Wat Mahathat is also known as the Temple of The Great Relic in Bangkok. This temple itself is large and shares its sprawling complex with monastic cells, schools, offices and other buildings. There is a large peaceful garden of palm trees in the back. It is also the home of the Center for Vipassana Meditation and Buddhist University, the most important center for the study of Buddhism and meditation.
Wat Mahathat predates earlier than the founding of Bangkok in 1782. It was then the First Class Royal Monastery of Ratchaworamahaviharn, Maha Nikai Sect, , initially called Wat Salak which was founded since Ayuthaya period. It was a royal temple in Thon Buri period then renovated by Somdej Phra Bowonratchao Maha Surasinghamat in 1783 and renamed as Wat Nipphanaram in 1783. King Rama I had all the Tripitaka thoroughly reviewed in this temple which he renamed it to Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. He eventually renamed the monastery once again to Wat Mahathat.
The temple in which the Buddha Relics are enshrined and the Supreme Patriarch resides in the Ubosot (Ordination Hall) is considered the country’s largest. It is large enough for 1,000 monks to gather at one time. This temple is of Thai styled buildings with carved gilded mirrors decorating the gables. The temple also housed Maha Chulalongkorn Ratchawitthayalai, the University for monks inside the temple.
Although the Phra Somdej amulets first created by Somdej Phra Buddhacharn Toh may be the best known and some of the most expensive amulets in the market, they is another yet famous Phra Somdej amulets in Thailand – “Somdej Orahang” amulets consecrated by Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn at Wat Mahathat.
In the year B.E.2294 (A.D.1751), at the age of 18 years old, little novice Suk was finally ordained as a Bikkhu and followed several learned monks into the mountains to practice the Buddhist faith.
In B.E. 2310 (A.D.1767), when Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn was 34 years of age, the Burmese army invaded Thailand and destroyed Ayuthaya. Somdej Pra Sungkahrach Suk Kaiturn moved to Thonburi, then the new capital of Thailand and was appointed as the abbot of Wat Tahoy.
King Rama I, also born during the period of King Boromkote in B.E.2279 established Bangkok as the new capital of Thailand in B.E.2325 (A.D.1782). He invited Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn to take up residence at Wat Rachsittaram or known as Wat Plub.
In B.E.2363 (A.D.1820), he was appointed as the fourth Supreme Patriach of Thailand (then known as Siam). He became resident at Wat Mahathat for around one year before he passed away at the age of 90 in meditation posture in his simple and quiet meditation room. He had predicted the day he would pass away and held the kind benevolent smile just like the Buddhist light during his passing away.
Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn was respected as an important living witness to Thai history as he was the only Supreme Patriarch to have seen during his lifetime, the Burmese destruction of Ayuthaya city and three different Thai Dynasties namely Ayuthaya, Thon Buri and Ratanakosin.
Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn was highly respected for his sacred power and many people having experienced his miracles became his faithful devotees. Popular legend says that this great monk could even call wild hens and cocks from the forests into the temple through his sacred spells. So it was that he became known as Kaiturn which literally meant “wild hens and cocks".
The Birth of Somdej Orahang Amulets
It was also recorded that during his stay at Wat Rachsittaram (Wat Plub), Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn dedicated his life to develop the temple. He was highly respected for his devotion by many Kings of the Ratanakosin Dynasty including King Rama I, II, III, and IV. In particularly King Rama II, III and IV who often visited his temple to listen to his teachings and Lord Buddha's Dharma.
Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn spread Buddhism for seventy years and there is no clear record as to when he started to make amulets or how many he had made. Because of his fame and sacred power, many devotees then asked him to create a series of sacred amulets and in B.E.2360 (A.D.1817) according to some documented record, the first series of Somdej Orahang amulets were created and known as “Phim Kesplaewplerng”.
These amulets were created during his residence at Wat Plub. After the first series he was asked continuously to create more amulets which he did and were generally distributed free to both the poor and the general public.
It wasn’t until the time that he was appointed as the Supreme Patriach and relocated to Wat Mahathat, he actually retained many of his Somdej Orahang amulets in the temple’s Chedis. Based on some historical account, the amulets are 22 years older than the famous Somdej Wat Rakang amulets.
Materials Used In The Making of Somdej Orahang
According to Buddhist records, there are several materials used in the making of Somdej Orahang. Below are 9 of the most common ingredients used;
1. Flower Stems
2. Bees' Honey
3. Sugar Cane
5. Tung Oil
6. Mussel Shells
8. Scripture Powders
9. Dried rice grains, etc.
The above ingredients seem to have some similarities used by Somdej Toh in making the famous Somdej Wat Rakang. As mentioned earlier, Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn was Somdej Toh’s teacher.
Note: For the benefit of knowledge seeking, we have managed to source from the internet a well documented picture of an old Somdej Orahang amulet.
In total there are known to be 5 phims of the sacred Somdej Orahang amulets. Namely they are Phim Sungkati, Phim Tankoo, Phim Kesplaewplerng, Phim Toh Kung, and Phim Lek.
The most important feature of Somdej Orahang is the reverse side containing the word “Orahang” that was hand written by Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn. Some later batches were stamped with the word “Orahang’. The collection values are the same for the amulets that are hand written and those which are stamped.
1. Phim Sungkati The amulet sized is 2cm x 3.5cm and the Buddha image sits on a three-level base. On the reverse of the amulet is engraved with the word “Orahang”. These amulets were then divided into two further groups namely Phim Siarnto (or big-head Buddha image) and Phim Siarnlek (or small-head Buddha image). The most distinguished aspect of the phim is the piece of monk rope which is called Sungkati beautifully detailed in the amulet. The amulets were made of Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn’s white sacred powders.
2. Phim Tankoo The amulet sized is 2cm x 3.5cm and the Buddha image sits on a three-level base. The most distinguished aspect of this phim is the two laps of the Buddha image which are slightly wider than those of Pim Sungkati.
3. Phim Kesplaewplerng The size of this amulet is 2cm x 3.5cm and the Buddha image also sits on a three-level base, but without the word “Orahang” on the reverse. The most distinguished aspect of this mould is the topknot of the Buddha, which appears like a burning fire flame. This phim is called “Kesplaewplerng” as this literally translated into “Burning-flame hairs”. The materials used were white sacred powder.
4. Phim Toh Kung The size of this amulet is 2cm x 3.5cm and the Buddha image sits on a three-level base and the word “Orahang” was embossed (not carved) on the reverse. The most distinguished aspect of this phim is the colour of the amulet which is quite red in appearance due to the fact that they were made from red sacred powder ground from various kinds of auspicious Thai plants. Hence, the use of red sacred powder is opposed to the mainly white powder in other phims.
5. Phim Lek This amulet is only 2.3cm high and the Buddha image sits on a three-level base and the word “Orahang” was carved on the reverse. The most distinguished aspect of this mould is the size which is clearly smaller than the other 4 phims. Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn’s white sacred powder is used in Phim Lek.
For comparison purpose, a later made Somdej Orahang B.E.2551 (see picture) is featured here to assist in the analysis. The size of this new amulet is 2cm x 3.5cm similar in actual size to the ancient Somdej Orahang pendants. Please notice the bundle of hair in this new batch has the descriptions of Phim Kesplaewplerng or "Burning-flame hairs". At the reverse side is the sacred word "Orahang" which is Somdej Phra Sungkharach Suk Kaiturn's trademark for all his amulet creations from the past and handed down to today's generation.
We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to showcase this new but yet historical amulet. The purpose for making this new Somdej Orahang batch is for renovating Wat Mahathat's buildings and structures inside its temple compound. In addition, the year B.E.2551 is in conjunction with His Majesty King Bhumiphol's 80th Birthday that was celebrated throughout the Thai Kingdom. Therefore, we felt that this batch of amulet is indeed made with good cause and is worthy for collection.
In addition, each individual piece in this batch will have a single line marking just above the middle tier. This very fine line mark can only be seen under a magnifying glass. For hobbyist who have collected this batch should be able to take a closer look into this line marking.
Below is another fine example of an old personal collection Somdej Orahang tablet for comparison to the above B.E.2551 tablet. In this older piece the word "Orahang" was not embossed into the tablet unlike the one above but instead hand-carved.
The Discovery of Ancient Somdej Orahang
To this present day, some of the early Somdej Orahang age is about 160-190 years old. Three Phims were discovered at Wat Mahathat. There are Phim Tankoo, Phim Sungkati and Phim Lek. Some of the amulets were also covered with gold leaf and the word “Orahang” on the back was slightly larger than that of the amulets found at the Kru (Chedi) in Wat Sroi Tong.
Only three Phims are discovered at Wat Sroi Tong namely Phim Tankoo, Phim Sungkati and Phim Toh Kung. Though some people believed that all amulets found at this temple were made by Somdej Phra Sungkhrach Suk Kaiturn, it was revealed by a senior monk of the temple here that they were actually created by Luang Por Kui, whom was the close follower of the patriarch.
Interestingly it was also recorded that the Phim Toh Kung amulets were actually created by a Chinese millionaire, who is devoted to the amulets. The Chinese believe that red is the color of prosperity therefore they had chosen the red sacred powder to create this amulet.
There are also many accounts of good experiences and miracles associated with Somdej Orahang amulets. Actual photos of the Ubosot where the amulet for rent counter are shown below.
Somdej Orahang B.E.2551 in original temple box casing.
Below are a few more fine examples of Phra Somdej made from Wat Mahathat. Wat Mahathat also produces some high quality Phra Rod just to share with many of us who doesn't know.
Phra Somdej Phim Sendai in white powder B.E.2551 with official Wat Mahathat enblem at the rear.
Phra Somdej Pim Tansaem in white powder B.E.2551 with official Wat Mahathat enblem at the rear.