Thai amulets are famous throughout the world. Many Thais make a living selling amulets at the small markets in Bangkok and inside popular temples where private amulet sellers are sometimes allowed to sell their amulets. Temples have amulets made by monks on the premises, or order them from Bangkok artisans. Thai amulet styles are virtually unlimited and it would be safe to say there are many thousands of styles available.
Thailand is full of amulets of all sorts, shapes, sizes, and for many purposes. Thai amulets are generally worn for purposes of protection, good health, long-life, business prosperity, and gaining favor among people and gods.
The main figures used in Thai amulets are:
Ganesha (Ganesh) – the Hindu elephant God of obstacles. Ganesh is said to place and remove obstacles that help the person develop spiritually. Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Hindu people pray to Ganesha before they do anything – so that there will be no obstacles in their path.
Quan Yin (Gwan Yin, Kwan Yin) – Goddess of compassion.
Luang Por Tuad – a famous Thai monk that was renowned for having mystical powers. He turned saltwater to drinking water by making a circle in the sea with his foot for instance.
Pra U Pah Kut – famous for providing protection from natural disasters.
Luang Por Klai – brings businesses good luck, or, financial prosperity
Nong Kwak – Buddha is seated and with right hand is waving – in Thai a wave vertically means to come here… in this case, the Buddha is calling customers in – and so this is a business prosperity amulet.
Pra Bit Tar – closed eyes monk. Usually seated in lotus or half-lotus meditative position with his hands over his eyes.
Luang Por Jumnien – Thailand’s good luck monk in the south.
The Jatukum craze of a few years ago has died down and many Jatukum amulets were being dumped into streams in heaps as worthless junk because temples made thousands of them and they couldn’t sell them. The problem with the Jatukum craze was that many temples jumped in and made their own amulets – buying the heavy metal presses and paying craftsmen to create dies that would shape the clay into the various Jatukum amulets. The market flooded fast and within 3 years the craze was over. Temples still have these amulets on display but many Thais either refuse to wear Jatukam amulets, or prefer others.
There are all sorts of Thai amulets available and I’ll cover some here:
Jatukum – Jatukam
Circular clay Thai amulets about 1cm thick, and 10 cm in diameter – though there are smaller and larger ones. Though Jatukam amulets are made primarily of clay they mix other substances with the clay to effect various powers and strength: hair, skin, ashes from a cremation, different colored soil, plants, jewels, glass, plastic beads, skull fragments, bone, and teeth fragments from humans and animals, and various metals including gold, silver, brass, copper, tin, bronze, and pewter.
Clay Thai amulets come in many different shapes, including: rectangle, triangle, circular, human shape (pra bit tar type), tigers, birds, and thousands of other shapes impossible to describe. Some clay amulets are a thousand years old or more – even having been made after Buddha was enlightened 2552 years ago. Like Jatukam amulets, clay amulets can contain many kinds of materials for good luck, good health, long-life, protection and business prosperity.
These Thai amulets are usually die-cast and solid. Materials are usually: brass, iron, bronze, copper, tin, pewter, lead?, silver, and probably other metals I’m not aware of.
A monk riding a turtle. A monkey holding a giant phallus. Men and women locked in an embrace. Famous monks. Buddha meditating. There are thousands of different kinds of 3-D figurine amulets for sale at temples around Thailand. Usually these Thai figurine amulets are made of brass, bronze, or pewter. These amulets are generally cheaper than the Thai amulets one can wear on a necklace.
Many times you’ll see plastic figures, clay figures, and other material figures that are coated with 18K or even 24K gold.
Thai Amulet Cases
Protection of Thai amulets is important because some of them cost a lot of money and, in the case of clay amulets, are easily damaged. There are plastic cases and plastic cases with metal framing – usually silver or gold plated. Note, if there are solid gold cases in Thailand I’ve never seen one – and most people believe the gold colored cases they find are solid gold. Realistically they couldn’t be for two reasons…
1. 18K and 24K gold is not strong enough to form a very thin case. Gold is like lead, worse actually, and is weak and picks up dings and nicks easily. Solid 14K gold would work but, it’s not very brilliant gold and Thais much prefer the brilliance of the higher gold count finishes.
2. A solid gold Thai amulet case would be too expensive for most Thais to afford. Gold is at around $1000 per ounce at the moment – a bit high!
There are solid silver cases that are strong and not that expensive. The case here can be bought for about $25 dollars. It’s solid silver and has a nice pattern.
Most amulet cases for the clay amulets have plastic windows and are made of shiny stainless steel. These are about a dollar. They work well enough and is what most Thai men use to protect their clay amulets.
Thai men have necklaces with multiple clay amulets hanging from them, five or sometimes more. The chain is heavy metal and the amulets big and clunky. They wear them mostly for protection from evil spirits, bad health, and danger.
They firmly believe in the power of the amulets and sometimes people that make only a few thousand Thai baht per month spend thousands of baht on the amulets in their necklace. This is not reserved to Thais, as I’ve met people from Hong Kong and Malaysia wearing these multiple amulet necklaces too. I’ve not seen Thai women wearing more than one amulet at a time.
When you’re looking at Thai amulets how do you know if you’re looking at an original or a fake?
What is a fake Thai amulet and what is an original amulet?
If you search “Thai amulets” on eBay you’re going to find a lot of amulets. Some are more than $100 USD and are purporting to be “genuine”. What does that mean in the case of amulets from Thailand?
Are the amulets genuinely from Thailand? That much might be true. That might be as far as the truth goes with these amulets.
There are old and new amulets. With new amulets they are generally made in Bangkok by businesses that specialize in making beautiful gold plated amulets that visitors and Thais alike love to wear. New amulets generally have a gold plated case and are shiny, flashy, and would go well with high-fashion clothes or whatever you’re wearing.
Older amulets get very expensive the older they get. There are amulets from hundreds of years ago that go for a couple thousand dollars. There are originals that fetch millions. Original amulets from hundreds of years ago will definitely be a few hundred dollars minimum.
If the original Thai amulet was very popular then temples – monks at temples have created copies of this original and they make only a certain number of them – to increase the value of each. There may be 500 copies made, or 5,000. If there are only 500 copies made then each amulet might be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Besides being “authentic” copies made by monks there are also copies made by anyone with some clay and thumbs that decides to create one to sell. Literally. Since the very old amulets are made of clay or Lek Lai material and because over time they’ve been worn down in detail and resemble nothing more than the general outline of the Buddha meditating (see Somdej amulets), a child could make a reasonable representation of this style of amulet.
How do you know if you are buying a good copy or a fake?
In short, you don’t. The only way you might be able to tell is if you are in Thailand at a well-known temple and they are selling them directly. Even then, I’d venture to say you are not 100% guaranteed the amulets are genuine. They should be, but, who is to say?
It’s risky business buying very expensive amulets online. It’s impossible to know what you are getting, or even if you’ll get anything at all for a few thousand or hundred dollars. There are many Thai amulet scams going on online with the older amulets. Why? Because someone could create a website for $100. Take some pictures of genuine amulets at a temple. Tell you they have them. Accept your credit card. Wait until they have transferred funds into their bank account, and then close the account – and send you nothing at all – or send you a fake amulet.
A Thai making 2-3,000 dollars per year with this scam is doing very well! It’s worth the risk and the risks are small.
Be careful about purchasing high dollar Thai amulets online – or in person. There is a very high probability that any old amulet you see online – is worthless. A VERY high probability. A recent review at EBay showed that 100% of the sellers were saying something completely false about their amulets. Usually the claim was that the case was solid gold. These amulets were selling for $30 or so. It’s just flat out impossible.
Be careful and get your Buddhist amulets from an authentic resource – ideally, at the Buddhist temple itself.