The Myth of Mae Phosop: The Rice Goddess of Thailand

Worshipping goddesses like Mae Phosop (โพสพ), the rice goddess, has been a part of Thai culture and tradition since prehistoric times. Even though the role of female deities became subservient since the introduction of male-dominated faiths such as Hinduism, Brahmanism and the official religion Buddhism, the power of the matriarchal spirit has always played an important role in Thailand. She is also known as Mae Khwan Khao (แม่ขวัญข้าว), the ‘Mother of Rice Prosperity’.

The rice goddess of Thailand

 Thailand’s rice goddess. Note that the letters seen top right are Khmer script (photo credit: devata.org)

Thailand ’s rice goddess. Note that the letters seen on top right are Khmer script (photo credit: devata.org)

Mae Phosop is considered the spirit or soul of rice, that is the main staple of the Thai diet. Thus, it is a common belief that without rice, a person cannot sustain and live long. The myth and legend of the rice goddess says that she is badly mistreated by an old widow. Hence, she flees and finds shelter with a friend. This friend is a fish that leads the goddess into the deep forest where no human being can find and reach her.

A mae Phosop statue in Chiang Mai (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

A Mae Phosop statue in Chiang Mai (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

As a consequence, all human beings begin to suffer from the absence of Phosop and try all that is humanly possible to find her. Finally, the fish advises the goddess to return to the humans because the next Lord Buddha will soon come to the world. Thus, the blessing of the rice goddess is needed since the Buddha will not be able to fulfil his duty on earth without Mae Phosop. Hence, she comes back to the community of mankind to stay forever. However, before her return, the goddess asks human beings to promise her to treat her with respect forever after. In return she promises to bring abundant crops to mankind. Man keeps his word and so does Mae Phosop.

A Thai paddy field, abundant crops arevital (photo credit: Takeaway, wikimedia.org)

A Thai paddy field, abundant crops are vital for mankind (photo credit: Takeaway, wikimedia.org)

This story explains Thai fertility rites concerning the cultivation of rice. Thus, we may be justified in claiming that the relationship between humans and the ‘soul’ of rice is mutually dependent. Hence, there is also a saying that ‘The virtues of rice are 69, while the virtues of the Lord Buddha are only 59’. This proverb speaks for itself and what is more, it also seems to point out the conflict between animistic beliefs and Buddhism. In addition, it reveals an intrinsic connection and relationship between mankind and what sustains its source of life.

Thai Mae Phosop (photo credit: devata.org)

A depiction of the Thai Mae Phosop (photo credit: devata.org)

When the spirit of the rice goddess is invocated, the person who performs the rite will address the spirit with sweet, kind and respectful words. The invocation runs as follows:

‘Dear Spirit of Rice, Mother Phosi, Mother Phosop, Mother of the Nine Stars, Mother Chanthewi, Mother Si Dusada, come, please, come’

A painting of the Thai rice spirit (photo credit: devata.org)

A painting of the Thai rice spirit (photo credit: devata.org)

Mae Phosop is addressed by the title of mother (mae) who provides food for her children (i.e. mankind). Thus, people are her children and they treat her with respect as they would their natural mother. Here is a clip demonstrating how the spirit in invocated. By the way, according to Thai tradition, children are also taught to Wai, i.e. put their hands in the position of obeisance and respect, after finishing their meal.

Summing up, we may say that on the one hand, the myth of the rice goddess in Thailand shows how animistic and Buddhist belief were combined in the past. On the other hand, it also reveals mankind’s dependency on a good rice harvest. Hence, people feel grateful to the rice goddess and behave respectful towards her.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Siraporn Nathalang, Thai Folklore. Insights Into Thai Culture, Chulalongkorn University Press, 2000)




Media Review: Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture

Today’s media review is about Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith (text & photographs) and John C. Goss (photographs) (ISBN: 978-6167339375). The 2nd edition of this book was published in 2013 by River Books Co., Ltd. Bangkok, Thailand. Compared to the 1st edition from 2005, the 2nd edition has been expanded and fully updated comprising 209 new photos, 64 more pages and four extra chapters. The book is in English language, comprises 320 pages and 590 colour photos, hardcover. It costs 995 Bath, on Amazon the book is about 22 EUR.

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

'Very Thai', cover of the 2nd edition 2013

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, cover of the 2nd edition 2013

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith & John Goss (photographs) can be regarded as a very influential best-selling guide to Thai pop culture and street life. The 2nd edition has been revised to reflect the dramatic changes in Thailand.

The British author Philip Cornwel-Smith has been living in Bangkok since 1994. He is the founding editor of Bangkok’s first international-standard city listings magazine called ‘Bangkok Metro’. Furthermore, he has written for various international media concerning Thailand. A few examples of his works are guidebooks like ‘Eyewitness Thailand’, ‘Thailand: A Traveller’s Companion’, ‘Lonely Planet’s World Food: Thailand’ and ‘Time Out Bangkok’.

‘Very Thai’ can be described as a book reflecting modern Thai consciousness which may also be referred to as ‘Thainess’. In an amusing manner, the work gets to the bottom of what makes something ‘very Thai’. The books starts off with a a preface by Alex Kerr who is also the author of ‘Bangkok Found’. Next follows an introduction addressing the central question of what makes something ‘very Thai’ and explaining how the 2nd edition differs from the 1st one. In this context, the author points out that the new edition records how Thailand has changed since ‘Very Thai’ was launched a decade ago.

What could be more Thai than a farang in a Tuk-Tuk? (photo credit: Very Thai, FB page)

What could be more Thai than a farang in a Tuk-Tuk? (photo credit: Very Thai, FB page)

Hence, ‘Very Thai’ has five chapters which are divided into several sections. The chapters are about ‘Street’, ‘Personal’, ‘Ritual’, ‘Sanuk’ and ‘Thainess’.

The chapter ‘Street’ is concerned with streetlife in Thailand. Thus, it covers topics like street food ranging from drinks in bags to insect snacks. It also deals with common sights on Thai streets like different kinds of vendors, soi animals, blind musicians, tangled wires and trash recyclers. What is more, ‘Street’ is also about the different and sometimes funny and amusing means of transportation on Thai streets ranging from Tuk-tuks to floral truck bolts and colourful bus art.

Amusing way of Thai transportation (photo credit: wilkipedia.com)

Amusing way of Thai transportation (photo credit: Les Wilk, wilkipedia.com)

‘Personal’ reveals a lot about Thai mentality and lifestyle. For instance, this chapter addresses themes like male and female grooming habits, nicknames, high society (Hi So) and the delight in dressing alike in uniforms. What is more, there is also a section about the ‘Katoey, Gay & Tom-Dee’ community. However, it also addresses other topics like potted gardens, portable plants for luck and lifestyle, and the urban Thai dream in form of malls, theme parks and the suburb.

Bangkok as a World City & the urban Thai dream

Bangkok as a World City & the urban Thai dream (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66)

As the title of the chapter ‘Ritual’ suggests it is all about Thai traditional rituals and culture. For instance, the author explains the use and meaning of royal portraits in establishing the Thai sense of identity. He further explains that the days are colour coded in Thailand, and that lucky numbers dictate prices. The sections about ‘Amulet Collectors’, ‘Trade Talismans’, ‘Taxi Altars’, ‘Fortune Tellers’, ‘Ghosts Stories’ and ‘Mediums & Shamans’ are all concerned with superstition and animist beliefs in Thai culture. Thus, the author is also concerned with ‘Magical Tattoos’, which we know as Sak Yant, entrancing the wearer.

Tattooed Monk of Wat Bang Pra (photo credit sak-yant.com)

Tattooed monk of Wat Bang Pra (photo credit: sak-yant.com)

‘Sanuk’ (Fun) is very important in Thai culture. Thus, this chapter is about ‘sanuk’ activities like temple fairs, festivals, gambling and animal contests like cock fighting. In addition, there is also Muay Thai, different kinds of beauty contests, celebrities, comedy and soap operas that make Thai life fun. What is more, it also mentions the importance of Thai folk-blues (‘Songs for Life), Thai country music (luuk thung) and the Thai independence music scene which produces ‘Songs for Lifestyle’.

The final section ‘Thainess’ is the new chapter in this book. It is about ‘Vernacular Design’, ‘Contemporary Thainess’, the rise of ‘Thai Thai’ retro culture and an afterword concerning the ‘Role of Very Thai’ by Pracha Suveeranont who is an expert on visual culture.

In my view, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture is an amazing and amusing read providing profound insight into Thai mentality, pop culture and street life. Mixed with presenting some oddities in Thai culture and tradition, this guide is truly fun and cool to read 🙂 In fact, the book itself is cult! I can highly recommend it to everyone interested in modern Thai culture and Thainess in particular.

Yours, Sirinya




The Cult of Mae Nak

The story of Mae Nak is very popular and well-known in Thailand. Certainly, you remember the latest filming of this story: ‘Phi Mak Phra Khanong’ starring young actors Mario Maurer and Davika Hoorne. In fact, the gothic tale of Mae Nak has been filmed numerous times over the past decades and every one of the movies is a box-office hit. Thus, this story has also found its way into Thai popular culture.

Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine offerings, portraits of the spirit and dresses (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine offerings, portraits of the spirit and dresses (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

The Cult of Mae Nak

However, it is unknown whether Mae Nak really existed or if her story is only a myth. As a matter of fact, there is no conclusive historical evidence of her existence. What is more, there are also different versions of her tale. Nevertheless, the main story line runs as follows:

Davika Hoorne as Mae Nak in 'Phi Mak Phra Khanong' (photo credit: bk.asia-city.com)

Davika Hoorne as Mae Nak in ‘Phi Mak Phra Khanong’ (photo credit: bk.asia-city.com)

Shortly after Nak and Mak get married, Mak is conscripted for military service. Thus, he leaves his pregnant wife involuntarily behind. Nak waits for her husband’s return but one day she dies during labour along with her unborn child. They are buried immediately, however Nak’s spirit refuses to perish and let go. When Mak returns home from war, Nak disguises herself and her son as humans. However, Mak soon learns the truth and runs away. Hence, the ghost of Nak follows her husband and kills everyone who comes between them.

The shrine of the spirit, part facing the canal (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

The shrine of the spirit, part facing the canal (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

To get rid of the spirit, the villagers try to exorcise Nak. Her husband finally finds habour in the Mahabute temple and the venerated Somdej Phra Puttajan from Thonburi seizes the spirit by imprisoning it in a ceramic pot. Then he drops this pot into the river. In some versions, Nak’s skull is made into a belt buckle by the monk and passed into the possession of the Prince of Chumporn. As far as the fate of Mak is concerned, in some versions he becomes a monk whereas in others he starts a new family. In some stories, Mae Nak reappears as an enraged ghost.

At the shrine (photo credit: Ananda, wikimedia.org)

At the shrine (photo credit: Ananda, wikimedia.org)

Her burial place is supposed to be where the Mae Nak shrine is today. This is located at the edge of Wat Mahabute, Sukhumvit Soi 77 in Bangkok. Here the devotees pray to her statue, which faces a television that is kept on day and night. People bring her many offerings including colourful dresses, cosmetic products, sweets, flowers and toys for her child. Devotees turn to her because she is said to be benevolent at giving out winning lottery numbers. What is more, she is popular among young men who will attend a ‘lucky draw’, which is the so-called ‘red bean black bean’ draft. She is believed to detest the call-ups since her husband had to leave her to fight in the war.

However, pregnant women are advised to stay away from this place because Mae Nak is not a blessing concerning pregnancy. In addition, there are two old takian trees next to her shrine which are considered to be very powerful. Thai people relate ancient trees to spirits. The devotees scrub the trees believing that winning lottery numbers will be revealed by the spirit. In fact, Mae Nak is considered to have brought fortune to some individuals of the community.

Making merit, actress Mai Davika at the shrine (photo credit: Instagram @davikah)

Making merit, Mae Nak actress Mai Davika at the shrine (photo credit: Instagram @davikah)

Finally, I think that the cult of Mae Nak prevails because her story deals with an universal theme, namely that two beings are torn apart because they are different and come from opposing realms. Her story shows that it is impossible for humans and ghosts to live together. Accordingly, most screenings of this story do not have a happy ending since man and ghost are separated. For example, in the ‘Nang Nak’ movie (1999), starring Intira Jaroenpura and Winai Kraibutr, Mak finally becomes a monk to pray for the spirit of his dead wife which cannot let go of him.

Nonetheless, the last filming of the story, ‘Phi Mak Phra Kanong’, breaks with this convention – in contrast to traditional Thai ghost stories, there is a happy ending because humans and ghosts can after all live together and be happy ever after.

Phi Mak & Nak, scene from Thai horror movie 'Phi Mak Phra Khanong' (photo credit: news.zing.vn)

Phi Mak & Nak, scene from Thai ghost comedy movie ‘Phi Mak Phra Khanong’ (photo credit: news.zing.vn)

Summing up, we may claim that Mae Nak has a special place in Thai culture and tradition. This is because her story is concerned with an universal topic that everyone can identify with.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Siraporn Nathalang, Thai Folklore. Insights Into Thai Culture, Chulalongkorn University Press, 2000)




The Thai Human Imagery Museum

The Thai Human Imagery Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์หุ่นขี้ผึ้งไทย) is the first museum of fibreglass models in Thailand. It is located in Nakhon Chaisi, Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand. In fact, it is not exactly a wax museum since the models are all created from fiberglass. The reason for this is the hot tropical climate of Thailand. All models look amazingly authentic in every part of their bodies, including skin, limbs, eyes and even hair.

Thai Human Imagery Museum

The enlightened monk Luang Poo Mun Bhuridatta.Considered the true and prime leader of all monks dedicated to Kammatthana practice (Buddhist insight meditation) in Thailand

The enlightened monk Luang Poo Mun Bhuridatta. He is considered the prime leader of all monks dedicated to Kammatthana practice (Buddhist insight meditation) in Thailand*

The figures mainly depict scenes from Thai life and culture from past to present. For instance, there are representations of the daily life of farm labourers, slaves, gamblers and even a man reading a Thai newspaper. What is more, there are various Thai history sets. Among them are for example the Chakri Dynasty Kings. Furthermore, there are models of famous enlightened monks, poets, politicians, aristocrats and artists. In addition, some prominent foreigners of history can also be found there, among them for instance Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi - Father of the Indian Nation*

Mahatma Gandhi – Father of the Indian Nation*

This museum was created by artist Duangkaew Phityakornsilp and a group of Thai artists. They spent more than ten years creating the life-like fibreglass figures. Their aim was to promote and conserve Thai tradition, art and culture (‘Thainess’) for future generations. Thus, I would like to focus on some highlights of the exhibition.

The Royal Images of Chakri Dysnasty King Rama I – VIII.*

The Royal Images of Chakri Dynasty King Rama I – VIII.*

These are the Royal Images of Chakri Dynasty King Rama I – VIII. The first King, Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, who was the first Chakri Dynasty King, established Bangkok as the capital city of Thailand in 1782.

King Chulalongkorn*

King Chulalongkorn*

In 1868, Chulalongkorn was coronated at the age of 15. He was determined to abolish slavery. Hence, King Chulalongkorn bought a number of slaves with his own money and set them free as gesture of goodwill so that his subjects might follow his example. Thus in 1905, he declared the end of slavery in Thailand. It took 37 years to achieve this noble aim.     

Abolition of slavery was King Chulalongkorn's aim*

Abolition of slavery was King Chulalongkorn’s aim*

The museum also introduces traditional Thai games. Thailand is known for many games such as the famous Manohra Play, Kite Flying, Post Seizing Monkeys (Ling Ching Lak) and Fish Entering Net (Plaa Long Uan) which date back to the Sukhothai period. Among the young, these games are still popular even today. Additionally, the museum presents four sets of Thai traditional children’s games which are called a’ree-ree khao sarn’, ‘maeng mum’, ‘cham chee’ and ‘khee chang chon kan’.

Khee Chang Chon Kan, a traditonal children's game*

Khee Chang Chon Kan, a traditonal children’s game*

There are also traditional Thai games for adults such as ‘Bald Head Smashing’ (“Hua Larn Chon Kan”). This game is very old and recorded in the “Sumudkhot Kham Chand”, a noted Thai literary piece from the age of King Narai.

'Bald Head Smashing', "Hua Larn Chon Kan”*

‘Bald Head Smashing’, “Hua Larn Chon Kan”, depiction at the Thai Human Imagery Museum *

However, the museum is also concerned with arts. For instance, you find there a figure of the famous musician Khru Ee-ah Sunthornsanan. He was the first leader of the Musical Group of the Publicity Department. His songs became very popular by the name of “Suntharaporn”.

Khru Ee-ah Sunthornsanan, the first leader of the Musical Group of the Publicity Department*

Khru Ee-ah Sunthornsanan, the first leader of the Musical Group of the Publicity Department*

Summing up, we may claim that the Thai Human Imagery Museum can be compared to Madame Tussauds. However, it is less concerned with popular than with traditional culture and with preserving and presenting Thainess 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66

(Reference: rosenini.com)




The Stories of Sri Thanonchai, the Clever Trickster

Sri Thanonchai (in Thai: ศรีธนนท์ชัย) is a clever trickster who occurs in Thai folktales and is popular until today. The first printed version of these stories was published around 1890. This figure is known throughout Thailand but also in other Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Laos, this character is called ‘Siengmieng‘ (also ‘Chieng Mieng’), in Cambodia ‘Thanon-Chai’ though his Khmer name is Ah Thonchuy Prach. In Myanmar, this figure is referred to as Saga Dausa. The Lao tales are similar to the Thai ones whereas the Cambodian versions differ from the Thai stories. There are also mural paintings of Sri Thanonchai tales at Wat Phrathum Wanaram in Bangkok, Thailand.

Sri Thanonchai

Sri Thanonchai mural painting Wat Pathum Wanaram Rajaworawihan (photo credit: culture.go.th)

Sri Thanonchai mural painting, Wat Pathum Wanaram Rajaworawihan (photo credit: culture.go.th)

He can be compared to the German Till Eulenspiegel who was also a great deceiver. Most of Sri Thanonchai stories are set in central Thailand where the figure probably originated from.

According to the tales, Sri Thanonchai was born near Ayutthaya as the son of a peasant. His mother bore him relatively late in her life. Hence, only after she turned to the God Indra, she became pregnant and bore a son. However, a short while after the trickster’s birth, the mother bore another son and Sri Thanonchai was very jealous of his younger brother.

Scene from the film version 'Sri Thanonchai hahaha' (photo credit: adintrend.com)

Scene from the film version ‘Sri Thanonchai hahaha’ (photo credit: adintrend.com)

Generally though, Sri Thanonchai was very witty, clever and enjoyed playing tricks on people. Sometimes his pranks were outrageous. Nevertheless, he was also appointed to the royal court where he annoyed and vexed everyone by his tricks. Nevertheless, he could always save his hide. Finally, he returned to the house of his parents. Sri Thanonchai is said to have died from a broken heart after he lost a bet against a court official.

The tales of the trickster provide psychological release for the frustrations of a peasantry subject to the power of the ruling aristocracy. Hence, the common people could identify with him since he is also born of peasantry but conquers officialdom through wit and deceit. Hence, Sri Thanonchai not only challenges and ridicules authority but he also emerges victorious in the fight with the establishment.

There are several movie versions of Sri Thanonchai tales. The most recent screening is ‘Sri Thanonchai hahaha’ from 2014.

The most famous tale is the one in which the trickster outwits the King. Summing up, the story relates how the trickster persuades the King to go into a pond. I have here a clip of the Lao version of this tale but it is identical with the Thai one.

There are also some Lao versions of Xieng Mieng available here.  The story of Sri Thanonchai was for many decades only verbally told and later written down in verse and in prose.

Finally, we may claim that the tales of Sri Thanonchai reflect the intellectual and creative power in the art of telling jokes in an entertaining way by using linguistic and psychological manipulation. I think the tales are still popular today because people can identify with the figures and situations presented.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference, Supaporn Vathanaprida, Thai Tales. Folktales of Thailand, 1994)




What does ‘Discover Thainess’ mean?

Discover Thainess

I’ve recently come across TAT’s (Tourism Authority of Thailand) activity ‘DiscoverThainess’ which is a contest that invites non-Thai people to engage in five different categories of activities related to ‘Thainess’. These categories are ‘Thai Boxing’, ‘Thai Cooking’, ‘Thai Dancing’, ‘Making Thai Style Garlands’ and ‘Speaking Thai’. In fact, competitors are asked to do things that are considered to be typical Thai, i.e. characteristic of Thai culture.

discover thainess tatnews.org

DiscoverThainess (photo credit: tatnews.org)

TAT Launches Online One and Only Contest to Promote …

Minister Kobkarn said, “The Royal Thai Government has declared 2015 as the year to “Discover Thainess”, which is in line with our national agenda to promote sustainability and accelerate economic and social development …

Hence, I’ve asked myself what the concept of ‘Thainess’ is actually about? First of all, one might think that this is merely a Thai government campaign to become more visible and important in the tourism industry. If we are critical, we might also claim that ‘Thainess’ may be all about stereotypes concerning Thai culture. However, I also think it is a campaign to make foreigners (or using the Thai term ‘farangs’) understand what Thai culture and mentality is actually about.

Discover Thainess Parade Ramakien (photo credit: tatnews.org)

Parade, Ramakien show (photo credit: tatnews.org)

Nonetheless, if we try a definition of the term ‘Thainess’ we might say that it means a kind of active decency towards each other. It is not merely about activities like Thai dancing or cooking but it is actually an attitude of mind. In fact, ‘Thainess’ expresses Thai culture and shows the way Thai people differentiate themselves from everyone else in the world. Hence, ‘Thainess’ is mainly based on the Buddhist dharma of decency and politeness.

Discover Thainess Parade Royal Barge Supannahong (photo credit: tatnews.org)

Thainess Parade, Royal Barge Supannahong (photo credit: tatnews.org)

In other words, it is all about what Thai people call ‘Kreng Jai’ (in Thai: เกรงใจ). Translated literally ‘Kreng Jai’ means something like ‘awe of heart’ or ‘consideration’. In short, we might say that ‘Kreng Jai’ means awareness of other people’s feelings and thus showing respect and politeness towards one another. In point of fact, we can also argue that ‘Kreng Jai’ allows the other person to maintain his face.

For this reason, I think that ‘Thainess’ is also the awareness of ‘Kreng Jai’ and it means to do all of one’s actions with consideration. Thus, ‘Discover Thainess’ will say that on the one side, you become familiar with specific characteristics of Thai culture and on the other side that you should engage yourself in acting polite and decent. Finally, if you want to participate in TAT’s ‘One and Only Contest’ keep in mind to act ‘Kreng Jai’ while engaging in one of the five ‘Thainess’ activity missions 🙂

Have you come across the term ‘Discover Thainess’? And what does it mean to you?

Yours, Sirinya




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