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Old 04-11-2012, 06:20 PM
peacock peacock is offline
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Default History of Thai Amulets

History of Thai Amulets

Thai amulets gained tremendous popularity in the 1800s during the reign of King Rama V, but go back centuries. Tribal people probably wore or kept magical talismans, prior to the introduction of Buddhism as there are archaic images found in Thailand that are not Buddhist. When the Thai Kingdom evolved and Buddhism was introduced, the former practices were not erased, as is often the goal of major religions that seek to dominate past practices.

Buddhism is tolerant, and most amulets with pre-Buddhist symbols have been made by monks. A talisman or amulet is believed to counteract bad events, illness, black magic, evil spirits or misfortune such as accidents or assault. Tiny molded Buddha images were often buried in spires with the ashes of famous monks and Royal persons and the older ones have been excavated and used as powerful amulets. Still other votive tablets have been manufactured in temples and given to favored parishioners (usually those who make donations) and are blessed or consecrated--and in this way money is raised for new temple buildings.

These days almost every Thai wears or keeps multiple amulets, sometimes having a large collection kept at home aside from those worn on necklaces and waist cords under the shirt and amulet collecting is a huge national Thai pastime.

Small, clay votive tablets in Thailand date back to the 9C Dvaravati Period when Thailand was a collection of tribes and mini kingdoms and on trade routes between India and the larger kingdom in Cambodia. The earliest clay amulets were mostly Indian-influenced art and may even have been made by Indian artisans. They were not worn, but were sealed in temple spires. It was not till later periods that Thais began to wear these wonderful little tablets as protective amulets.

Votive tablets were mostly clay leading up to the Thai Kingdom of Sukhothai and the Lopburi Period of satellite cities of the Khmer Empire of Angkor Wat in the 12th C, then more began to be made of bronze and gold. Votive tablets became even more widespread in the Ayudhaya Kingdom, about 300 years ago when larger tablets were made at temples and parishioners took them home as sacred souvenirs.

It was in the mid-Rattanakosin Period, mid-1800s that a cult of amulets emerged and people began to wear them for protection or other purposes, and today the collecting and wearing of amulets in Thailand is so widespread that it is no longer a cult practice, but a predominant cultural tradition. Many temple produce amulets for their parishioners as a way to receive donations and some temples, such as the famed Wat Rakang, are reputed to have produced more powerful amulets than others.

Some of the most famous are the Phra Somdej clay tablets, the bronze Kring Buddhas of Wat Suthat that rattle when shaken and the ceramic Khun Paen amulets that are reputed to enhance one's lovelife. Other amulets depict famous monks. Monks images are often seen on the bronze medallion-type amulets that are also very popular in addition to those made of fired clay which often contain secret and sacred ingredients in the clay, such as ashes of a deceased holy person, flowers or herbs. In addition to clay and bronze, one sees amulets made of wood, natural tree sap resin, coconut shell, ivory, bone, glass crystal and stone. The Thais (and myself) often feel that a particular amulet seeks out its rightful caretaker and "speaks" to a person who is considering acquiring it.
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Old 04-16-2012, 03:11 AM
peacock peacock is offline
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 176

The practice of stamping amulets originated from India, the birthplace of Buddhism. The act of making amulets is part of meditation practice, religious exercise, merit-making was the main purpose for their production. They are worn practically by most Thai person and many Thais are avid collectors of amulets with dozens of publications mainly devoted to amulet interests in modern Thailand today.

Early votive tablets are recovered mainly in the holiest of places such as in the temple compounds and stupa. To those who have no prior knowledge about amulets they will mostly likely treat the objects as a piece of art. But to those who knows, amulets were considered highly sacred objects by their makers whom are usually monks or holy beings. Take for example the cremated remains of venerated teachers and prominent monks were sometimes mixed with the clay before stamping which is a frequent practice by makers of the Mahayana and Tantric traditions of peninsular Thailand during the 7th-11th centuries generally depicting Buddhas, bodhisattva and divinities.

Votive tablets became very popular during the Gupta (4th-7th centuries) and the Pala periods (8th-11th centuries) displaying figures of the Lord Buddha, Bodhisattva or Tantric divinities. Votive tablets have been recovered in great numbers at two Buddhist holy sites in the North Eastern part of India; Nalanda and Bodh Gaya. Under the patronage of the Pali kingdoms, the last dynasty that supported Buddhism in India, the site of Buddha's Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya became the most important pilgrimage centre.

The most popular representation of votive tablets image was the form of Lord Buddha seated under the Bodhi tree with his hands forming the bhumisparsamudra (the earth-touching-gesture with the right hand turned palm downward on the right knee). His legs are fully crossed in vajrasana with the soles turned upward. This pre-Enlightenment image have been recovered in large quantities dating back to the 10th and 11th centures. Pali tablets strongly influenced Burmese tablets made during the Pagan era from the 12th-14th centuries during the late Mon period in Thailand in the 10th-11th centuries.

Ancient objects from India such as Buddha's images or amulets have been found in many other countries in Asia. In Thailand, large numbers of Buddhist sacred objects from India have been found because the old Thailand was what used to be a commercial and trading centre between India and China especially in the rich Peninsula Thailand. The Peninsula covers Hua-Hin district in Prachup Kirikhun Province continuing to the Sungai Golok at the Malaysia border. During the 8th century tablets found in the Peninsula are heavily influeced by Indian arts and by the end of the century local Thai elements are added to the designs (or phims). In the early centuries, the moulds used to make votive tablets are small and easy to carry by travelling monks.

In Thailand, the earliest known tablets were found in Krabi Province with large numbers of unbaked and baked clay votive tablets and stupa. Through the popularity of amulets, the votive tablets cults from the old days or rather centuries old, continues to be practised in Thailand although it died out in other countries of SEA and in India.

In the early development of the amulet cult, the most desirable tablets were those of Haripunjaya from Lamphun and Phra provinces, Khmer tablets from Lopburi and Sukhothai tablets from Sukhothai and Kamphangphet.

However, Phra Rod at it is till this day was the most popular probably because of the meaning of its name: "Success in Escaping from Misfortunes".

Haripunjaya and Sukhothai tablets are still popular among amulet collectors and their prices are very high although newly made Haripunjaya and Sukhothai style tablets are also popular. However, Mon votive tablets of the 10th-11th century from the Central Plain (comprises the lower basin and delta area of the Chao Phraya River, Utaradit in the north and Petchaburin to the south) have never been popular because it seems that amulet collectors are not in favor by the thought that many such tablets contain ashes or ground bones of deceased monks and teachers.

After antique tablets became difficult to find new new types of amulets were beginning to surface. Some were imitations of antique tablets while other designs were new. Eventually amulets of important people such as kings and monks became among the most popular of amulets. Perhaps the most sought after are those made by revered forest-dwelling monks e.g. Luang Pu Waen or monks who are thought to possess special powers e.g. Pra Luang Pu Tuad or Somdej Pra Puttajarn Toh of Wat Rakang.

Because an amulet is believed to possess a specific quality such as reinforcing good virtue, avoiding catastrophe, bringing general prosperity, or providing supernatural powers, Thais will typically wear many amulets often in odd numbers (3,5,7 or 9) to ensure complete protection and good fortune. In choosing a piece, it is important to amulet collectors that it is made and blessed by a revered teacher or monk. A valuable amulet must come from a person who is thought to have special power. Unsacralized amulets are some how considered to be incomplete. Since an amulet is chosen by its protective or good fortune qualities, the more stories of efficacy that can be attributed to a particular amulet, the more it will attract potential buyers and collectors. During the olden days, villagers from one Thai province whom visit another relative or friends of another province will usually bring along votive tablets as a form of souvenir. In these modern days, this practice of giving amulets as souvenirs by lay persons is no longer upheld. For most people nowadays, the most common exchange of souvenir is momentos in the form of fridge magnets or other travel paraphenalias. At times I find it interesting to think back when I visit my Thai friend in Bangkok, I will actually present him Thai amulets that I have collected from Thai monks. My friend actually enjoyed it as he can never be able to meet all the revered Thai monks especially from other parts of Thailand other than Bangkok areas.

The question mark why the cult of wearing amulets have been so popular inThailand is never really investigated by most non-Thai amulet collectors. The best explanation we have come across so far is from a book written by ML Pattaratorn Chirapravati in her book Votive Tablets in Thailand published in 1997. It was noted that "as Thailand experienced rapid change from an argricultural to an industrial society, people often lack a sense of security. Buddhism is one refuge of continuity. Wherever it has been adopted, Buddhism has absorbed native pre-Buddhist cultural traditions. In the case of Thai Buddhism, it amalgamated with animish, belief in the supernatural, and some aspects of Hinduisim. This in effect permits belief in magic powers and in the cult of amulets with the contxt of Buddhism. Buddhism requires no concept of god, yet a typical Thai will pray before a Buddha image in the hope of fulfilling a wish or gaining a favour. His strategy will be to try to increase his storehouse of merit. This involves various practices from the donation of money to temples to the wearing of amulets; the aim is to be rewarded with a better life and good fortune. This has given rise to merchants of Buddhism who sell various amulets and fetishes not only in temple compounds but also in markets and shopping centres. Amulet books and magazines have proliferated and collectors meet to trade pieces among themselves or at specialized markets such as Bangkok's Wat A-nong. In recent years the cult has spread to other countries, including Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Devotees come to Thailand to pay respect to specific Buddha images and the King Chulalongkorn statue, and to obtain amulets or replicas of images. Thus the cult endures whereas the practice of stamping votive tablets entered Thailand fromIndia where it has long disappeared, now centuries later it continues to proliferate in a much changed form as a passion for amulets".

In the earliest days of Buddhism, after Lord Buddha's passing away during circa 485 BC, amulets became common. Symbols such as conch shells, the footprints of the Buddha, and other object symbols were commonly seen. After about the second century BC, Greeks began carving actual images of the Buddha. These were hungrily acquired by native Buddhists in India, and the tradition spread.

In Thailand, sacred objects were originally produced in tiny sizes as facsimiles to remind the followers of Lord Buddha and his teachings. Amulets later included objects representing deities and Bodhisattva (a name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated a wish to attain complete enlightenment). Made of stone, pottery or metal, the objects were used by Buddhist temples to commemorate deceased monks and living ones.

Accoridng to research sources, the oldest amulets are traceable to the Devaravati period (around 1100-1600 B.E.) and Srivichai period (1200-1800 B.E.) were produced as commemorative tokens to the worshippers.

Amulets in Thailand gained momentum when King Rama V imported machinery from Europe to make coins or known as "Rian", and eventually coins featuring portraits of revered monks began to appear.
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