatural power of monks much more than practice by themselves.

In Thailand, amulets had initially been made by monarchs of virtually all kingdoms since the beginning of monarch-ruling era in this Laem Thong peninsula. Following different arts and culture of the kingdoms, amulets made were largely diversified in shape, size, Buddhist art, materials. Regardless of kingdoms and eras, five factors remained in common. First, they were made by the monarchs or royal bureau. Second, they were made in large quantity more than enough for the entire army. Third, they were given to soldiers for free. Fourth, they were made holy by renown ascetics. Fifth, the excess amulets were placed in concealed pagodas inside the Wats. After the colonization era ended, amulets were made with different objectives. First, they were made by Buddhist monks. Second, they were made holy without persecuting aim. Third, they made holy with Mercy and Avoidance. Fourth, they were made for individual Buddhists who made donations to Wats.

Our articles amplify general aspects of Thai amulets, Phra Somdej Wat Rakang made by Somdej To, and amulet business in Thailand. It is a common habit of Thai Buddhists to donate all kinds of their assets to Buddhist monks and Wats. The Buddhist monks usually give amulets to Buddhists in return. Buddhists usually carry these amulets with them and witness some inexplicable supernatural experience. The more the Buddhists experience, the more the reputation of amulets and Buddhist monks spreads out. This sparks the popularity of the amulets that ends up with escalating amulet prices and Buddhist monks’ reputation which eventually ended up with the influx of Buddhists’ visits to Wats. Wats then become lively and busy with visitors and donations.

These levels of mind power achievements begins with the simplest form called hypnosis and end up with the most difficult form called soul relocation (control of own spiritual activities). Looking from different angles, they are recognized in two opposite moralities known as black and white magics. Black magic of this kind is often seen in the immoral saints (such as number 666 – the Power of Beast in Christianity or Voodoo in African countries). I am not going into details of black magic as it does not lead anyone to right peace of mind, just know that they (1) strongly exist (2) are still practiced in Southeast Asia (3) can be overcome by the Buddhist monks’ merit. White magic of this kind is all seen in daily activities of monks which is worth an effort to amplify. White magic leads to peace of mind that generates high level of mindpower to overcome all black magic without any reservation. Simply put, a person with good moral practice and a holy amulet will not be harm by black magic. But let us concentrate on the physical attributes of Thai amulets which can be understood and appreciated readily by almost anyone.

It is always difficult to categorize or group Thai amulets together in a systematic way due to matrix interaction of two independent categorizing dimensions involved namely materials used to make amulets (stone, wood, clay, metal, herb, limestone) and associated spells of supernatural powers filled into amulets. In addition, different monks do have different levels of achieved mind power which is rather subtle and non-scientific to elaborate on amulets’ supernatural power. There is no pattern of what type of amulet materials is preferred by Buddhist monks or more popular among Buddhists. The key to popularity of amulets is the credential of the monks and the proven supernatural power associated with the amulets. It is worth noting that Thai Buddhists monks of high(est) royally patronaged ranks do not necessarily signify high(est) capacity of supernatural power or meditating level or merit. They (city monks) merely achieve academic qualification and choose to stay in royally patronized Wat in which an opportunity to be merited with monk’s rank appointment is promising but the opportunity to practice meditation is inferior unless they perform religious hike in remote area such as in deep forest like Somdej To did, following Buddha’s practice.

The 6 types of amulet materials used widely for amulet making are

1. Stone

Stone was used in very early days in form of individual sculpture of large size by carving stone into large Buddha image mostly of about human size or larger. It was impractical to have typical amulets made of stone due to its heavy weight and hardness. However, amulets made of precious stone are popular in limited group of Buddhist followers.

Photo 1 Phra Somdet green stone made in 2401 BE

This green stone Phra Somdet was made in 2401 BE by King Rama IV and made holy by Somdet TO. It is a rare amulet as King Rama IV made amulets for The Emerald Temple (Wat Phra Kaew) and Wat Phra Thad Phanom.

2. Wood

Majority of wooden amulets are from Myanmar and in form of hand-made wood sculpture. Consequently, the number of wooden amulets is few and can be recognized as rare antique sculpture. Thai wooden amulets are uncommon and rarely seen unless the Buddhist monks are from Myanmar but take up residence in Thai Wat.

3. Clay

Amulets made from clay are the very first Thai amulets evident by the oldest Thai amulets widely known in Thailand.

(1) The Hariphunchai’s clay amulets made by the first lady king of Hariphunchai Kingdom (1206 – 1385 BE) known as Queen Jamadevi some 1300 years ago and made holy by a group of ascetics led by ascetic Na Rod – the most prominent ascetic in the Kingdom at that time – to honor the Queen Jamadevi’s ruling.  Hariphunchai’s clay amulets comprise several different amulet forms.  The most prominent Hariphunchai’s clay amulets called “Phra Rod” following the ascetic name Na Rod.  Phra Rod Lampoon was made from wet clay, threshed into cake-like paste, force-printed in a mold into amulets, and heated at temperature of pottery making and the clay amulets turn into semi-stone state which are harder and stronger than non-heated (naturally dried) clay amulets. Of the five most wanted amulets in Thailand (Benja Phakee), only Phra Rod Lampoon was heated to temperature up to 800 deg C in the furnace. Phra Rod is strong and hard enough to cut through glass like a glass-cutting knife. In the furnace chamber, the amulets that were exposed to highest temperature zone near the furnace burner would be green (very rarely seen) while lesser concentration of heat would be black, brown, or dark cream.

Photo 2 Phra Rod

In addition to Hariphunchai’s clay amulets, there are

(2) Phra Thung Sethee Gru Kamphaeng Phet which was made from heat-treated clay around 1890 BE by King Lithai of Sukhothai Kingdom (1792 – 1981 BE). The prominent member of Phra Thung Sethee is Phra Soom Kor.

Photo 3 Phra Soom Kor Thung Setthee, Gru Kampangpetch

(3) Phra Pong Suphan Gru Suphanburi which was made from heat-treated clay around 1890 BE by King Lithai for King U-Thong of Ayudhya Kingdom (1893 – 2310 BE)

Photo 4 Phra Phong Suphan. Gru Suphanburi

(4) Phra Nang Phaya Gru Phitsanulok which was made around 2090 – 2100 BE by Queen Wisut Kasat of Ayudhya Kingdom. Phra Nang Phaya was made from heat-treated clay and kept in the pagoda of Wat Nang Phaya.

Photo 5 Phra Nang Phaya, Gru Pitsanulok

It is worth noting that the above 4 renown clay amulets are similar in nature. First, they are virtually contemporary. Second, they were made by the monarchs because the amulet making in those old days were regarded as a big issue and only made for the soldiers to carry with them to battles and wars. Third, they were made holy by hermits (invincibility power) without contribution from Buddhist monks (mercy and avoidance) because in those days Buddhist monks were strictly religious and the duty of practicing war-oriented supernatural power was with hermits. After the uncivilized colonization era ended and the civilized trading era began in late Ayudhaya Era to early Rattanakosin Era (2325 BE onwards), the amulets are then shifted interest to supernatural power of mercy and avoidance. This was beyond hermits’ ability and recalled the practice Buddhist monks.

4 Metal

Although not as popular as clay or limestone due to their relatively much heavier weight, the old metallic amulets were uncommon. The ones made in the old days were originated from monks’ mindpower to practice alchemy. As a result, alloys from alchemy have been mostly used to make amulets. Consequently, the old amulets were made of diversified plain metallic structure or alloys from alchemic venture. Pure metallic amulets were not as popular as clay or limestone due to their relatively much heavier weight and cast-only process, metallic amulets are rare and originated from monks’ mindpower to practice alchemy. As a result, pure metals and alloys from alchemy were difficult and troublesome to make. Therefore, only a handful amounts of metallic amulets were made.

Although not as popular as clay or limestone due to their relatively much heavier weight, the old metallic amulets were uncommon. The ones made in the old days were originated from monks’ mindpower to practice alchemy. As a result, alloys from alchemy have been mostly used to make amulets. Consequently, the old amulets were made of diversified plain metallic structure or alloys from alchemic venture. Pure metallic amulets were not as popular as clay or limestone due to their relatively much heavier weight and cast-only process, metallic amulets are rare and originated from monks’ mindpower to practice alchemy. As a result, pure metals and alloys from alchemy were difficult and troublesome to make. Therefore, only a handful amounts of metallic amulets were made during Sukothai Era (1792-1981 BE) making them probably the second oldest amulets next to Phra Rod of Hariphunchai. Phra Ruang amulets were made of alloys (tin-lead-zinc).

Phra Ruang with gun rail at rear amulets were believed to be made by Khmer and kept in Chedi (Pagoda) in Sukothat before Sukothai Era (1792-1981 BE) begun, making them probably the second oldest amulets next to Phra Rod of Hariphunchai. Phra Ruang amulets were made of alloys (tin-lead-zinc).

Photo 6 Phra Ruang with backed Gun Rail

Phra Mahaesuan has two identical features both sides except for they are oppositely upsided. Phra Mahaesuan amulets were discovered in Suphanburi around 2456 BE and made of alloys (tin-lead-zinc). They are likely to be younger than Phra Ruang.

Photo 7 Phra Mahaesuen

But not until past several hundred years ago, the metallic amulets can be made by cold stamping technology of coin making. Coin-like metallic amulets can then be made thin, light, and fast enough to make metallic amulets practical and popular

The amounts of Phra Ruang with gun rail at rear amulets and Phra Mahaesuan amulets made were believed to be only in hundred, not thousands or even ten thousands like amulets made by clay, herb, and limestone.

Photo 8 Pure Silver Amulet – Prince Abhakara Kietivongse made in 2466 BE

Photo 8 Alpacca (Copper-Nickel-Zinc) amulet –
Luang Phor Kong, Wat Bang Ka Prom (made in 2484 BE
)

5 Herbs

In all amulets made from herbs, this 2497 BE amulet of LUANG POO TUAD Tuad, Wat Chang Hai (Pattani Province) is one of the most all-time popular clay amulets in Thailand. This amulet comprises many types of natural herbs blended well into the main mass. Only some 60,000 amulets were made and the pictures on the left are typical front and rear features of such amulets.

Photo 9 Luang Poo Tuad Wat Chang Hai (made in 2497 BE)

6  Limestone

In all amulets made from limestone, the limestone amulets made by Somdet TO of Wat Rakang (Bangkok Metropolis) is the most all-time popular limestone amulets in Thailand.

Photo 10 Phra Sumdej Wat Rakang

I have had this Phra Somdej Wat Rakang (Photo 10) around my neck for more than 40 years (since I was 14)

Photos 2 Phra Rod Lampoon (Hariphunchai Kingdom), 3 Phra Soom Kor Thung Sethee Kampang Petch (Sukothai Kingdom), 4Phra Phong Suphan Suphanburi (Ayudhaya Kingdom), 5Phra Nang Phaya Phitsanulok (Sukothai Kingdom) , and 10 Phra Somdej Wat Rakang Bangkok (Rattnakosin Kingdom) are collectively known as Phra Benja Pakee which represent the most recognized Thai amulets.

All types of amulets are recognized in their own capacities. But of all Thai amulets, it is widely known that the most recognized and accepted amulets are made by Somdej To of Wat Rakang, called Phra Somdej Wat Rakang. In addition, of all Thai Buddhist monks, he is also most regarded by Thai Buddhists for his supernatural power and consistent kindness to all due to the supernatural occurrence experienced with Somdej To’s amulets by morally disciplined Thai Buddhists, not to mention his perfect and consistent religious ethical practice. With my strong faith in Somdej To since childhood, I choose to concentrate on my rigorous study on Somdej To and his amulets which are amplified in subsequent blogs.

To end this article, I would like to show a picture of Jackie Chan who has Somdej TO’s amulet with him since he was a youngster. I do believe that he is very religious and a strict Buddhist.

Published by

Surayut Panchavinin

Education : MSIT(North Bangkok University) Bangkok 2011, MBA(Assumption University) Bangkok 1991, BE-Chemical Engineering(University of Canterbury) Christchurch 1986. Current Activities : Director - Zeer Property PCL Past Activities : Managing Director - Sunwood Industries PCL Managing Director - Mail Boxes Etc co. Ltd Senior positions in Investment Banking and Venture Capital businesses with leading local and international financial institutions in Thailand. I also wrote a book of some 300 pages on Somdet Wat Rakang, published in September 2013 and about to complete the second book on Somdet Wat Rakang due to publish in 2017. My skill is very much limited to Amulet of Somdet TO Wat Rakang with around 35-40 years of experience with over 10,000 lime amulets witnessed (over 2,000 with comprehensive careful review)