Angel dolls bring joy to sad people

PHOTO: The Nation

The worship of a "child angel doll" made into a spiritual icon might look incredulous to rational people, but such behaviour can always inspire those with a good sense for creative business.

In a country like Thailand, where so much can be considered sacred, except law, people are willing to pay respects to anything they believe will bring them "good things" or even just "good feelings".

Buddhism teaches people not to worship anything - but instead counsels people to exercise their intellect to consider the nature of life and release their minds from suffering. Nevertheless, Buddhists in Thailand seem ready to worship everything that is against the Lord Buddha's teaching.

They build a Buddha image for the entire country to worship. Individuals have amulets and many similar objects consecrated by famous Buddhist monks to worship at home and to carry around for luck and self-protection.

Sacred objects are common in Thailand's Theravada Buddhism sect. They are included under Buddhism as they are recognised by many religious personnel, monks included. In recent memory, we have had "Look Krok" and "Kumarn Thong" - icons made of the body of a baby boy who died before or during delivery. In another society, a wizard might function to "spiritualise" such items as sacred objects, but in Thailand it is Buddhist monks who learn black magic to give them the breath of life.

The now-famous child angel doll, better known locally as "Tukkata Look Thep", is no different. Made of resin and polymer, the child doll appears as a boy or girl, and possessors believe it can bring them good luck and fortune.

Anthropologists and psychologists might scientifically explain that people need this so-called sacred object whenever they feel hopeless and desperate in times of economic downturn and political setback. Two coups in less than a decade and the ongoing economic slowdown have left Thai people with little that is bright in the future for their own lives and the country.

Perhaps the angel-doll worshippers want to have something similar to Kumarn Thong, but it is illegal these days to use a baby's corpse for such a purpose - and it could not be carried openly in public.

Furthermore, angel-doll holders are mostly urban middle class and relatively well-educated women of middle age. They are looking for something neat, nice, modern and more importantly sacred. The angel doll is their best solution.

A woman said on local media that initially she had a doll just simply for joy - like having a toy or a pet. But she found good fortune with it, winning the lottery many times after getting the doll, and she believed there was an angel inside it. The story fanned like wildfire.

That's the beginning of a real business. Doll manufacturers - with the corroboration of Buddhist temples and monks - started pushing the resin dolls last year and processing "spiritualisation", inviting angels to inhabit the dolls. The dolls are priced from Bt1,000 (S$40) and up - to many tens of thousands of baht.

Some worshippers might take an abandoned baby doll to the temples to "spiritualise" and get its breath of life. But perhaps it's not fashionable enough since the doll's body would likely be too old for the angel to live in. So buying a new one is better.

Angels cannot be treated worse than the human beings they live with and to whom they help bring good luck. Spiritual dolls also need food, dresses, accommodation and transportation. Many people are now doing good business with the angel dolls: restaurants, airlines, bus services, beauty salons, nursery-care services, gift shops, music teachers and language schools all offer their services to the angel and its holders.

The government has also mulled a plan to use low-price rubber to produce angel dolls to help raise local consumption and lift rubber prices.

Exporters could explore market opportunities in foreign countries where the angels also might like to live. If the demand is high and sustainable, the angels could help restore the sluggish economy, for sure.