JATUKARM ... WHAT GOES UP...Buddha amulets are slowly recovering from a slump with talisman prices dropping as market mechanisms shift in favour of buyers
Story By SURASAK TUMCHAROEN
Once expensive and in high demand, some versions of Jatukarm talismans are now being sold for only five baht each in the Tha Prachan area, where there is a popular amulet market.
Small-time dealers in traditional Buddha amulets are slowly pulling out of a serious slump in their trade brought on by the craze for Jatukarm talismans.
According to news reports, a decline in the popularity of Jatukarm talismans has arrived a few months sooner than predicted by some gurus in the amulet-trading business.
Last week, a mass-circulation Thai-language newspaper ran a front-page report that some Jatukarm models were being dumped onto the market at only 5 baht apiece, but still there were very few buyers.
This did not come as a big surprise, though. In less than two years since the Jatukarm craze gripped the nation, more than 1,000 models of the talisman have been created, with each production numbering from 10,000 to 100,000 pieces - or even more for some models. Roughly, at least 50 million pieces have been produced to date, resulting in a huge glut on the market.
The smell of fat profit has lured people from virtually every sector of society to join the rush to produce Jatukarm talismans to meet the demand of worshippers. The cost per piece, based on raw materials alone, is only a few satang if it is made of clay. A major portion of the production cost is usually for marketing, including advertising in various media outlets.
Collectors select Buddha amulets at Pantip department store's amulet market on Ngarm Wongwan road. The popularity of Buddha amulets has never declined despite the Jatukarm craze of recent years.
Generally, there are two main reasons behind the decision by Buddhists to buy amulets - they have faith in the sacredness of those amulets, or they value them as works of art.
In the case of Jatukarm, however, it's obvious that price speculation was what drove many people to join the mad rush for the talismans. The IPO (initial public offering) price of each model normally ranges from 200-1,000 baht a piece, depending on the raw materials used in the production. But at the height of the Jatukarm craze, the prices of popular models could earn profits for speculators several times more than what they actually paid in IPO prices. The prices also varied according to the age and authenticity of the talismans and also the reputation of their producers.
But now the high demand for Jatukarm is over, many models of the talisman have become worthless.
Today, many dealers at major amulet markets including those in the Ngarm Wongwan, Thon Buri and Tha Phrachan areas, believe the popularity of Jatukarm talismans is waning and the traditional amulets are making a comeback.
Charnchai Ladya, a small-time amulet dealer in Thon Buri, said he was struggling to offload his stock of Jatukarm talismans at bargain prices.
The dealer said he could not help jumping on the Jatukarm bandwagon. It turned out to be a mistake that cost him several thousands of baht as he ended up with more talismans than he could sell.
Another dealer, Thirachai Kiatprasithichai, said he had bought just a few Jatukarm talismans for sale to his regular customers who promised to continue buying old-fashioned, yet more expensive, amulets from him. He added he believed that trading in traditional amulets would prove a more promising business in the long term.
Mr Thirachai, who has been in the amulet trade for some 20 years, predicted that the Jatukarm fad would not last beyond next year. Jatukarm prices were going down as the market mechanism was gradually shifting in favour of buyers, he said.
According to Phayap Khamphan, head of the Amulet Dealers Association of Thailand, the Jatukarm craze has had no serious effect on the trade in traditional amulets. Many dealers still prefer to wait until they get good prices, instead of trying to close a deal in a hurry. And no loss occurs as long as the amulets which they may have purchased at high prices remain untraded for at lower prices.
Mr Phayap also said the fact is that the modern Jatukarm and traditional talismans do share the same markets. Though Jatukarm buyers may have outnumbered those who would only buy traditional amulets, most of them are still the same people who show up at the same amulet markets almost daily. Many who wear one or more Jatukarm talismans around their necks also wear other talismans at the same time.
Considered to be very rare are the highly priced century-old Benjaphakhee amulets, to which the 20-year-old Jatukarm talismans cannot be compared either in terms of prices or reputation.
Moreover, the real difference between Jatukarm and traditional talismans lies in the fact that the traditional ones are made in the image of the Lord Buddha or one of the many revered monks in Thailand, while the Jatukarm bears the image of a deity. This means the Jatukarm could not be put in the same class as the traditional talismans.
The prices of highly-coveted traditional amulets range from a few million baht to as high as 20 million baht each, and the market is always controlled by the sellers, never the buyers.
One of the Benjaphakhee amulets is called Somdej Wat Rakhang, created by Somdej Phutthacharn To of Wat Rakhang in Thon Buri about 150 years ago. The selling price of a genuine Somdej amulet currently starts from 10 million baht.
The other Benjaphakhee amulets are Soom Kor from Kamphaeng Phet, Nang Phaya from Phitsanulok, Phong Suphan from Suphan Buri and Phra Rod from Lamphun.