Revered Thai monk flogs sarcastic fortune cookies, June 16, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- One of Thailand's most revered Buddhist monks has branched out into the fortune cookie trade to mock the "Jatukham fever" currently seizing the nation, news reports said Saturday.

Monk Payom Kalayano, abbot of the Suan Kaew Temple and a crusader against superstitious beliefs, on Friday launched a line of "Jatukham" cookies, modelled after the Jatukham amulet that has made a fortune for other Buddhist monks and temples nationwide.

Payom Kalayano's cookies promise to make the buyer "super rich" by following the four steps to wealth prescribed by the Lord Buddha - diligence, thriftiness, associating with moral people and leading a life of simplicity, reported the Bangkok Post newspaper.

The fortune cookies, four to a pack, sell for a modest 60 baht (1.70 dollars).

The monk said he was inspired to produce the cookies to mock the frenzied trade in Jatukham talismans, which are expected to gross 20 billion baht (571 million dollars) in sales this year.

Jatukham fever started last year when the Mahathat Woramahawiharn Buddhist temple in Nakorn Si Thammarat, 550 kilometres south of Bangkok, began to attract thousands of visitors a day to buy Jatukham Rammathep talismans, named after two princes of the Krung Srivijaya Kingdom in southern Thailand (757-1257).

The special amulets, which were first produced in 1987, have seen a surge in popularity after the death at age 110 of well-known policeman Phantharak Rajjadej, who helped create the 50 centimetre amulet. Original models of the amulet that sold for 100 baht (2.80 dollars) now fetch up to 600,000 (17,143 dollars).

Sales of the amulets, which are anointed by Buddhist monks at Mahathat Woramahawiharnj temple, have sparked such a frenzy that a 51-year-old woman was trampled to death on April 9 in the crush to get reservation coupons for the talismans.

Other Buddhist temples nationwide are now producing their own Jatukham amulets to cash in on the craze, but the Suan Kaew temple is the first to offer Jatukham fortune cookies.

Buddhism does not officially support the use and trade in lucky amulets, which are more in keeping with Brahmanical beliefs than Buddhism, but Thai temples and monks have been actively involved in the multi-million dollar industry for decades.