This article is the introduction to my presentation on (1) Wat Rakang (2) Somdej To extended to Somdej To’s Amulets.
Wat Rakang is a Buddhist temple located adjacent to Chao Phraya River on the opposite riverside of “Temple of the Emerald Buddha” It was built in Ayudhaya Era named Wat Bang Wah and was promoted to Royal Temple Status in Thonburi Era together with change of name to Wat Rakang around B.E. 2312 following the discovery of a large Rakang embedded underground inside the Wat’s premise. Wat Rakang is located on the bank of Chao Phaya River right opposite to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Its location is so exceptional that King Taksin of Thonburi Kingdom built his palace nearby. Wat Rakang became notable because
- In Thonburi Era, it was appointed as Royal Monastery by King Taksin.
- In Rattanakosin Era, it was formally fostered by the elder sister of King Rama I for its renovation and developments where a large undergrounded ancient bell was found. For this reason, Wat Bang Wha Yai was then renamed as Wat Rakang (Bell).
- Its head of Buddhist monks was appointed as the first Buddhist Supreme Patrairch of Rattankosin Kingdom.
- It also accommodated Somdej To which was the most revered Buddhist monk in Thai history.
- The principal Buddha Statue enshrined in the Chapel was nicknamed by King RAMA V as “Receptively Smiling Phra”.
He was born in 2331 BE and ordained as Buddhist novice in Ayudhaya province in Ayudhaya province since childhood. In 2350 BE, at the age of 20, he received a royal ordination at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and resided in many Wat but mostly Wat Rakang. He passed away in 2415 BE at the age of 85. Throughout his life, he concentrated on Buddhism scripture and meditation without any slight interest in the monastic dignity. He spent most of his time on Buddhist hike throughout Laem Thong. He had done 5 major remarkable successes
- He made the most wanted and popular amulets in Thailand.
- He discovered the religious ancient prayers (over 700 years old) on how to make amulets holy dated back to Sukothai Era.
- He discovered Phra Chinnabunchorn prayer which became a very popular household prayer in Thailand. Phra Chinnabanchorn Prayer is an ancient prayer narrated around B.E. 2123 by northern Jao Koons under the wish of 20th Chiengmai’s King. Somdej TO discovered this prayer during one of his Buddhist hikes. Phra Chinnabanchorn Prayer has 2 versions namely Thai/Myanmar version (14 parts), and Sri Lankan version (22 parts) of which the first 14 parts are exactly the same as Thai/Myanmar version. Somdej TO polished a virtual unknown prayer into one of the most chanted prayers among Thai Buddhists.
- He discovered Phra Thung Sethee Gru Kamphaeng Phet in 2392 BE upon his Tudong passed kampang Phet. The damaged Phra Thung Sethee Gru Kamphaeng Phet was crushed into small grains and blended into Phra Somdej Wat Rakang.
SOMDEJ TO’s AMULETS
Amulets are materials full of holiness from pure spiritual mind power of monks through chanting of prayers under meditating mind. This mind power is opposite to black magic spell. The level/degree of holiness depends on the monks’ peace of mind. Somdej To’s mind power has been universally recognized by Thai Buddhists for more than 150 years. His amulets are about 150 years old but proven to be more popular than any other much older amulets.
Meditation is the key to holiness of amulets. Power of mind is of unlimited strength. The very elementary mind power is hypnosis where an experienced hypnotist can readily control the mind of other people. One of the so-called duties of Buddhist monks is to practice this control of mind to the levels much deeper than that of hypnotists.
A physicist named Albert Einstein who determined power of mind scientifically with theory of Relativity. His theory claims that a physical object can go forward into the future or go backward into the past by traveling faster than the speed of light. Light is the fastest scientific way to travel. On the contrary, human’s mind can travel much faster than light. Mind is then the faster way to travel. This is why some people can see the future and the past of any event very far away.
If you think about someone who seriously practices how to achieve “peace of mind” and way to “concentrate on mind power” many hours a day, every day a year for over 60 years or so like Somdej To, you can imagine how powerful his mind is and what would be if this powerful mind is transferred into amulets. The only way to sense these mind power is to pray until your mind is in focus then to use this focused mind meditation until your mind is in emptiness so that you can intuitively feel the supernatural power Buddhist monks packed in the amulets.
Of many thousand original Somdej To’s limestone amulets I have closely studied over 40 years, there are at least 1,000 distinguishable amulets which no one is an expert. Of all Phra Somdej amulets I have seen, there are 4 amulets that impressed me most because (1) they were made from the same batch but went through different molds (2) they represented molds designed by amateurs during early age of Somdej To showing by the unbalanced(unsymmetrical) features (3) they were kept in perfect original conditions – clean from all impurities such as human sweats and dust – through many generations (4) The owner is extremely cherish as they are the only 4 unused (brand new) Phra Somdej amulets in possession.
Over the 1,000 different shapes and main mass of all Somdej To’s limestone amulets, I categorize them into 4 broad groups of similar overall features as follows :
Group 1 : Phra Somdej Wat Rakang and Wat Chaiyo – Plain
Front surface is typical. Back surface is generally plain caused by pressing against different planes such as wood board, concrete floor. All were made at Wat Rakang. The three-layer base amulets were distributed at Wat Rakang. Amulets in this group were originated by all types original Thai-raced Somdej To’s followers/pupils.
The 6-7-9 layered base amulets were placed in pagodas at Wat Chaiyo in Ang Thong Province during the beginning of 25th BE century (around 2411-2415 BE) and later discovered around end of 25th BE century when the pagodas collapsed. Photos 9 and 10 are photos of front and back features of 7-layered base amulets of Wat Chaiyo.
Group 2 : Phra Somdej Wat Rakang and Wat Chaiyo – Chinese words
Amulets in this group have virtually the same front features as amulets in group 1. The only main difference is in the various Chinese words Group 2 have at the back. I have witnessed around 30 different Chinese words from over genuine 10,000 amulets. These amulets were originated by Somdej To’s Buddhist Chinese followers/pupils of all saes (surnames) living in Arun Amarin District of Bangkok.
Group 3 : Phra Somdej – garuda chest and alms bowl head
Amulets in this group were specially made to celebrate (1) Somdej To’s sixtieth anniversary of age in 2390 BE and King Rama V (on his reigning Thailand on October 1, 2411 BE). In both occasions, not many amulets were made and were named Phra Somdet Keiser as King Rama V had given one of this amulet to King Keiser of Germany upon his visit to Europe in 2440 BE. This particular amulet has been kept in one of the museum in Germany which I am trying to find out where this museum is. Anyone who can help me with my search will be doing a significantly wonderful contribution to the Thai history.
In addition, I also witnessed few amulets of this nature with Chinese words at the back believed to be made by Chinese during 2411-2415 BE together with amulets in Group 2.
Phra Somdej Keiser amulets were made in very limited few quantities, for special occasions (not sure how many amulets were made) and for special personsgiven to King Rama V (about 375 amulets made), and with Chinese words 托大 師 given to his closed Chinese followers (not sure how many made but I have seen very few in over 10,000 amulets with Chinese words). With these limitations and its popularity, Somdej To had made Phra Somdet – garuda chest alms bowl head for his dedicated followers instead.
Group 4 : Phra Somdej with peculiar models and materials
Somdej To was in a way a true scholar who experimented with different materials and features of his amulets all the times. Therefore, it is no surprise for anyone to see his amulets with unusual materials and arts. Therefore, it is true to say that nobody can claim to be Phra Somdej guru. With my 40 years dedicated study virtually of his amulets alone, I still find myself a kindergarten kid in this subject.
There are a number of Phra Somdej Wat Rakang with some meaningful symbols at the back such as various saints and angels, garuda seal symbolised king Rama V which I happened to witness and brought some to share with you.
There are also special large Phok Bho amulets where I have seen only four amulets out of over 10,000 Phra Somdej amulets I witnessed over the past 40 years.
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.