It took some searching but we found the old house and Mrs. Phayom who not only taught us about the tradition of Buddhist votive tablets, she let us make one for ourselves.
Buddhist votive tablets are a tradition that dates back about 800 years. Made of clay, most are small (about 1cmx2cm) and carry an image and sometimes an inscription. The image is often Buddha but can also be a revered monk, a king or a lucky animal. They are seen as a symbol of Buddhist faith and believed to be auspicious items. Many are left at temples, shrines and at the base of Buddha images as part of an offering. Unlike other offerings, votive tablets can also be given to family and friends as mementos. They are seen as a symbol of love and well wishes. Some are very valuable, based on craftsmanship, inscription and age. Many Thais wear one (or more) in a small glass or plastic case as a pendant around their neck. Worn around their neck, the tablets are a symbol not only of Buddhist faith but also wealth and status. A tablet encased in a gold box betrays its value as well as the wealth of the wearer.
A tray of small inexpensive tablets that would be used for offerings.
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Once you've prepared your mold, you press the clay in, make it smooth and even and remove any excess. Then you use another small piece of clay to pull the tablet out of the mold. Ms. Phayom gave us a demonstration.
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Lots of positive reinforcement for a job well done!
I've often seen Buddhist votive tablets for sale at markets so it was really fun and interesting to learn about the process and meaning. Some markets are known for selling tablets and you'll find rows and rows of tablets and very serious Thais examining with jewelers magnifying glass the more valuable pieces.