Who is Jatukham Rammathep?
In light of last week's extraordinary scramble for coupons to buy a fervently desired amulet - which saw a woman crushed in a stampede at a temple in the South - many are asking just what is Jatukham Rammathep? And why does it produce such hysteria?
There are many legends about the origins of Jatukham Rammathep, the name used to identify a certain kind of amulet, but it is generally agreed that it goes way back in the mists of time, long before the northern kingdoms emerged.
Perhaps the most credible account is provided by late crime-buster Phantharak Rajjadej, who helped to create the famous amulets, as described in an almanac authored by Seawrite Award winner Jamlong Fangchollajit, a native of Nakhon Si Thammarat, where the history of it is set.
Jatukham Rammathep is two people, not one. The names 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 his father who 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.
Some legends say Jatukham Rammathep was another royal person living in a different era altogether, while others suggest it was a name given to King Jantharaphanu himself.
But all legends - under the influence of Mahayana Buddhism which was widely observed during the period - commonly believe that whatever king or royal person the name belongs to, the right holder of the name is an Avalokitesvara, a future Buddha after numerous rebirths committed to intense self-dedication and intense sacrifice.
Long after their deaths, the two princes continue to be idealised by succeeding generations of residents of Nakhon Si Thammarat and today are remembered by their preferred names of Jatukham and Rammathep as guardian angels.
The Jatukham Rammathep amulets were first produced in 1987 as part of the establishment of the province's Holy Pillar Shrine. The circular amulet, with a 5cm diameter, was priced at Bt39.
Today, the amulets sell for between Bt200 and Bt500 for the basic item, and as much as Bt1,000 for amulets produced in a limited edition. The prices can soar sharply by up to 10 times when their popularity peaks after just a few months. For example, the "Arch-Millionaire" series now trades at around Bt10,000 compared to about Bt150 when it was released in May last year.
The reported highest price ever paid for a single amulet is Bt1.2 million - by a mine owner to the original owner of a 1987 charm. An unconfirmed report earlier this year said the owner of a local lingerie store in the province sold a number of the amulets for Bt3.2 million to a buyer based in the United States.
There are more than 150 series of Jatukham Rammathep amulets planned for this year alone. Productions must be approved by the Pillar Shrine committee and the amulets are required to undergo Buddhist and Brahman blessing ceremonies held at the Holy Pillar Shrine or Mahathat Woramaha-wiharn temple in the province.