The history of Thai amulets can be divided into a number of important periods and this article will briefly look at those amulets from the Sukhothai period. Although Sukhothai votive tablets were not made to be used as amulets.
They are called 'Phra Kruang' by amulet collectors and are very popular, and in many cases even more so so than their better known modern counterparts.
Individual types have such nicknames as 'Phra Ruang', a term derived from the names of Sukhothai kings, and 'Phra Ruang Perd-Lok', where perd-lok means 'open the three worlds (i.e. heaven, earth, and hell)' .
Collectors believe that most Sukhothai votive tablets, large or small, were made during the reign of King Luthai in the latter half of the fourteenth century.
The king was an avid Buddhist who towards the end of his reign, abdicated the throne to become a monk. It is likely that amulet dealers created this story about the production of tablets to increase their desirability.
At Pitsanulok Province, south-east of Sukhothai, votive tablets were recovered from Wat Nang Phya, Wat Phra Buthachinarat, Wat Mahathatu, and Wat Chulamani. Terracota tablets from Wat Nang phra, which are therefore known as Phra Nang Phya, are among the most sought after by collectors. On the other hand, among the most popular of metal tablets are those from the Wang-Hin temple, namely Phra Buthchinarat, Phra Buthchinasri, Phra Srisasada, and Phra Leela tablets.
Phra Leela, Pim Lek
Kru Larn Dok Mai, Sukhothai
Phra Ruang Perd Lok
Tau Thurieng Sukhothai
At Kamphangphet Province (south-west of Sukhothai) terracotta and pewter tablets were made side by side. Most votive tablets in this province were recovered from a site known as Tung Set-Ti located in the centre part of old Nakhom Chum. Several types of Kamphangphet tablets are among the most sought-after of all amulets, such as Phra Kamphang Sumkor, Phra Kamphang Met Kanun, Phra Kamphang Poet-Lok, and Phra Kamphang Hah-roi.
The majority of Sukhothai votive tablets portray standing and walking attitudes. Standing Buddha tablets are portrayed in two types: either with one hand in abhayamudra or with both hands on the sides with the palms facing outwards (Phra Poet-Lok).
The variety of shapes include a square base with an arch top and the outline of the Buddha figure. Generally the standing Buddha wears his robe covering both shoulders. The garment is thin revealing the body underneath. he also wears a thin under cloth, a reminder of the Gupta and post-Gupta styles of Indian art. Some rare types also wear a jewelled belt similar to Khmer style.
Votive tablets showing a standing Buddha with both hands at his sides are iconographically unique to Sukhothai. and they never appeared in pre-Thai periods. Their nickname, Phra Perd-Lok, refers to the descent from Trayastrimsa scene when the Buddha opened the three world - heaven, earth and hell - allowing all beings to see each other. large numbers of Phra Perd-Lok tablets were recovered in Sukhothai, Kamphangphet, and Pitsanulok.
In the Perd-Lok example above, Tau means oven and Tau Thurieng was the place that porcelain was fired. With the Sukhothai Leela amulet Kru refers to the fact that these amulets were placed in a pagoda and Larn Dok Mai, loosely translates as flower garden. Both amulets are approximately 600-700 years old. Thai collectors believe that these amulets offer luck and protection.
Phra Ngop Nam Oy, Kampang Bahn Tak
Besides standing and walking Buddha tablets, seated Buddha tablets were also popular. Like large icons, most tablets portray the Buddha in bhumiparsamudra with his legs crossed in virasana A unique type of tablet known as Phra Ngop Nam Oy was very popular.
This tablet is round with the reverse side concave or flat. The seated Buddha's in meditation are arranged in one or two circles. generally, they are made of clay mixed with ground serge and ground sutra. The illustration opposite shows a Phra Ngop Nam Oy tablet which is very popular among collectors. Amulet collectors believe that such tablets confer invulnerability to injury from weapons. This particular amulet is 600-700 years old and features 37 seated Buddha's in two concentric circles and is extremely rare. Similar examples exist in the National Museum
Terracota votive tablet of the Miracle of Sravasti scene froom Nadun district, Mahasarakam Province. Mon period 9th or 10th century. Height: 7cm
Sukhothai votive tablets were probably stamped strictly by monks and were then installed in stupa as part of a consecration ceremony. Tablets stamped from exactly the same mould have been recovered in many different temples in and outside of Sukhothai, suggesting that monks may have carried their own moulds and stamped tablets as part of religious practice such as meditation and merit-making while wandering from place to place.
Although Sukhothai was at one time a powerful kingdom covering most of the era of Thailand, by 1378 it had become a vassal of Ayuthaya and was finally annexed by that kingdom in 1438. Yet the innovation in Buddhist art and iconography that came with the popularity of Theravada Buddhism in Sukhothai strongly influenced other Thai periods.
Haripunjaya and Sukhothai tablets are still popular among amulet collectors and their prices are very high although newly made Haripunjaya and Sukhothai style tablets are also popular. However, Mon votive tablets of the 10th-11th century from the Central Plain (comprises the lower basin and delta area of the Chao Phraya River, Utaradit in the north and Petchaburin to the south) have never been popular because it seems that amulet collectors are not in favor by the thought that many such tablets contain ashes or ground bones of deceased monks and teachers.
After antique tablets became difficult to find new new types of amulets were beginning to surface. Some were imitations of antique tablets while other designs were new. Eventually amulets of important people such as kings and monks became among the most popular of amulets. Perhaps the most sought after are those made by revered forest-dwelling monks e.g. Luang Pu Waen or monks who are thought to possess special powers e.g. Pra Luang Pu Tuad or Somdej Pra Puttajarn Toh of Wat Rakang.
Because an amulet is believed to possess a specific quality such as reinforcing good virtue, avoiding catastrophe, bringing general prosperity, or providing supernatural powers, Thais will typically wear many amulets often in odd numbers (3,5,7 or 9) to ensure complete protection and good fortune. In choosing a piece, it is important to amulet collectors that it is made and blessed by a revered teacher or monk. A valuable amulet must come from a person who is thought to have special power. Unsacralized amulets are some how considered to be incomplete. Since an amulet is chosen by its protective or good fortune qualities, the more stories of efficacy that can be attributed to a particular amulet, the more it will attract potential buyers and collectors.
During the olden days, villagers from one Thai province whom visit another relative or friends of another province will usually bring along votive tablets as a form of souvenir. In these modern days, this practice of giving amulets as souvenirs by lay persons is no longer upheld. For most people nowadays, the most common exchange of souvenir is momentos in the form of fridge magnets or other travel paraphenalias. At times I find it interesting to think back when I visit my Thai friend in Bangkok, I will actually present him Thai amulets that I have collected from Thai monks.
My friend actually enjoyed it as he can never be able to meet all the revered Thai monks especially from other parts of Thailand other than Bangkok areas.
The question mark why the cult of wearing amulets have been so popular in Thailand is never really investigated by most non-Thai amulet collectors. The best explanation we have come across so far is from a book written by ML Pattaratorn Chirapravati in her book Votive Tablets in Thailand published in 1997.
It was noted that "as Thailand experienced rapid change from an argricultural to an industrial society, people often lack a sense of security. Buddhism is one refuge of continuity. Wherever it has been adopted, Buddhism has absorbed native pre-Buddhist cultural traditions. In the case of Thai Buddhism, it amalgamated with animish, belief in the supernatural, and some aspects of Hinduisim. This in effect permits belief in magic powers and in the cult of amulets with the contxt of Buddhism. Buddhism requires no concept of god, yet a typical Thai will pray before a Buddha image in the hope of fulfilling a wish or gaining a favour. His strategy will be to try to increase his storehouse of merit. This involves various practices from the donation of money to temples to the wearing of amulets; the aim is to be rewarded with a better life and good fortune. This has given rise to merchants of Buddhism who sell various amulets and fetishes not only in temple compounds but also in markets and shopping centres.
Amulet books and magazines have proliferated and collectors meet to trade pieces among themselves or at specialized markets such as Bangkok's Wat A-nong. In recent years the cult has spread to other countries, including Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Devotees come to Thailand to pay respect to specific Buddha images and the King Chulalongkorn statue, and to obtain amulets or replicas of images. Thus the cult endures whereas the practice of stamping votive tablets entered Thailand from India where it has long disappeared, now centuries later it continues to proliferate in a much changed form as a passion for amulets".
The votive tablet picture above showing reclining Buddha (Parinibbana). Ayuthaya period, late 17th century Terracota with gold leaf. National Museum, Bangkok. Photography courtesy of National Museum, Bangkok adapted from ML Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Votive Tablets in Thailand, 1997.
Comparing votive tablet of the late 17th century with this new reclining Buddha amulet B.E.2549 (2006) made by Wat Intharaviharn, Bangkok. The style of this new amulet follows popular ancient art form showing Parinibbana image print.
Phra Soom Kor, Kamphaeng Phet
This section will discuss about Phra Soom Kor and its other associated Benjapakee sets in order to give value to all readers. The other associated sets are Phra Nang Phaya, Phra Rod, and Phra Phong Supan.
We are very fortunate to have a the opportunity to include a genuine master piece of Phra Soom Kor to be featured in this page. This opportunity will be impossible if we don't get contribution from community members. We shall begin by the history on the origin of Phra Soom Kor from Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand.
The great discovery of the Buddha amulets from Kamphaeng Phet otherwise known as The Millionnaire Field (Thung Setthi) was discovered when the reverend Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarangsi from Wat Wakang went to visit his relatives in Kamphaeng Phet in B.E. 2392 (A.D. 1849). He read the stone inscription on the 3rd pillar and instantly knew that in Kamphaeng Phet there was an ancient city and a big pagoda up north of Nakhon Chum City. These were the first discovery at Wat Barommathat (the temple of a big pagoda) and the 3 Chedis, and also the Buddha amulets of Kamphaeng Phet family with beautiful Buddhistic art forms with the uniqueness of its own.
During the reign of Phra Maha Thammaracha Litchai of Sukhothai dynasty, Buddhist architecture was well glorified. He eventually established Wat Phra Srirattana Maha That and planted a Bodhi tree on a Friday in the 5th day of the waxing moon, 8th lunar month in B.E. 1900 (A.D.1357) in Nakhon Chum City.
At later time, the people then reconstructed the Chedi of Phra Srirattana Maha That and found old text books on the long lost making techniques of Soom Kor Buddha amulets in the past. The old Sankrit inscriptions in the texts describes the ancient city filled with abundance of Buddha amulets. Nakhon Phra Chum was then named as a city of Buddha amulet collection. According to record where the Chedi of Wat Barommathat in which the inscription was found, during demolition for reconstruction a huge number of old Phra Soom Kor amulets was discovered. This is the location source of ancient amulets findings that is popularly known today as the “Millionaires Field”.
Phra Kamphaeng of the Millionaire’s Field has a famous quote according to the old text scripts “If you have me, you will never be poor”. This is such superb amulets qualities from Kamphaeng Phet that had attracted strong admirations from all amulet collectors’ circle. This Millionaire's Field amulets includes the other family of Phra Kamphaeng Soom Kor, Phra Kamphaeng Met Khanun (jack fruit seeds) otherwise known as Lila Thung Setthi the walking Buddha posture.
In addition to the marvelously beautiful art, the earth texture of Phra Kamphaeng is second to none when comparing with amulets from other cities. The texture contains flower petals and they are specially soft. There are 5 prints altogether namely big print with decorative design, big print without decorative design (Sum Kor black), medium print, small print and “pia” cake print and of course Phra Kamphaeng Met Khanun which look similar to a jack fruit seed.
The important Kru or pits of the “Millionaire’s Field” where Phra Soom Kor were found are listed here; Kru Wat Barommathat, Kru Chedi Klang Thung, Kru Wat Phi Kun, Kru Wat Sum Kaw, Kru Ban Setthi, Kru Ruesi, Kru Wat Noy or known as Kru Black Soom Kor probably this pit is where the non-decorative black colour amulets are mostly found here. Apart from that, the kru listing continues with Kru Na Ta Kham, Kru Ta Phum, Kru Wat Nong Langka, Kru Hua Yang, Kru Khlong Phrai, and Kru Non Muang.
Shown here in the picture is the most popular type among collectors of Kanok decorated type Phra Soom Kor. Most of the considerations of markings for verifications is found inside the Yellow colour book. In studying the verification markings as per written expert advice from the Yellow color book can be very interesting only if you care to take interest.
The Phra Soom Kor information is available inside this yellow cover book on "Benjapakee" Grand 5 Set.
Phra Nang Phaya, Phitsanulok
Next on our list is Phra Nang Phaya Buddha amulets which are most popular and accepted as one in the Grand Five set or known as “Benjapakee” in Thai language. People have been seeking these amulets for a long time because of its high miraculous qualities.
Wat Nang Phaya is situated next to Wat Ratchaburana in Phitsanulok. Wat Ratchaburana was built by King Maha Thammaracha of Sri Ayuthaya capital curing his rule of Phitsanulok. Wat Nang Phaya was built by Phra Wisut Kasattri, whom happened to be the queen of King Maha Thammaracha around B.E. 2095-2100 (1552-1557 A.D.). Both Wats or temples were originally on the same location. At later times, the road running to the both Wats had separated the Wats from each another.
Phra Nang Phaya amulets were made during the end of Sukhothai dynasty around 550 years ago. The Kru (pits) was opened up from Wat Nang Phaya Phitsanulok around B.E.2442-2444 (1889-1891 A.D.) for the first time. The amulets compounds are mainly earth materials mixed with flower petals, gravels and sands. These amulet textures are rather coarse but there are also textures with little gravels and sands. There are in total 4 colours namely; yellow, red, green and black.
The prints can be classified into 6 major forms namely Bending Knee Print, Straight Knee Print, Big Swollen Chest Print, Shoulder Cloth Print, God Print, and Small Swollen Chest Print. In addition to being the Nang Phaya amulet family grouping, it is famous for Buddhistic powers on charming and being safe from all dangers. The other excellent quality of Phra Nang Phaya amulets is not being killed by any weapons.
Phra Rod - Wat Maha Wan, Lamphun
Amulet collectors from all over the world would know this important votive tablet originated from Lam Phun or the ancient Haripunchai era. There are many amulet categories during those ancient days but one of the categories had been recognized for its importance and was included into the Five Grand set “Benjapakee” – Phra Rod.
Ancient Phra Rod from Kru “buried under the Chedi” from Wat Maha Wan in Lam Phun Province Thailand are highly sought after by amulet collectors. Its ingredients consisted of earth materials and tuberous plants. They are delicate little ones made by the craftmen of Haripunchai in the art style of early Lop Buri period. Particularly unique is its beauty and collectors have accepted that they have superb Buddhistic qualities especially in giving protection and being safe from all dangers and disasters.
Phra Rod is one of the Five Grand set with Phra Somdej Wat Rakang as the leading amulet. In Thailand, it is named “Phra Rod Yard Nirantaray” literally translated as an amulet for being safe from all dangers. In addition they have Buddhistic quality in bringing good fortune and charming apart from being safe from all dangers and disasters.
Phra Rod Wat Maha Wan comes in 5 Phims in all namely Big Print, Medium Print, Small Print, Tow Print and Tuen Print. Here are 2 examples of exceptionally beautiful Phra Rod from Wat Mahathat for readers’ reference.