Thailand Buddhists have a healthy obsession with Thai pendants – and there is a pendant for almost any occasion. The highest level amulets are the Somdej Toh pendants featuring Buddha sitting in a meditative posture on a coiled stack of naga (serpent, cobra) coils.
His face is not discernible and the pendant is very basic looking. The reason being, it was made in the mid-1800’s – the original Somdej amulets. Today the 73 different Somdej Toh pendants are worth hundreds of thousands of baht each. There are said to be over 80,000 Thai pendants made by Somdej over the course of his lifetime.
In Bangkok, one can go to the market by the riverside – called the Riverside Market – near Phra Chan Road, next to Thammasat University, along the Chao Phraya River and buy just about any pendant you can imagine. There are some that were made at temples, and others that were made by jewelers and goldsmiths.
Perhaps the most bizarre pendant you can find is a two-headed zombie child. The nicest – a Chinese laughing Buddha amulet.
Some Thailand Theravada monks classify believers in pendant magical powers by levels, calling those that believe in the monk pendants as special – less than those that believe in the power of the Buddha amulets. That appears to be true in some sense, the Buddha pendants in Thailand are by far the most popular, and also fetch the most money at auction.
Other revered monks are Phra Luang Phor Tuad, Luang Phor Klai, Luang Phor Bitdar (Bit Tar), Yersi, Lersi. There are also other Buddhist figures that were not monks – Kwan Yin – the goddess of compassion, and Ganesha – the god of obstacles.
95% of all Thai people are Buddhists and yet there is a mixture of deity belief that goes along with strict Theravada Buddhist belief. It comes from the history of Thailand. Before there was Buddhism there was animism and Hinduism. There are spirit houses in millions of yards, restaurants, and homes – to give the evil spirits a place to rest – so they don’t enter Thai businesses or homes, or people.
Thais believe that pendants have the power to bring good luck, protection, safety from water disasters, safety from all-natural disasters, love, sex, money coming in – and there is another Buddhist figure for this – Nong Kwak, that brings money to the wearer of this amulet. She is also found in many restaurants.
The Thai pendants at this market – and most markets are made of a bewildering assortment of materials. Sometimes bone, hair, skin, magic powder, tang oil, ashes from cremated remains, soil from graveyards, rice, lime, rock, gold, silver, tin, stainless steel, pewter, wood, lead, lek lai, plastic, concrete, clay, ceramic, brass, bronze, copper, glass, resin, and probably 25 things I didn’t mention.
There are Buddhist monks, Buddhas, bats, old ascetic monks (Lersi), gods and goddesses (mythical, but with power), half birdmen (Garuda), Buddhist temples, and other things as the subject of the Thai amulets.
Thailand is a major producer of pendants around the world, and the business is massive – in the billions of Thai Baht per year. Many Thais wear pendants they cannot even afford – they take loans to buy them because they believe in the protection and good fortune powers so completely. Many men wear 3-5 pendants at a time on one chain.
Thai pendants have sold in Bangkok for prices of more than 3 Million Thai Baht. That, in current exchange numbers is over $100,000 USD for one amulet.