Thai Buddhist Votive Tablets
When the ancient capital at Sukhothai was being dug up by archaeologists (and unfortunately also by unlawful bounty hunters), large numbers of small tablets were found buried. Most were of baked or unbaked clay, a few in silver, gold or pewter. all carrying images of the Buddha. They were portable Buddhist images. and Sukhothai is not the only place where they have been discovered. They were laid to rest in the most hallowed parts of many temple building complex, in caves used for meditation, and inside stupas.
One of the most interesting aspects of votive tablets is how they evolved from being devotional Buddhist objects into the forward-thinking cult of amulets. The differentiation between the two is not completely clear either, as it is claimed that many amulets sold on the marketplace now are ancient votive tablets. Moreover, while it is hard to be sure to what use these old votive tablets were put at the time they were made, it is known that many were carried home by early pilgrims visiting sacred sites.
In one sense, they could be believed to be the earliest tourist souvenirs, though within a sacred context. The practise originated in India. In her book, Votive Tablets in Thailand (1997), M. L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati notes that Chinese monks who visited India in the second century wrote explanations that described the stamping of tablets. Using press moulds, monks made these tablets not only for dispersal among the faithful, but also as a meditative exercise. While souvenirs of a type, votive tablets were—and still are—considered as such sacred.
One practice that was adopted, particularly in the south of Thailand, was for the powder from the cremated corpses of senior monks and revered religious teachers to be ground up into the clay used for stamping. This doubtlessly contributed to the more recent amulet cult, and fostered the belief that such tablets would contain special powers.
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