Thailand Buddhists have a healthy obsession with Thai amulets – and there is an amulet for almost any occasion. The highest level amulets, are the Somdej Toh amulets featuring Buddha sitting in a meditative posture on a coiled stack of naga (serpent, cobra) coils. His face is not discernible and the amulet is very basic looking. Reason being, it was made in the mid-1800’s – the original Somdej amulets. Today the 73 different Somdej Toh amulets are worth hundreds of thousands of baht each. There are said to be over 80,000 Thai amulets 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 amulet you can imagine. There are some that were made at temples, and others that were made by jewelers and goldsmiths.
Perhaps the most bizarre amulet you can find is a two-headed zombie child. The nicest – a Chinese laughing Buddha amulet.
Some Thailand Theravada monks classify believers in amulet magical powers by levels, calling those that believe in the monk amulets as special – less than those that believe in the power of the Buddha amulets. That appears to be true in some sense, the Buddha amulets 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 amulets 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 amulets 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 amulets around the world, and the business is massive – in the billions of Thai Baht per year. Many Thais wear amulets 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 amulets at a time on one chain.
Thai amulets 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.