Ajarn and his “golden babies”

June 4, 2006

Ajarn and his "golden babies", originally uploaded by curious_shutterbug.

Business is booming for the country’s foremost spiritual doctor, reports Tom Brecelic from Thailand.

An occult practitioner, whose torso is covered in tattoos and whose neck is draped with a mass of amulets, runs a sharp ivory-handled knife over the head of a Singaporean woman who claims to be suffering from a case of black magic.

“Awk pai!” (Get out!), incants the geomancer, as he runs the blade over his patient’s head again, attempting to goad the evil spirit out. Then he spits holy water over her prostrate body, spraying her until she is drenched.

The woman comes out of her trance. “I feel a bit disorientated but I definitely feel better,” says Ise Joseph, 34. This visit is the antique dealer’s third trip to Thailand for treatment from Nickom Traivate (Ajarn Kom), the country’s foremost occult practitioner.

First impressions are what we often run with, and Kom looks like a poster-boy for the Thai occult. He’s based in Suphan Buri, 100-kilometers north of Bangkok, where he exorcises ghosts or poltergeists – known in Thai as “kup pee” (literally driving out the spirit), just one of many arcane skills that this medium has on his occult resume.

Thanks to all the mudslinging surrounding the alleged use of black magic in the ranks of the Thai Rak Thai party, Kom says business is booming. “There’s been a revival for our services since the elections,” he says.

“The number of politicians coming to see me since Thaksin was first elected has gone up 30 percent. Their biggest concern is that their rivals have cast destructive spells on them. I give them an antidote spell, but will never stoop to concocting evil spells.” For a fee of just 49 baht a consultation, anyone can seek his supernatural assistance.

This professor of Thai occult started training when he was nine years old. He has studied under various lay teachers – known as Asom practitioners – who are guided by the teachings of the Lord Buddha and enlightened monks. Kom says it wasn’t until he was 27 that his masters allowed him to practice.

A shrine on one side of the temple is dedicated to Russi, a legendary Thai hermit who is generally considered to have introduced the practice to the Kingdom over seven centuries ago. Russi is even designated his own Thai character. Kom meditates here every morning, paying his respects and allegiance to Russi.

“His spirit enters me, offering me insights on ancient wisdom,” says Kom. “He wants me to share his knowledge with those who need help.”

According to his patient, Ise Joseph, Ajarn Kom’s name is well-known among groups in Singapore who seek alternative treatment for ailments that modern medicine can’t diagnose. “I’ve had a curse on me for the last month,” she says. “And my doctor said there was nothing wrong with me, that I was imagining I was sick. And then I come here and discover I’m suffering from a curse.”

Kom says her treatment is nearly complete. But first she must have a holy bath (known as ab nam mon in Thai). This bath should extinguish any “evil spirit residue” left over from the treatments.

She is now reclined against a large glazed pot. Kom stands behind her, scooping up holy water from a plastic container and pouring it over her.

His heavy-duty prayer – used to exorcise the spirit – coupled with the continual drenching seems to be working its magic. And when his patient passes out, Kom’s assistant holds her steady, while he finishes off this intriguing rite.

He tells me later that Joseph’s fainting indicates that the evil spirit planted inside her by a sorcerer had made a hasty retreat back to its maker.

Kom gives her a diagnosis: “You are suffering from rapuh, black magic from East Java.” He says some of the symptoms of this sorcery include sudden blindness or deafness, paralysis or uncontrollable shaking and trembling.

Kom says that his treatments differ from those found in other countries in Southeast Asia. He says that in Indonesia, a sorcerer would rub his own excrement on the victim to purge the evil spirits. “Here we mostly rely on holy water and Buddhist prayers.” Well, that might begin to explain Kom’s popularity.

He hands Joseph ten bottles of holy water. “Drink a bottle a day, and pray at your local temple.”

In another part of the main temple where Kom works his magic, a group of teenagers flick through a folder, looking at tattoo designs while the resident tattooist gouges away at a virgin back with a one-foot needle that he uses to make sak yans, magically inscribed tattoos.

When the boy’s tattoo is finished, he places a flower and a 100 baht note on a tray, and exposes his bloody back to Kom, who prays and renders it an active shield against dark forces.

“Sua pen, the tiger, and dum doo, the fighting Hanuman soldier, are quite popular,” explains Pisit Imsamran, a professional amulet dealer and follower of Kom for the past 10 years. “We have monks coming from all over Thailand to get tattoos because his style is distinct and very powerful.”

Kom’s distinct ‘magically inscribed’ tattoos are especially popular.

By late afternoon, a bevy of superstars is waiting outside. “They come here on Mondays,” explains Kom, “the most auspicious day for love charms.”

Kom is applying a gold leaf on the tongue of a glamorous star who is receiving a long nah charm, which he explains is supposed to induce sweet serenading words from her lips that will make the opposite sex love-struck.

Five minutes later, she is left empowered. And I’m left wondering, why would someone who is the personification of feminine beauty want to resort to this? She explains, “It never hurts for your producers to like you more than the other stars. You don’t think Tata Young got famous just because of her looks!”

Not only has Kom carved a niche for himself in the supernatural market for sak yans, charms and exorcisms, he also sells mail-order amulets, palad kids (phallus amulets) and kumon tongs “golden babies.”

Flicking through Burapha, a trade magazine on mediums and clairvoyants, the 45-year-old occultist says he has taken out a full-page in the mag to advertise his exotic wares.

“My specialty is kumon tongs,” explains Kom, who has a wife and two children. “One of our temples here is dedicated to the kumon tong.

“These particular clients will offer gifts to their deceased child, such as clothing and toys, and leave them at my shrine.”

The legend of the golden baby dates back to Sunthorn Phu’s classic 19th-century story Khun Chang, Khun Phaen, which describes how a baby’s spirit could be harnessed through mummification of stillborn babies.

Many of Kom’s golden baby clients are women who have had miscarriages, he explains.

Today he has 10 plastic babies lined up in front of his shrine, which he has will bless the next day, a Tuesday, which is an auspicious day for capturing the client’s deceased child in the doll.

These kumon tongs come in black or gold, says Kom, adding that he moves 100 golden babies a month through mail order. And at 1,500 baht a baby, that’s a tidy profit.

As for how he captures the child’s spirit, it’s a trade secret that he’s not prepared to share.

My Thai wife is nagging me to get my star signs read while I’m here. I begrudgingly agree, awaiting the worst prognostication: “Live life to the fullest, because you only have two weeks.”

Alas, it was a lot worse than even that. He backdates my birth date to the day I was born, referencing a yearly almanac.

After scribbling down numbers frantically, he says, deadpan: “You will be poor all your life. Money is not a friend of yours, according to your horoscope. Gum [karma] from your past life is hindering your progress.”

“But how can I change this?” I plead. He smiles wanly and hands me a form. It’s called sadok kraow – a “re-birth prescription,” of sorts. When I hand it back to him, he fills in the blanks, explaining that I must go to a temple one day a week, for the next three weeks. “The first week,” he says, “make an offering of two live frogs, a bird and a fish. Release the frog and fish into the river, and let the bird fly away.” Kom says this is a symbolic release of all the bad karma that has residually been building up over many life times.

In the following two weeks, he continues, “you must make tum boon [merit] asking jow gum nai wai [the Prince of Karma] to be reborn again.” This, he says, should clean the karma slate that’s built up over past lives like the plaque and nicotine stains on my teeth.

Before I leave, I ask Kom for a tip on next week’s lottery, in a bid to get my new life on a fast track to opulence.

He obliges, and says cryptically, while handing me a piece of paper with the magic numbers, “All it takes is a leap of faith. And then anything is possible!”

It has been three weeks since I’ve taken that “leap of faith”, and now the re-birth prescription seems to be kicking in, hopefully facilitating a bloated bank account and smooth-sailing in the near future.

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