Thai unalom symbol

James Clark jjc at
Tue Jul 1 22:10:45 CDT 2014

One of the most pervasive religious symbols in traditional Thailand culture
is the "unalom" (อุณาโลม).  I was wondering whether it might be appropriate
to encode this in Unicode.

Visually, it looks like KHOMUT U+0E58, rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise,
and then reflected about its vertical axis (so that the spiral is
right-handed rather than left-handed).  However, the semantics are
unrelated.  KHOMUT marks the end of a chapter or document, whereas unalom
is a religious, auspicious symbol.

More specifically, unalom represents the tuft of white hair curling from a
mole between the eyebrows of the Buddha [1], and thus symbolises
enlightenment. It is related to the concept of a third eye. The word
อุณาโลม is a compound of อุณา, derived from the Sanskrit word urna, and
Pali word unna, which literally mean wool but are also used to refer to
auspicious marks on the forehead of the Buddha.

The unalom is widespread in Thailand. For example, the Thai Red Cross
Society was originally founded as the Red Unalom Society, and its logo was
a red Unalom combined with a cross. It forms the main component of the seal
of Rama I (founder of the current Thai Royal dynasty). It is even part of
the logo for the Royal Thai Army. The unalom used in Thai Buddhist culture
in similar ways to how a cross is used in Western Christian culture.

The Royal Institute Thai Dictionary (the authoritative dictionary for the
Thai language) has an entry for unalom showing the symbol:

One issue is whether this ought to be encoded in the Thai block or as a
non-script specific symbol. The concept of an auspicious mark on the
forehead of the Buddha is common feature of Buddhist art and culture.
However, the exact form of the mark varies: sometimes is a circular dot and
sometimes a spiral.  The Thai form of the unalom is also found in other
South-East Asian countries bordering Thailand (Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia).
 My inclination would be to include it in the Thai block, on the basis that
it needs to harmonize typographically with U+0E58, and that Khmer has its
own separate version of khomut (U+17DA).  Devanagari om U+0950 is a
precedent for encoding a religious symbol in a script block. In fact, some
scholars consider the unalom or urna to be representation of the om sound
[1]. Since it is not a character (in the sense of being part of the Thai
writing system), the name should probably be "THAI UNALOM".


[1] Buddhist Sculpture of Northern Thailand, Carol Stratton
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