Thai temple makes lucky charms of infants' ashes

Reuters, Sept 4, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Thai Buddhist temple has been reprimanded by religious authorities for selling amulets containing the ashes of cremated infants to raise money for a plot of land and a crematorium, an official said on Tuesday.

<< The Jatukham Rammathep amulet

The bodies of 28 foetuses or infants who died of natural causes were cremated legally at the temple's ageing incinerator, they said, as Thailand's craze for Jatukam Ramathep amulets promising wealth showed no signs of easing.

"It is not illegal, but it is inappropriate," an official of the local office of Buddhism told Reuters.

"The chief provincial monk has submitted a formal reprimand letter to the temple's abbot," said the official, who declined to be identified.

The Thawee Kara Anant temple in a northern Bangkok suburb was taking advantage of a craze for the amulets that promise to make their owners "super rich" or "rich without reason" sweeping across predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

In July, it made 140,000 disc-shaped amulets about the size of a coffee-cup lid from a variety of herbs and human ashes and had sold most of them, a monk at the temple said.

The idea of mixing the human ashes into the "Multiple Rich" amulets came after neighbours told the abbot they saw spirits of dead infants buried in the temple graveyard in their dreams asking to be freed, monk Lertsak Thitayano told Reuters.

"The abbot wanted to set them free so he decided to cremate them and make merit for them by mixing their ashes into the amulets to empower them in helping the people," he said.

To gain maximum "power", the Jatukam Ramathep amulets, named after two Hindu gods, have to be prayed over by monks for days.

A top-of-the-range gold-leaf edition from a well-respected temple costs 10,000 baht ($300) or more -- more than a month's wages for many Thais.

Some monks have come out swinging against the frenzy, saying it has turned the Buddhist priesthood into an "amulet-blessing industry" despite the religion's shunning of earthly possessions and materialism.

The nation of 65 million people, most of whom remain deeply superstitious despite the rapid modernisation of places such as Bangkok, has spent more than 20 billion baht on the amulets this year, newspapers say.