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Fun Facts About The Thai Ramakien

If you are a Thailand lover, you certainly know the Thai Ramakien which is the National Epic of Thailand. In short, the Ramakien is about Rama who spends 14 years in exile after being banished by his stepmother. There he lives with his consort Sita and his brother Lakshman. When Sita is abducted by the Demon King Ravana (Tosakanth) to Lanka, Rama and his brother rescue her with the help of the monkey warriors. Well, there are also some entertaining facts about the ‘Story of Rama’ which I like to bring to you here 🙂

Thai Ramakien Trivia

  • Did you know that the Ramayana was written by the Hindu sage Valmiki and that it implies that the epic possesses magic properties? Merely reading one verse of the Ramayana is supposed to guarantee a son to everyone previously lacking a male heir and it also implies that poor readers of the epic will become rich and that errant readers are purified.

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Scene from the Thai Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

  •  In the Rama Jataka, the Buddha is quoted as claiming he had been Rama in a previous life. The Rama Jataka is popular in Laos and some northeastern parts of Thailand where it is recited during ceremonies for the dead and crematations.

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Jpatokal, wikimedia.org)

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Jpatokal, wikimedia.org)

  • In the oldest version of Rama’s story which is probably the Dasaratha Jataka, Sita is featured as Rama’s sister.

Sita in captivity in Lanka being_tempted by Ravana. Chromoli Wellcome Library London, wikimedia.org

Sita in captivity in Lanka being tempted by Ravana. Chromoli Wellcome Library London, wikimedia.org

  •  According to an ancient Thai belief, the Ramakien has magic properties. Thus, anyone who is able to read the Story of Rama over seven days and seven nights could command from the heavens three days and three nights of rainfall.

A scene from the Ramakien

A scene from the Ramakien, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya Pakditawan)

  • The 16th century Chinese classic Hsi-yu-chi (Monkey) incorporated together with other material, Hanuman’s travels in pursuit of Sita. What is more, as early as 251 AD, a Jataka form of the Ramayana was rendered into Chinese.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana at the Hermitage of Bharadvaja. Page from a dispersed Ramayana_(Story of King Rama),ca._1780, wikimedia.org

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana at the Hermitage of Bharadvaja. Page from a dispersed Ramayana (Story of King Rama),ca. 1780, wikimedia.org

  • The Reamker which is the Cambodian version of the Ramayana takes about 50 hours to recite.

An episode from the Cambodian Reamker, Phnom Phen, photo. Jean-Pierre DalbĂŠra, wikimedia.org

An episode from the Cambodian Reamker, Phnom Phen, photo: Jean-Pierre DalbĂŠra, wikimedia.org

  • The Ramakien can be called an esoteric allegory of man’s spiritual quest (Rama) for Nirvana (Sita). In this way, it is also a purification of physical and intellectual faculties in which Tosakanth (Ravana) and his brothers are coarse passions and imperfections while the monkey warriors stand for virtues.

Chin as Khon character Tosakanth (photo credit: pinterest.com)

Thai-French Singer Chin Chinawut as Khon (Ramayana) character Tosakanth (photo credit: pinterest.com)

Did you know about this trivia? I think the most entertaining fact is that the Thai Ramakien is supposed to possesss magic properties. Hence, maybe we should try to recite the Story of Rama and see what kind of magic we can work 😉

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Ramakien, The Thai Ramayana. Naga Books Bangkok, 1993)




The Thai Ramakien-Thailand’s Folklore

The Thai Ramakien

The Thai Ramakien is the National Epic of Thailand. Literally translated it means “the Glory of Rama”. Thus, the Ramakien (in Thai: รามเกียรติ์, it may also be written as ‘Ramakian’) may be considered as depicting Thailand’s folklore. In addition, we can claim that the Ramakien is the most influential piece of Thai literature.

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Scene from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

In point of fact, the Ramakien is based on the Ramayana which is a Sanskrit epic poem said to be written by the Hindu sage Valmiki. The characters and the storyline of the Thai Ramakien are also based on the Ramayana. Hence, the Ramakien can be considered a mythical story in which both realistic and mystical events coincide. Summing up, we may say that the Ramakien is about Rama who fights against a demon that has abducted his wife.

Scenes from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew, Hanuman on the right side (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Scenes from the Ramakien depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew, Hanuman on the right side (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Most likely, the Ramayana was brought from India to the Khmer kingdoms which in turn spread the Ramayana tales to the Siamese Kingdom of Sukhothai. In the course of time, the Ramayana stories were written down in Siam for the first time. Nevertheless, most of the early editions of the Ramakien were lost when the Burmese conquered the former capital city Ayutthaya.

A scene from the Thai Ramakien, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo taken by myself)

A scene from the Thai Ramakien, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

The version of the Ramakien tale that endures today was edited and partially written by Rama I, the first King of the Chakri. In fact, in the Siamese Ramakien there are some changes to the original Sanskrit version of the Ramayana concerning the characters. In addition, the style and presentation became more specifically Thai. For instance, Hanuman, the monkey god, has an expanded role in the Ramakien in which he is depicted as a wanton and lascivious character. Rama I ordered and oversaw the building of he Grand Palace in Bangkok and thus also the construction of Wat Phra Kaew which has murals illustrating the Ramakien tale elaborately.

Another scene from the Ramakien with demon

Another scene from the Ramakien with demon, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

As a matter of fact, the Ramakien is depicted in many Thai temples (Wats), additionally to the Buddha’s life stories. As mentioned, the monkey god Hanuman, who is also the commander of Rama’s Army, plays an important role in the Ramakien and its depictions. Thus, you will often come across a white monkey dancing around on the murals of the temples you visit in Thailand 🙂

Hanuman the monkey god

Hanuman the monkey god, illustration at Wat Phra Kaew (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

The Ramakien also extends to and influences Thai art forms like theater and the visual arts. For example, Thai National Artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit painted pictures with scenes from the Ramakien.

Ramakien, Khon

Scene from the Ramakien, Khon, painting by Chakrabhand Posayakrit (photo credit: chakrabhand.org)

Thus, Rama I’s son, Rama II, adapted his father’s epic to be a play which is known as the Khon. This Thai dance drama was originally only performed at the royal court. Khon was played by men wearing masks and by narrators who told the Ramakien story. In addition, traditional Thai puppet theatre is also similar to Khon performances since it is also based on the Ramakien. It is also important to note that in particular Siam sterling nielloware and also traditional Yantra tattooing often depicts scenes from the Ramakien.

Khon dance drama*

A scene from the Khon dance drama (photo credit: Amazing Thailand, FB page)

However, today there are modern forms of Khon performances. For instance, in 2006 there was also a rock opera adaption of the Ramakien in Bangkok, called ‘Ramakien: A Rak Opera’. It was performed at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts. The band ‘Pru’ and singer Noi (Krissada Sukosol) as well as rapper and producer Joey Boy were also among the Thai pop music artists participating in this rock opera. Here are some impressions of this show.

Do you know the Thai Ramakien and have you seen its depictions on temple murals in Thailand? Do you also like Khon performances?

I’m deeply impressed by Thailand’s folklore and I really would like to see a Khon performance 🙂

Yours, Sirinya