Phra Jaktukam Ramathep: A Frenzy throughout Asia

The frenzy for Thai Buddhist statues and amulets is an established Thai culture for more than a century. Mystical manifestations and effects arising therefrom have aid in the spreading of this unique Thai culture beyond national border. Unlike religions based on conversion or coercion, Thai Buddhism spreads, grows, and expands based on two primary factors vis-à-vis the wisdom and truth handed down by Lord Buddha as reflected in the Dharma; and the mystical manifestations and effects of sacred objects.

Both westerner and Asian alike, have, since the last four decades or even earlier, came into contact with this unique Thai culture. A large number has embraced and became part of it which contributed to both its growth and frenzy. It is not unusual for an amulet which costs as little as 99 Baht fetching millions in the future. The Thai amulet industry has all along been estimated to be around 20-30 billion Baht per annum. However, this culture has perpetuated and grew quietly until the Phra Jaktukam fever broke and spread like wild fire across the continent in 2007 and caught even the attention of western press like BBC and Reuters. Hitherto, Phra Jatukam statues and amulets remain in high demand in many countries including Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Who is Phra Jaktukam Ramathep?

When it comes to the origin of Phra Jaktukam Ramathep, readers will not be kept short of amusement by numerous write-outs in both the English and Chinese languages where fiction and non-fiction are lumped together to produce loads of interesting stories to entertain, amuse or simply to mislead unsuspecting readers whatever the reasons may be. Owing to the fact that the origin of Phra Jaktukam Ramathep is necessarily related to Wat Mahathat Woramahawihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat, it becomes essential for us to provide our readers with a brief but authentic history of the southern province based on the information gathered from the Fine Arts Department of Thailand before we enter into the crux of this article so as to allow our readers to distinguish between facts and falsehood.

Brief History of Nakhon Si Thammarat

Nakhon Si Thammarat is a province in southern Thailand, approximately 780 kilometers away from the capital. It houses the largest populations in the South but is second to Surat Thani in terms of area. Adjacent provinces include Songkhla, Phatthalung, Trang, Krabi and Surat Thani.

Archaeological evidence discovered and housed in both Wat Mahathat Woramahawihan’s museum and Nakhon Si Thammarat National Museum reflect a long period of history right up-to Rattanakosin Period. The archaeological evidences for the Srivijaya Period were especially abundant. However, amongst the bulk of archaeological evidences which established the presence of Hinduism, the strong influences of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu on the local culture and a 1000-1400 year-old Siva Lingam was even unearthed at Wat Nang Tra in the Sala district in 2006; pottery and the presence of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism traceable to the Chinese Tang Dynasty were also unearthed. However, there was, nonetheless, no evidence to substantiate the existence of two Siamese princes Jaktukam and Ramathep who were used to cook up fascinating and enthralling stories in relation to the origin of Phra Jaktukam Ramathep.

Photographs extracted from Bangkok Post

Ascertaining the Truth

Remember in our earlier article “Kumanthong: Dispelling Superstition and Falsehood” we emphasised that Thai Buddhism is not a religion based on blind faith. On the contrary, Thai Buddhism pivots on cultivation of wisdom to first identify and reject falsehood on the way to finding the truth. So now allow me to juice things up a little for you here by invoking your critical and analytical processes.

Firstly, do you know who the first Siamese King was? Do not worry, this is not an examination. If you had not studied the history of Thailand, or if you are not familiar with it, you can do a quick Google search. Identification of the first Siamese King will allow us to ascertain the year whereby the Siamese empire was first established. Once that is done, we will then be in the position to authenticate the claim of the two Siamese princes Jaktukam and Ramathep who were said to have lived in the Buddhist year 800 that is year 543.

I am sure you would have gotten the answer. Yes, the first Siamese King was the son of Chinese emigrant named Tae Sin or Zheng Xin. Taksin the Great or Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Maharat of Thongburi who united the territories forming the Kingdom of Siam in 1767, which is Buddhist year 1310. Even if we were to entertain the claim that the Ayudhayans were referred to by their neighbours as Siamese, at most that will bring the first occurrence of the word “Siam” or “Siamese” 417 years earlier to the start of the Ayuthaya period in 1351. If we are to take the second source, that will make Somdej Phra Chao U-thong ( 1350-1369 ) as the first Siamese King, however, his son was Ramesuan and not Jaktukam or Ramathep.

Okay, even that being so we are still not too rash to dismiss the claim as yet. So we are going to make an alternative test. Those rumours also claimed that the two Siamese princes built Wat Phra Mahathat Worammahawihan and housed the Buddha relics they were protecting, right? So what then are we going to do? Yes, we are going to established when Wat Phra Mahathat Worammahawihan was actually built. Oops! Not in the 6th century or anywhere near but, according to UNSECO ‘s record, it was built in the 13th century by King Sri Dhammasokraja.

Alas! What are we to say? That we uncovered another truth and dispelled yet another superstition? No, it is nothing near that great. We merely share some useful historical information with our readers in earnest that they will develop some “punna” in the course hereof. Actually, only if readers were to be more critical in reading these stories, it is not difficult to identify the fallacy contained therein. Similarly, suggestions that Phra Jaktukam Ramathep refers to four guardians of the city, or King Chandra Banu or Lord Sri Srinagarang, also known as “Black King of the South Sea” and second to the Srivijaya Throne or Avalokiteshvara Bodisattva or anything along this line of propagation based solely on false notions has to be unreservedly dismissed as fake news.

The Connection between Sacred Objects and Believers

Probably some believers may perceive that the origin of Phra Jaktukam Ramathep is not important in as long as His amulets and/or statues are effective. However, in order for any sacred objects to be effective, there must be a means connecting the believers to the sacred objects and that connection point is “faith”. Faith is not blind and cannot be blind as is frequently seen. Faith in Thai Buddhism far transcend the primary prerequisite of mere believe and necessitate a clear description connecting past, present, and future. The same theory applies to the faith connecting believers and sacred objects. Believers need to know the origin (past) of the sacred object, its ability to intervene in a situation (present), and bringing about a desired outcome (future). This is a simple logic which involves complex interactions between variables. For easy understanding, let us put it this way, when seeking intervention, we need to identify the correct source and make sure that what we seek is within the means of that said source to intervene. Just imagine, what happens when those who seek to have children make their requests through the Yama (閻羅王)instead of the Goddess of Birth (註生娘娘)? Therefore, knowing the origin of sacred objects is necessary for it to be effective.

Actual Meaning and Correct Belief

Jaktu “จตุ”simply means a city square used for community gathering which Wat Phra Mahathat Worammahawihan was and is. It has remained hitherto a Thai tradition and culture that Thai Buddhist temples are places for community gatherings and bonding. There are currently approximately 40, 717 Thai temples, excluding shrines and Buddhist centres which do not fall within the strict definitions of Thai temples that, for qualification, requires a ubosoth. With the number of Thai temples serving the Thai community, there is invariably a boundary with which each temple operates. The boundary refers to above is called “คาม” in Thai. Therefore, Jaktukam “จตุคาม” means a defined city square whereby community gatherings and activities are being carried out.

Now that we already know the literal meaning of Jaktukam, let us move on to the meaning of Ramathep “รามเทพ”. Rama “รามเ” is the seventh avatar of Hindu God Lord Vishnu. Remember in our earlier article on “The Origin of Phra Prom (Four Face Buddha)” we mentioned three principal Hindu deities comprising Phra Trimurti? Yes, Lord Vishnu is amongst one of those three Supreme Hindu Gods. The final term would be “thep” (เทพ) which simply means Deity.

Therefore, what do we have here? We can safely conclude that Phra Jaktukam Ramathep is neither about two legendary Siamese princes or Avalokiteshvara Bodisattva and King Chandra Banu rather Phra Jaktukam Ramathep, in actual fact means, the Deity Lord Vishnu who guards the Phra Borommathat Chedi which houses the tooth relic of Lord Buddha within the defined boundary of Wat Phra Mahathat Worammahawihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat province.

It is common for people to choose to remember a shorter description of almost everything for convenient purposes and, in this instance, it is no different. Phra Jaktukam Ramathep is now commonly referred to as Phra Jaktukam or just Jaktukam. It is believed that Phra Jaktukam Ramathep protects believers by warding away all evils and He also brings wealth to those who sincerely believe in Him. Since we have helped you identify Phra Jaktukam Ramathep as Lord Vishnu, as a result thereof, we will not be joining the crowd to just plug information from the thin air when we come to describe His abilities. In our upcoming article “Phra Jaktukam Ramathep: Lord Vishnu” we are going to cross reference each of the afore-stated abilities of Phra Jaktukam Ramathep with Lord Vishnu’s capabilities to help our readers make senses out of their belief. So stay tuned and keep a look-out.