Thai Buddhist amulets are something of an obsession in this Buddhist land.
Buddhist amulets are part of Thai culture and you see them everywhere. Amulets, on the other hand, ward off evil and repel bad luck. The word itself comes from the Latin amuletum, ‘to protect a person from trouble”. They can be gems, paintings, rings or pendants, animals, and even words. (Talismans, a related form of what we call ‘charms’ bring luck).
In most treasured form, the Buddha amulet, is known as plah keang. During a deadly drought a Thai monk went to the disaster area during a deadly drought to rescue a famous statue of Gautama that was in danger of being abandoned. Upon his arrival the monk found that the statue was too large to move and, that night, dreamed that the large statue instructed him to make a smaller version. He made it out of clay and took it to the temple, the drought broke just before dawn the following morning.
These days Buddha amulets are usually made of precious stones and metal but there are still some created from incense ash mixed with clay. (Thais burn almost 1 million sticks of incense each day so there is no shortage of incense ash!). Herbs, pollen and even the blood of a holy monk are sometimes added to the mix. The amulet can only be given out after being blessed by a monk.
There has recently been a move away from creating Buddha statues, and amulets are now frequently made in various shapes and sizes. A butterfly, for example, is often added to amulets for women who want to attract men. But all of them will have a Buddha on them somewhere. The most enduring form of the amulet is called a Bida – a Buddha whose hands are covering His face – which is for warding off bad luck.
Amulet collecting and amulet trading are vastly more popular in Thailand than, say, stamp collecting in the West. Amulet-trading corners exist in every village and town in the country. In the cities there are entire stores devoted to selling, buying and trading them.
They’ve become fashionable items – some are extremely expensive pieces of jewelry – which means that these days many places produce amulets. Some cheap ones are created by machine instead of being made by hand.
But only those created by a renowned monk are believed to contain the powers necessary to be effective. And, because each blessing-master has his own specialty, the provenance of the piece is vitally important. To really savor this fascinating hobby, read Amulets: Sacred Charms of Power and Protection.
Or sit back and watch this video documentary on Thai Buddhist amulets: