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Article Date : 19 September 2012
Article Author : Chris Jones

Bhikkhu and Rishī (Thai Reussi )

 

There existed an opulent fabric of religious diversity that had formerly been woven between the ancient ruling houses of Lopburi, Nakhon Ratchasima, Srivijaya, Pan Pan, Grahi, Sathing Phra, Phatthalung, Pattani, Nakhon Sri Thammarat and others. Stretching across a near one thousand-year period beginning as early as the 5th century CE, a broad range of Brāhmanical and Buddhist schools flourished in the independent kingdoms and principalities that once comprised the Central Plains of Thailand and the southern Isthmus of Kra.

Numerous forms of Indian religions had thrived there. Brāhmanic, Mahāyānic, Tantrayānic, Vajrayanic and the Pure Land Amitabha and Avalokitesvara sects flourished side by side throughout the overlapping states.

Before the thirteenth-century arrival of Sinhalese Buddhism, a great variety of religious traditions flourished in Thailand.


Independent figures such as shamans, sādhus, yogins and rishīs (Thai, Reussi) roamed about as free as the breeze and practiced now-vanished forms of ascetic technology.

These holy men were often skilled healers too, and commanded high respect from sectarian leaders.

They dwelt in a spirit of mutual appreciation with no one heritage having authority over another. The fifth-century Hindu kingdom of Sathing Phra (present day Songkhla) is an interesting little-known case in point. This extremely ancient city is one of the earliest and most fascinating kingdoms on record. It was a purely Hindu society and an important port from the 5th to the 8th centuries. A Hīnayāna Buddhist school prospered there in the 7th and 8th centuries. During the late 9th to the early 11th centuries, Mahāyāna Buddhism from Nalanda and Java took root and flowered.

Khmer-influenced sculptures of Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya dating from the 7th to 9th century were found further in Lopburi (an old Mon capital) and in villages around Nakhon Ratchasima and Buriram in the region known today as northeastern Thailand.

Essentially Phra Reussi are Indian hermits who are credited as founders and patron saints of various professions such as doctors, religious tattooists, white magic practitioners, herbalists and many others. There are a total of 108 scared hermits that are recognized by name and many others who are not. More often than not the Reussi is generically represented as an old man wearing a conical head dress and tiger skin robes.

In Indian mythology, Phra Reussi received worldly knowledge from the Gods and taught this to mankind. Thus Phra Reussi are known as Masters of knowledge and are frequently worshipped by students and others in academic and professional pursuits such as Doctors, Lawyers, Politicians and Teachers.

As Phra Reussi are also credited to be founders of the Thai magical arts, they feature prominently on the alters of magical practitioners in Thailand and are invoked in rituals.

In the Thai language a hermit is called a Reussi, (lersi) and in Khmer a rosei from Sanskrit rishī, that is, a forest dwelling visionary. As a matter of fact, in the oldest surviving Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha himself is referred to as the "Rishī" in the Pali form Isi.


In general Reussi are known as 'Ascetics' and are characterised by refraining from worldly pleasures. Those who practice this lifestyle hope to achieve greater spirituality. Essentially they believe that the action of purifying the body helps to purify the soul, and thus obtain a greater connection with the divine.

By carrying the image of Phra Reussi it is believed that you will be protected from black magic and evil spirits.

 

This  stone-hewn bas-relief of two brāhman sādhus (ascetics) joyfully worshipping the Hindu god Shiva bears testament to early Thailand's affinity with the religious culture of India.

The two bearded sādhus wear only loincloths. Their hair is tied in a topknot. They sit on the ground in a casual manner and lean back against a low decorative pillar.

Each of them holds in their two joined hands a chilum, or ritual clay pipe, as they perform the quintessential Vedic rite of honoring Shiva with sacramental smoke offering.

 The pipes are filled with the herbal offering typically consisting of cannabis-derived substances.