Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Nation: Deconstructing Jatukam Ramathep

The facts behind the Jatukam Ramathep talisman nonsense

In the past month or so, several articles have appeared in the Thai and English media concerning the phenomenal popularity of a magical talisman, promising instant wealth to those who wear one.

Michael Wright

Special to The Nation

The talisman features a divine being called Jatukam Ramathep, unknown in Buddhist or Hindu sacred literature. He seems to be the invention of a confused imagination, and most intelligent commentators condemn this new cult as indicating a corruption of both Buddhist morality and Thai animistic spirituality.

In order to understand the problem, we need to get the god's name right:

Jatukam Ramathep is the Thai pronunciation of the Pali Catugamaramadeva, meaning God Rama of the Four Villages. This is near nonsense as no ancient literature, Buddhist or Hindu, connects Rama to "Four Villages". Thus the name seems to have been created out of thin air.

However, the talisman is connected in the popular imagination to the Great Stupa of Nakhon Si Thammarat. According to respectable tradition preserved in an ancient document (see Wyatt, DK, "The Crystal Sands: The Chronicles of Nagara Sri Dharmmaraja", Cornell) the relics enshrined in the Great Stupa there came from Sri Lanka and the stupa was established with the assistance of traders from Sri Lanka, where Buddhism has always been protected by Hindu gods.


I thought this was an excellent deconstruction of Jatukam Ramathep, considering the limited space he had to explain everything.

All religions are not really religions but cults. This Jatukam craze is not inconsistent with the history of other cults in Thailand and Southeast Asia. For example, at Angkhor Wat in Cambodia or the Grand Palace in Thailand, one can see the combination of different Hindu and Buddhist cults mixed together to form a unique cult that served whoever was in power at the time.

A lot of the hocus pocus that Thais believe in has no basis in reality; a lot of it originates from ancient myths, legends and mixtures of Hinduism, Buddhism, and local spirit cults. When it comes to Thai history, most it is made up, just like the movie "King Naresuan," which really isn't based on anything that was true. Rather, it was a projection of what the director wants to be true. And since most Thais and foreigners don't know anything about Thai history, they just take the director's word that it is true. And I think Michael Wright in this column is trying to make the same point about Jatukam Ramathep. Distort, market and sell, oh my. Distort, market and sell, oh my.

Read Simulacra and Simulations by Jean Baudrillaurd and you'll get the picture.

Before Matty yells at me for being anti-Thai, the truth is that all religions are built on shaky foundations. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are nothing but ancient Middle Eastern cults that have taken bits and pieces of other cults and religions from other parts of the planet over thousands of years.


Charles Edward Frith said...

Religion may well hugely flawed but if there's a need to fish up a digitally well thumbed Baudrillard on Simulacra I'd suggest reading a compelling piece by the formidable Terry Eagleton of The London Review of Books.

Fonzi said...

Interesting you brought Dawkins up. I was skimming through "The Selfish Gene" tonight for another project I am working on.

Fonzi said...

OK, Charles, just read the Eagleton review, so why did you bring that up?

I don't get how that relates to the Jatukam Ramathep cult.

Anonymous said...

I liked Michael Wright's article and how I could I disagree with his conclusion?

Thailand do not have a monopoly on fools Fonzi. But I am afraid I am not familiar who Dawkins is. Not another anti-Thai monarchy book I hope you will be promoting here Fonzi.

Anonymous said...

Fonzi since you are into this 'deconstructing' addiction of yours, as a favour, can you do a 'deconstructing' of Thaksin's Manchester City bid for me? (What I want to know is why does Thaksin bother with this deal at all?)

I am almost surprised you let this one go . . . considering how Nation News appear to be overly obsessed on this matter.

Anonymous said...

But I believe by first week of June-07 these fools of generals will be on a deconstruction mode all their own. They've put themselves into this moronic bind pursuing the dissolution of two major political parties or not by end of May-07.

Forgive the language but I can't help myself: IDIOTS!

Whatever the decision of the courts, those generals will just be facing protests from all and any quarters. Serve them right.

Now if only the new constitution would make it clear that only the political parties themselves can dissolve themselves, not the courts and certainly not the generals . . .

Unknown said...

It is true that most religions are built on shaky historical ground but that ignores the layers of symbolism and Mysticism that become attached to them like a patina to fine antiques. The Mysticisim of Christiaintiy for example is high and very beautiful, as is that of Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and others. A religion does not have to be historically accurate to be valuable, indeed, as the Bishop of Durham famously (and correctly) noted, 'if the historical person Jesus was shown never to have existed at all, it need make no difference to the value of Christianity at all" (paraphrased).

On the other hand, we all know that Thais are fetishists and will be drawn like moths to a flame by the very latest trend and fashion. Thus it is with the Ramathep craze. It doesnt actually matter if the Ramathep thing is historically well-founded if the amulets actually do the job. From an occultists standpoint they will not do the job Magically, though they may well do the job sometimes (or in the perception of the wearer) by virtue of their placebo effect value and the ability that many people have to convince themselves that events in their lives are affected by little bits of ceramic. All it is , is another illustration of the That vulnerability and lack of confidence in themselves.

Magic and Mysticism do have their power. But the Ramathep amulets aren't either. It is possible to feel if something is Magically charged - I have seen a Ramathep amulet, and it was just a dead thing with a bit of design on it, all encased in a shiny glittery thing that most Thais would love for its trinket value. But it wasnt Magical or Mystical. To be honest it 'felt' dirty, sullied and not very nice.

All of this aside though, I see no harm in this little piece of stupidity. If a Thai feels better, or stronger or more worthwhile, or even more invincible because he has a half a pound of plastic on a chain around his neck then good luck to him. Most of them have precious little else of any worth.


Charles Edward Frith said...

Ground for the cult of Jesus Fonzi. Good grounds too :)

Fonzi said...

1. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. He wrote such famous books, such as "A God Delusion" and "The Selfish Gene."

Check Wikipedia.

2. As for Thaksin, yes, The Nation is in Thaksin obsession mode and it is annoying. But I don't have anything to say about it

The exciting thing for me is when Thaksin and the Man City fans/management start having sparks over Thaksin's "style."

3. I am a little shocked by your outburst at the junta.

The thing that doesn't shock me so much is their incompetence when it comes to politics, which really isn't their business, but in the way they have handled security in the country( and I not talking about political security from the phantom Thaksin forces). I'm talking about the upsurge in terrorism.

What do you think about that Matty?

Anonymous said...

Now that you suggested it Fonzi, maybe we will have to ask if any of those many shiny medals hanging prominently on Thailand generals are exactly for what? Are there medals for ineptitude Fonzi?

Panlop is back isn't he? So I'll be guessing that Thailand's khaki gangs who could NOT shoot straight, but would keep on shooting nevertheless, will be back at the South for their shooting contests. Shooting contests with those Islamist militants that is, who could not shoot straight either. Both military and Islamists shooters seem to hit everything except each other and that is the saddest part.

Will the situation ever get better at the South? I guess we Thais should look at the Philippines and reaize that military bungling at the South, would bring the bombings right at our Bangkok doorsteps sooner rather than later.

Damn ineptitude!

Fonzi said...

>>Now that you suggested it Fonzi, maybe we will have to ask if any of those many shiny medals hanging prominently on Thailand generals are exactly for what? Are there medals for ineptitude Fonzi?<<

Agree. I have to wonder if they had trained to do their actual jobs instead of training to rob us, maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess.

Maybe the top of next government's agenda should be military reform.

anon said...

Fonzi, I can't help but think of you as a Bangkok version of Spider Jerusalem, the furious gonzo journalist in the fabulous 90's comic Transmetropolitan. Especially the scene where he trashes an entire convention of new age religions.

fall said...

Military reform? Yeah, right. Touch the military again and there would be another coup before you can finish saying the word "military secret slush fund".

But this Jatukam thingy do seem to point that many people mix Hinduism with Buddhism. No law in prevent a form of new religion/cult, yes? But would a current call for Buddhism as state religion cause Jatukam to be outlaw?

Unknown said...

I dint think the Ramatghep thing has any significance, it is just a new fetish. The most revealing and important thing about it is that it illustrates the juvenile mentality of the Thai male. Superstitious, immature and slightly tawdry.

Why is it that most Thais I have seen with these monstrous baubles around their necks are men? Is it a macho thing?


meraiwa said...

In my opinion, I think Michael Wright is right because his hypothesis is believable. For example, “This is near nonsense as no ancient literature. Buddhist or Hindu, connects Rama to “Four Villages” Thus the name seems to have been created out of thin air” In addition, Jatukarm Ramathep was existed for a long time. However, it just become to be popular recently like a trend. Jatukarm Ramathep does not make people rich because it is just a talisman. Now Jatukarm Ramathep is very expensive because there are many versions and many sizes for collection but it is just a talisman

In conclusion, I believe that Jatukarm Ramathep is nonsense just like Michael Wright said. It just like a trend and believe.

What do you think about Jatukarm Ramathep?

meraiwa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.