Seen Above: A small statue of Phra Chai Ayutthaya in Phon Na Kao District, Sakon Nakhon
One of the most “magical” of all Buddha images in Thailand is the figure of Phra Chai (พระชัย). You rarely, however, will see a statue of Phra Chai at Thai temples. The figure most often appears as an amulet, a small figurine, or engraved on a coin.
This is because Phra Chai was originally created as a protective amulet to be carried by Siamese soldiers during war. It has been a talisman of Thai kings, at least since the era of King Naresuan the Great, who ruled the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1590 – 1605.
Some believe that King Naresuan was the first to create the “Phra Chai” figure of the Buddha, doing so to help protect his warriors and himself during the war with the Burmese. It is thus sometimes called Phra Chai Ayutthaya (พระชัยอยุธยา).
The Thai term “Phra Chai” means the Buddha of Victory. Over the centuries, people have worn or carried it to overcome all obstacles, achieve victory over any adversary, and ultimately defeat evil and attain enlightenment.
However, one shouldn’t think that “Phra Chai” can help you achieve victory without any work on your part. The Thai monks who make sacred amulets in Thailand view them as powerful reminders of “how to work and fight” so as to achieve victory. That being the 8 fold path of right Understanding, Thought, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration.
At the Thai temple Wat Phutthamok Phalaram (วัดพุทธโมกพลาราม) in Sakon Nakhon, there is a white pavilion with a small statue of Phra Chai. Beside the “Buddha of Victory” is a plaque adorned with the impression of a monk’s hands and feet (likely those of Luang Pho Noon Suwichayo). Between the feet is scrawled the caption:
Walk without stopping until you reach your destination. (เดินไม่หยุด ถึงจุดที่หมาย).
This is an admonition to never quit, no matter how hard the battle, remembering that you are not alone in your quest. That Phra Chai is with you, helping you on toward victory.
Phra Chai should not be confused with a similar looking figure named Phra Ngang (พระงั่ง), who sometimes appears as a figurine or amulet. Phra Ngang has red eyes and tilted hat. Legend has it that the eyes are red because during the Ayutthaya-Burmese war they were found on the bodies of dead soldiers whose blood turned the amulets’ eyes red.
Phra Ngang is considered to be of Khmer origin, and not actually an image of the Buddha, but of a mountain deity or spirit. Phra Ngang amulets in Thailand are often considered “black magic,” and are popular among members of the Thai mafia (aka “influential” figures).
Note also that Phra Ngang is not the same as the Isan figure named Phra E-Ngang (พระอีหง่าง), which is a male or female Khmer talisman with red eyes and exposed sexual organs. Legend has it that these magical amulets can make another person fall in love with you. But before testing if that actually works, keep in mind that “ngang” (ง่าง) is also an Isaan curse word for stupidity!