Amulets (pendants, medallions, charms) serve a similar analogous function as Rosary beads or a small cross might to a christian. They supposedly confer protection and good fortune, and are sold everywhere here in Thailand. Business is booming in the current climate of political uncertainty.
Back in 2003, about 6000 amulets were given to the 443 Thai troops sent to Iraq (on humanitarian duty). General Sarayud (yes, now Thailand’s interim Prime Minister!) awarded each soldier clay Buddha images wrapped in sacred cloth. They wore them around the neck for protection, just as christian soldiers put faith in a St George Cross. Some carried a hem from their mother’s skirt – which is believed to disable weapons.
We recently chanced on a massive amulet collectors’ market here in Chiangmai (see top photo). There must have been the best part of half an acre of stalls, teeming with buyers… people peering through magnifying glasses to check the style and facial detail of the carving. Age bumps up the value, not to mention which revered Buddhist monk has ritually blessed it. The styles and historical periods are as well known to them as the differences between Colclough and Coalport to a porcelain specialist on Ebay, and there’s a hum of intense conversation amid courteous and knowledgeable bargaining in that intimate space between buyer and seller.
Many amulets feature the Buddha’s image, but not all. Some are representations of highly venerated monks. A few treasured ones are made for or even by past Thai kings using their own hair, requiring no further blessing from any monk. Some are made of clay mixed with ashes of palm-leaf scriptures or betel-nut chewed by a respected Buddhist abbott.
With the current political tension in Thailand, many Thais seek refuge and support to assist themselves to cope with the worry. As a consequence, the Deva amulet, better known as the "Jatukam", is becoming a hot item as it is believed to bring fortune to its owners in the blink of an eye.
Jatukam is named after a prince of the Srivijaya kingdom in southern Thailand who lived around 1,700 years ago. When his kingdom was threatened he managed to defeat his attackers. As a result, people worship Jatukam when they feel insecure.One amulet retailer says customers tell her the Buddha amulet does not answer their wishes immediately and they have to strictly continue to do good deeds, unlike the Jatukam, which customers claim enables them to fulfil their wishes virtually instantly. Anything for a quick fix or a free lunch in times of trouble.
A Jatukam amulet, 5cm diameter.
Read more detail in this article from Thailand's Nation newspaper, from which I stole some info.
April 2007: click here for a gruesome update on this post.