Jatukam Ramathep

In the market there is a group of almost identical stalls set out with
dozens of amulets. Customers peer at the amulets through an eyeglass
examining the details. These small clay plaques are believed to
protect their wearer from harm. They’re housed in small metal cases
with a transparent window and worn on a chain around the neck. Often
the chain is of such a thickness as to look more suited as a leash for
a large dog. Aficionados – and most are men – may have half a dozen
or more amulets, each on its own chain, ostentatiously swinging from
their neck.

Recently the country has been swept by a craze for a particular amulet
by the name of Jatukam Ramathep. These amulets are round, about the
size of a digestive biscuit, and come in a number of different limited
editions with names such as “Arch-Millionaire”, “Super Rich” and “Rich
Without Reason”. The most expensive editions change hands for as much
as 2 million Baht (about £28,000). Their owners believe that their
Jatukam Ramathep amulet will bring them instant wealth, and as such
they are “better” than Buddha amulets, where the results are more
delayed.

Jatukam Ramathep amulets

These amulets were first made in 1987 at a temple in the south of
Thailand. The first edition was produced by a local policeman who was
believed to be a master of the occult. The amulets sold for 100 Baht
each. That edition now changes hands for about 500,000 Baht. Since
then more than 400 editions have been produced. One edition was
created by the temple’s monks whilst they were flying on a chartered
plane above the temple – precisely why, I’m not sure. A top of the
range new edition, covered in gold leaf and from a respected temple
will now cost you 10,000 Baht – more than a month’s pay for many
Thais.

Of course, these amulets are contrary to Buddhist teaching, but the
Religious Affairs Department and the Sangha Supreme Council keep
schtum. After all, they’re a nice little earner. Want a new temple
building? Just make some amulets, pray over them for a few days, and
sell them off. One revered monk, Phra Payom Kalayano, did make a
protest by baking chocolate cookies in the shape of the amulet,
proclaiming, tongue in cheek, that four bites would make you supremely
wealthy. His cookies are selling like … hot cakes. His intention
was to encourage people to spend their money on essentials, such as
food, not on pointless trinkets. As he said “recently, materialism
and the amulets have diverted people from the core of Buddha’s
teaching. This makes Buddha’s teaching fade away.”

But what of the name “Jatukam Ramathep”? This isn’t something from
Buddhist or Hindu teaching. One theory is that it’s a conflation of
the names of two princes from about 300 CE who guarded a sacred Buddha
relic whilst their father went to Sri Lanka. Others say it’s the Thai
pronunciation of the Pali Catugamaramadeva (God Rama of the Four
Villages). A third view is that the name refers to the legend of King
Janthara Bhanu, the founder of the Srivijaya empire who became a
Bodhisattva. But equally possible is that the name was conjured out
of thin air.

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