Thai Buddha Amulets
In the streets around Wat Mahathat in Bangkok, close to the Grand Palace, pavement stalls sell amulets, which are basically votive Buddhist tablets to which are imputed with specific powers. More than this, some half a dozen Thai collectors' magazines, and even a dealer's website, specializes in amulets. Amulet collection in Thailand is now a important business, with the rarest items changing hands for more than a million baht apiece.
It was during the reign of King Rama V, towards the end of the 19th century, that votive tablets began to be treated in significant numbers as amulets. However, there is some evidence that the cult began in the reign of his father, King Mongkut (Rama IV). It is likely that one catalyst was the new popularity of collecting antiques that spread from the court, and because of increasing demand, ancient sites began to be excavated illegally. At first, the clay votive tablets were held in little regard, but gradually their provenance, and the idea that the monks who had created them must have transferred into them some of their ability, made them increasingly desirable.
They can vary substantially in price from a few baht to thousands of dollars for rare collectors items.
By the early 20th century, the cult had become established, although its relatively rapid development is clear from the comments of King Rama VI, who ruled from 1910 to 1925, and wrote: "It is astonishing that people hang votive tablets around the necks as self-protection." Today, most Thai men across all socio-economic classes carry an amulet; women to a lesser extent. To a casual non-Thai observer, such an amulet may appear to lack refinement, workmanship, even distinctiveness. However, two essential qualities are hidden: the person who made it, and its composition. Most amulets are of clay, but this medium is often very complex, being mixed with a number of unusual ingredients which contribute to its power, including certain seeds, dried flowers, herbs, pollen, and the ash of burnt sacred texts.
Moreover, if the composition was made by a venerated senior monk, it will profit from his power. Two examples of dealers' notes give some flavour of the esoteric qualities that amulet-collectors seek. They describe two of the most famous amulets, Phra Somdej (the name of a famous old monk), and the strange Phra Pid Ta ('Buddha with Eyes Closed'): "There are only five forms of Somdej Wat Rakang: Make sure you have seen a genuine one before and compare it with other Phra Pim Somdej to spot the differences. Look at the grain and the substance and examine the make-up, which has been moulded out of burnt limestone and then mixed with Chinese Tung oil and holy matters such as Med Chad, Med Phradhati, Holy Dried Flower, Dried Stream Rice etc
With rare, sought-after amulets commanding prices in excess of £15,000, many fakes abound, but even this is not straight. Replicas of famous, high-priced amulets are common, yet once they have been blessed by a monk, they will still afford security to the owner—as long as he or she honours it, and conducts themselves morally , according to Buddhist principles.