Life-like doll craze grips Thailand

Thai Buddhism is often entwined with superstitious beliefs. Source: Pixabay

Thailand, despite nodding in the direction of modernisation, remains highly superstitious with its Buddhist beliefs often coexisting with animism, astrology, ghost stories and black magic.

It is being rocked by an obsession for pampering glamorous dolls known as “luuk thep” or child angels.

The dolls, which look like rubber children, are thought to bring benevolent spirits to possess them and good luck, wealth and protection from harm for the owners.

Police recently arrested three doll vendors for tax avoidance and seized more than 100 dolls.

The child angels can cost between 1,500 baht (US$40) and 30,000 baht (US$837).

Celebrities started the craze by dressing the dolls in elaborate clothing, feeding them and carrying them around like real children, claiming the dolls had brought professional success.

The dolls might be a sign of anxiety while Thailand’s economy struggles.

Phra Winai Thidtapanyo, 64, a Buddhist monk at Bua Khwan Temple, Nonthaburi, says he has blessed more than 30,000 dolls since last year.

“Before I make the auspicious markings, I ask them what is troubling them that caused them to do this. After I preach to them and they understand my preachings, I think OK, I will do it as moral support. Since then, people have constantly been coming to me.”

“The economy is bad right now. Everybody needs something to hold on to,” said Mananya Boonmee, 49, a doll owner and seller.

Mananya said her doll, called “Nong Petch” or Baby Jewel, had helped her win the lottery by telling her the winning numbers in a dream.

Panpimon Wipulakorn, deputy director-general of the Department of Mental Health, said the economic downturn sparked the craze.

“There have always been groups in Thai society that hold such beliefs and economic worries only help to heighten these beliefs,” Panpimon said. “These people do not have mental health problems.”

After the 2006 coup, many people turned to plasticine amulets or charms in the belief they would bring wealth.

“My life has changed a lot, for the better,” said beauty salon owner Natsuda Jantabtim, 45.

She has had her doll “Nong Ruay Jung” or Baby So Rich, for eight months.

“When I hug her, I know it’s love. I tell her I love her all the time,” she explained.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said the dolls were often beyond people’s means.

“I’ve never raised a child angel doll,” he quipped.

Thai Smile, a subsidiary of Thai Airways, said it would charge passengers who wish to bring dolls on board and serve them snacks.

But the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said it would stop airlines selling tickets to dolls over concern they could be used to smuggle drugs.