Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thunder of good fortune


Booming sales of Jatukham amulets is helping fuel the Thai economy, which otherwise would be at a standstill, say believers.

AT 4am, thunder roused a 40-something Thai businesswoman from sleep. As the sky thundered four times, Sujira Khovitoongij became frightened because when she looked out from her Bangkok apartment there was no rain or lightning.

She calmed down after realising that “Jatukham Rammathep had spoken” to her.

“At first I was very scared, but then I remembered that my business partner told me when there was such thunder it meant Jatukham was giving his blessing to my business venture,” relates Sujira of her experience that June 9 morning.

She and her business partners were to launch a store selling the Jatukham Rammathep amulet later that day.

They are among thousands of Thais cashing in on the Jatukham craze in Thailand that began last year. “In this business, these is no risk, only high returns. (On launch day), your company can make 60 million baht (RM6.3mil). I'm not exaggerating,” she declares.

She was not exaggerating. The Kasikorn Research Centre, a leading Bangkok-based economic think tank, estimates that since late last year Jatukham fever has generated more than 20 billion baht (RM2.1bil).

Jatukham, which is commonly worn in a plastic case around the neck, is so popular that recently a woman was trampled to death in a scramble to buy the amulet.

To explain the Jatukham phenomenon, Sujira narrates her own experience. When she enquired about a vacant store in the Nation Tower in Bangkok, she was told that it was booked. So she prayed to Jatukham.

And when she called the building management again, she was informed the store was available, as the person who booked it had cancelled his booking. “Jatukham performs miracles for those who ask his blessing,” she explains.

Sujira also relates a story about a Thai actor who was involved in a car accident. “He should have died, but he survived because he was wearing the Jatukham amulet,” she says.

Thais are also buying the amulet as a collector's item. “It is not only sacred, but its designs are also artistic,” she explains, adding that she planned to purchase amulets made of gold for her two young sons for them to use as dowry in the future.

When asked why Thailand is in turmoil although Thais believe in Jatukham, Sujira responded: “The sales of amulets is helping the economy. If there was no Jatukham business, our economy would be at a standstill.”

According to a report in The Nation, there are many legends regarding Jatukham Rammathep. The most credible account is that Jatukham Rammathep are “the aliases” of brother princes Inthara Sairen and Inthara Khao Kheo, sons of King Jantharaphanu, who ruled the Sri Thammasoke realm, the capital of the Krung Srivijaya Kingdom (757-1257) in southern Thailand, after their father founded it.

“The Sri Thammasoke realm began to degenerate as a result of their father’s absence of 20 years during which he expanded his dominion to as far as eastern India. The brothers founded a new capital at Chang Khom Sirithammarat (present-day Nakhon Si Thammarat), and renamed the realm Srivijaya Suvarnabhumi,” The Nation reported.

“(Even) long after their deaths, the two princes continued to be idolised by succeeding generations, and today are remembered by their preferred names of Jatukham and Rammathep.”

In 1987, Jatukham amulets priced at 39 baht (RM4.10), were created in Nakhon Si Thammarat to raise funds to build a Holy Pillar Shrine.

Today, the price has skyrocketed. For example, Sujira's company, Maharajmaharuay, sells amulets at between 199 baht or RM21 (for those made of clay) and 134,000 baht or RM14,100 (gold).

For the record, the most expensive Jatukham was one of the first ever minted, in 1987, which was sold for 1.2 million baht (RM126,000).

In a few months, Maharajmaharuay will export Jatukham amulets to Malaysia. “Apart from Thailand, Malaysia is a big market for Thai amulets as Malaysians, especially Buddhists, believe in them,” notes Sujira.

On the day Sujira launches her product in Malaysia, she hopes to be awakened by drum rolls of thunder.

(Published in The Star on June 30, 2007 and The Brunei Times on July 3, 2007)