THE RAMKHAMHAENG CONTROVERSY REDUX

A decade-long debate in Thai academic circles centers on the authenticity of the Ramkhamhaeng inscription. This inscription, incised on a block of gray schist, was discovered in Sukhothai in 1833 by the future King Mongkut while he was still a monk. It is written in a unique Thai script which King Ramkhamhaeng (c. 1239-1317) claims he devised.


Photo 1 The Ramkhamhaeng Inscription (Inscription I)-TP

Photo 2 The Ramkhamhaeng Controversy—Collected Papers, The Siam Society-TP

Decipherment of the inscription began in 1855 and since then many eminent historians and linguists have worked on it so that it has now been pretty much deciphered. Then in the late 1980s a few Thai and Western academics began casting doubts on the provenance of the inscription, one even claiming that it was made by King Mongkut himself. I missed out on the debate while it was raging but recently bought a copy of The Ramkhamhaeng Controversy.

The debate between the two factions—those who see the inscription as later than the thirteenth century (called devils), and those who believe it authentic (angels)—became quite heated, as you can see from the sobriquets given to the two opposing sides. Some angels even went so far as to say that the debate was unfruitful and a waste of time—early Thai history would have to be rewritten if the inscription were proved to be unauthentic.

For reference, I present the inscription in its entirety using the modern Thai script but retaining the original wording as far as possible, and an English translation which necessarily owes all to the eminent translators of the past. The numbers are the side and line numbers, e.g. 1.01 means Side 1, Line 1, and so on. I will try to summarize both side’s points of view later.

Some background: The vowels are placed on the same line as the consonants, in the Greek and Roman style, which has never been found in any Indic script. Thai in the thirteenth century had only three tones instead of the present five tones. Despite the passage of seven hundred years since the inscription was made, it is intelligible to the average Thai speaker. Compare this with Chaucer’s Cantabury Tales of approximately the same period, which is almost unintelligible to an untrained modern reader.

These displays at the National Museum show clearly that the official position sides with the angels. In the first display you can see the inscription being made while King Ramkhamhaeng looks on. The second display shows an elephant duel described in the inscription.

Photo 3-The inscription being made. Photo 4-Elephant duel in which Ramkhamhaeng is victorious.-TP

 

THE RAMKHAMHAENG INSCRIPTION

 

SIDE 1

1.01

 Թҷյ ͹ҧ ͧ ҹ ͧ

1.01

My father’s name was Sri Indraditya, my mother’s name was Nang Sueung, my elder brother’s name was Baan Muang.

1.02

ͧ ͧ է ʧ

1.02

We were five from the same womb, three boys and two girls.

1.03

ҡ š

1.03

My eldest brother died when he was still a child. When I reached

1.04

պ ع ͧ ʹ ͧ ҡ ú

1.04

nineteen years old, Khun Saam Chon, the ruler of Muang Chod, came to attack Muang Taak. My father went to fight

1.05

ع ع ع

1.05

Khun Saam Chon on the left; Khun Saam Chon drove forward on the right. Khun Saam

1.06

͹ ˹ ˹ ᨹ

1.06

Chon advanced his troops. My father’s subjects fled quickly. Defeated, they dispersed in confusion.

1.07

˹ ҧ ມ ͹

1.07

I did not flee. I mounted my elephant and attacked before my father could do so. I fought

1.08

ҧ ع   ҧ ع  

1.08

an elephant duel with Khun Saam Chon. I fought Khun Saam Chon’s elephant,

1.09

ͧ ع ˹

1.09

Maas Muang by name. Defeated, Khun Saam Chon fled. Then my father named me

1.10

˧ ٧ ҧ ع

1.10

Phra Ramkhamhaeng, because I fought Khun Saam Chon’s elephant. During

1.11

 

1.11

my father’s lifetime, I attended on my father and on my mother. When I caught

1.12

ҡ ҡ ҹ

1.12

a deer or fish, I brought it to my father. When I obtained an acid or sweet fruit

1.13

͹ Թ Թ

1.13

delicious and good to eat, I brought it to my father. When I went to hunt

1.14

˹ ǧ ҧ ҹ ͧ

1.14

elephants, either by lasso of rawhide rope or by corralling them, I brought them to my father. When I raided a village or a town

1.15

ҧ ǧ ҧ ͹ ͧ

1.15

and captured elephants, men, women, silver, or gold, I turned them over

1.16

ǹ

1.16

to my father. When my father died, my elder brother was still alive, and I attended on him

1.17

觧 ͧ

1.17

as I had attended on my father. When my elder brother died, I received the whole kingdom for myself.

1.18

ع ˧ ͧ ء

1.18

In the time of King Ramkhamhaeng this land of Sukhothai is good. In the rivers

1.19

ͧ ͺ ҧ ͹

1.19

there are fish, in the paddies there is rice. The king does not levy toll on this subjects: they freely

1.20

ͧ ҧ

1.20

lead their cattle to trade or ride their horses to sell; whoever wants to trade in elephants does so;

1.21

͹  ͧ ˹

1.21

whoever wants to trade in horses, does so; whoever wants to trade in silver or gold, does so. When any commoner,

1.22

١ ١ ع ͹

1.22

officers or prince dies, the home of the deceased father

1.23

ҧ ١ ý

1.23

himself, his trained elephants, wives, children, granaries, rice, retainers and groves

1.24

ҡ ١

1.24

of areca and betel are left in their entirety to his sons. When commoners,

1.25

١ ١ ع մ ἡ ʡ ҧ ǹ

1.25

officers, or princes quarrel (the King) examines the case

1.26

š

1.26

to find the truth and then settles the case justly for them. He does not side with thieves or favor

1.27

͹ ˹ ҹ չ ˹ չ ҹ ʹ

1.27

concealers (of stolen goods). When he sees the rice of others, he does not covet it; when he sees someone’s wealth, he does erupt with anger.

1.28

ҧ ͧ ˹

1.28

Whoever rides an elephant to see him and asks him to protect his country, he generously

1.29

ҧ ҧ ͹

1.29

takes care of him. Whoever has no elephants, no horses, no men, no women, no silver,

1.30

ͧ ǧ ໹ ҹ ໹ ͧ

1.30

no gold, he gives to him and helps him to restore his kingdom.

1.31

͡ ú

1.31

When he captures his enemies or their commanders, he does not kill them or beat them.

1.32

ҡ ٵ է ͹ ǹ 빹 ˹

1.32

A bell is hung over the opening of the gate over there; if any commoner

1.33

ҧ ҹ ҧ ͧ ਺ ͧ

1.33

in the city has a lawsuit, suffers pain in the bowels

1.34

ͧ ק ק ع Ź

1.34

from doubts which he wants to make known to his ruler, it is not difficult; he strikes the bell

1.35

է ͹ ҹ ǹ ع ˧ ͧ

1.35

which the ruler the king has hung there; Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng, the king,

 

 

 

SIDE 2

2.01

չ ¡( x) ǹ

2.01

hears the call, goes and examines the case impartially. So the common people in

2.02

ͧ ء ҧ ҡ ͧ

2.02

this country of Sukhothai praise him. They plant areca groves and betel groves all over this city;

2.03

ء ͧ ҧ

2.03

there are many coconut groves and groves of coconut-type palms

2.04

ͧ ҡ ǧ ͧ

2.04

in this city, also many mango trees in this city,

2.05

ҡ ͧ ҧ

2.05

and many tamarind trees as well in this city. Whoever plants them takes possession of them.

2.06

ҧ ͧ ء þ Թ

2.06

In the middle of this city of Sukhothai the water of the Phoy See Pond is clear and good to drink

2.07

觧 Թ ⢧ ͺ ͧ ء

2.07

as the water of the Mekong in the dry season. Around this city of Sukhothai the triple

2.08

ͧ ء

2.08

walls measure three thousand four hundred wa. The people in this city of Sukhothai

2.09

ҹ ç ҹ ˧

2.09

are wont to be charitable. They are wont to keep the precepts and give alms. Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng,

2.10

ͧ ء ҧ

2.10

the ruler of this city of Sukhothai, as well as princes and princesses, men and women

2.11

١ ١ ع չ է

2.11

and princes and officers one and all, both men and women,

2.12

٧ ø طʹ ç ù

2.12

all have faith in Buddhism, and all observe the precepts during the rainy season retreat.

2.13

ء ͡ ù ҹ Թ ͹

2.13

When the rainy season retreat is over, they make outer robes for presentation to monks at Kathin ceremonies which take place the whole month.

2.14

ҹ չ ҡ

2.14

The kathin offerings consist of heaps of cowrie shells, heaps of areca nuts,

2.15

͡ ͹ 觧 ͹ ⹹ վ չ

2.15

heaps of flowers, cushions and pillows, Kathina offerings

2.16

ҹ Ժ ҹ ٴ չ ק

2.16

given each year amount to two millions. Everyone goes to the Aranyika for the recitation of the Kathin Announcement.

2.17

íԡ § íԡ

2.17

On their return to the city, they walk in line all the way from the Aranyika (forest monastery)

2.18

ҹ ͧ § Ҵ § չ

2.18

to the open ground. They repeatedly beat drums, xylophones, and lutes,

2.19

§ ͹ § Ź Ź

2.19

chanting and singing. Whoever wants to play, plays; whoever wants

2.20

͹ ͹ ͧ

2.20

to laugh, laughs; whoever wants to chant, chants. This city of

2.21

ء ҡ ٵ ǧ ¹ ´

2.21

Sukhothai has four main gates. People squeeze together

2.22

ҹ ¹ ҹ Ź ͧ

2.22

to go through to watch the King burning candles and playing with fireworks. This city of Sukhothai

2.23

觧 ᵡ ҧ ͧ

2.23

is filled to the bursting point. In the middle of this city of Sukhothai, there is the monastery, there is

2.24

طٺ ͧ ͯ طٺ

2.24

the old image of the Buddha. There are statues of the Buddha, the Attarasa images (18 cubits in height). There are Buddha images.

2.25

оطٺ ͹ طٺ ͹

2.25

There are large images of the Buddha and

2.26

͹ ͹

2.26

medium-sized ones; there are large assembly halls and medium-sized ones.

2.27

ش ͧ ǹ

2.27

There are monks, Nissayamuttas (ordained at least five years), Theras (ordained at least ten years), and Mahatheras (senior monks). To the west

2.28

ͧ íԭ ع ˧

2.28

of this city of Sukhothai is the Aranyika, which Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng

2.29

ҹ ʧ Ҫ Ҫ ¹ մ

2.29

gave to the Mahathera, the Sangharaja (Supreme Patriach), a sage who has completed the study of the Pitakatri (Tripitaka),

2.30

ǡ ͧ ء ء ͧ øҪ

2.30

who is more intelligent than any other monk in the kingdom, and who has come here from the country of Nakhon Srithammarat.

2.31

ҧ íԭ ͹

2.31

In the middle of the Aranyika there is a large square assembly hall,

2.32

˭ ٧ ͮ ͹ ء ¹

2.32

tall and very beautiful, and a standing Attarasa image.

2.33

ͧ ǹ ͡ ͧ

2.33

To the east of this city of Sukhothai there are monasteries and monks.

2.34

ǧ ҡ ҹ

2.34

There is a large lake. There are groves of areca and betel. There are plantations and rice fields. There are residential areas,

2.35

ҹ ҹ š ҹ ŧ

2.35

large and small villages, groves of mango and tamarind, as beautiful as if they were intended.

 

 

 

SIDE 3

3.01

ͧ չ ͹ ͧ Ҵ ҹ

3.01

To the north of this city of Sukhothai there are spacious markets.

3.02

ͨ ҷ ҡ ҡ

3.02

There is the Achana image. There is the prasat, there are groves of coconuts and coconut-type palms.

3.03

ҧ ҹ ҹ ҹ š ͧ

3.03

There are plantations and rice fields, residential areas, large and small villages.

3.04

͹ ͧ ٴ

3.04

To the south of this city of Sukhothai there are monasteries, monks' quarters, and monks.

3.05

ô ҧ ǧ

3.05

There is a creek. There are groves of coconut and coconut-type palms, groves of mango and tamarind.

3.06

⤡ ا ෾ ͹ 빹

3.06

There are mountain streams and there is the Phra Khapung, the devine spirit of that mountain,

3.07

໹ ء ͧ ع ͧ

3.07

greater than all other spirits in this kingdom. Whoever rules

3.08

١ ͧ § ͧ

3.08

this kingdom of Sukhothai, venerates him well with the right offerings, this kingdom will be stable, this kingdom

3.09

١ ͹

3.09

will be good; but if he does not venerate him well, nor make the right offerings, the spirit in that mountain will neither protect, nor

3.10

ç ͧ ʡ ç ع

3.10

respect him, and his kingdom will be lost. In 1214 saka, year of the Dragon (A.D. 1292), Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng,

3.11

˧ ͧ ʪ š ҹ

3.11

King of this kingdom of Si Satchanalai-Sukhothai planted these sugar-palm trees.

3.12

պ ҧ չ 맧 ҧ

3.12

Fourteen years later (A.D. 1305-06) he commanded his craftsmen to hew a stone slab and place it in the midst

3.13

ҧ ҹ ǹ ͹ ͹ ͡ Ỵ ǹ ǹ

3.13

of this sugar-palm grove. On the day of the new moon, the eighth day of the waxing moon, on

3.14

͹ ͹ ҧ Ỵ ǹ ٧

3.14

the day of the full moon, and the eighth day of the waning moon, a chapter of monks, Theras, and Mahatheras

3.15

觧 ˹ չ ٴ ٺʡ ٧

3.15

mount the stone slab to preach the Dharma to the laity, all of

3.16

ǹ ٴ ع ˧

3.16

whom observe the precepts. When it is not a day for preaching the Dharma, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng,

3.17

ͧ ʪ 觧 ˹ ҹ

3.17

king of the country of Si Satchanalai-Sukhothai, goes to sit on the stone slab

3.18

չ ٧ ١ ١ ع ٧ ҹ

3.18

and lets the assembly of princes, nobles, and the people pledge themselves to uphold their country.

3.19

ͧ ǹ ͹ ͹ ҹ ҧ ͡

3.19

On the day of the new moon and the day of the full moon, the King dresses the white elephant

3.20

þ ҧ ¹ ͧ ٨Ҥ

3.20

named Ruchagari with ropes (for tying the howdah) and tassles, and gold for its (left) and right tusks.

3.21

ع ˧ íԭ

3.21

Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng mounts and rides him to pay respects to Phra… at the Aranyika; then

3.22

ԡ ͹ ͧ § ʶҺ

3.22

comes back. There is an inscription in the city of Chalieng, installed

3.23

ôҴ ԡ ͹

3.23

at the Phra Sri Ratanathat; there is an inscription in the cave called

3.24

觧 ԡ ͹

3.24

Phra Ram Cave on the bank of the River Samphai; and there is an inscription in

3.25

ô ǧ ҹ ͧ ͹ ͹

3.25

the Ratanathan Cave. In the middle of this Sugar-palm Grove there are two pavilions, one named

3.26

͹ ط չ

3.26

Sala Phra Masa, one named Buddha Sala. This stone slab is named

3.27

Һҵ ʶҺ ˹

3.27

Manangsilabat. It is installed here for everyone to see.

 

 

 

SIDE 4

4.01

ع ˧ ١ ع Թҷյ ໹

4.01

Pho Khun Phra Ramkhamhaeng, son of Pho Khun Indraditya, is

4.02

ع ͧ ʪ

4.02

the ruler of the country of Si Satchanalai-Sukhothai, all the Ma, the Kao, the Lao,

4.03

ͧ ͧ ͡

4.03

and Tai in the southern country, the earth and heaven… Tai of the U and the Mekong submit to him.

4.04

ʡ ش Ҵ ͡

4.04

In 1207 saka, year of the boar (A.D. 1285 or 1287), he had the sacred relics dug up for all

4.05

˹ ٪ Ҵ ͹ ˡ ǹ

4.05

to see. He venerated and attended to the sacred relics for a month and six days, then

4.06

ŧ ҧ ͧ ʪ

4.06

he buried them in the middle of the city of Si Satchanalai and built a chedi

4.07

˹ ˡ 맧

4.07

over them. It was completed in six years. He erected a stone wall around the

4.08

ҸҴ ͹

4.08

Phra Mahathat. It was completed in three years. Before this time the Thai alphabet did not

4.09

ʡ ع ˧

4.09

exist. In 1205 saka, year of the Goat (A.D. 1283), Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng set his mind

4.10

4.10

and heart to invent this Thai alphabet. So this Thai alphabet exists because

4.11

ع 빹 ع ˧ 빹

4.11

that ruler invented them. This Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng

4.12

໹ ໹ í ໹

4.12

Is Lord and King of all the Thai,

4.13

Ҩ 觧 ͹

4.13

he is the master and teacher instructing all the Thai to understand

4.14

ع ͹ ͧ

4.14

what is merit and what is the Dharma. Among men who are in Muang Thai

4.15

ǡ ҹ

4.15

none can be found to equal him in knowledge and intelligence, in bravery and courage, in agility

4.16

ç Ҩ Һ ٧

4.16

and strength. He can subdue a host of

4.17

ա ͧ ҧ ҧ Һ ͧ ǹ ͡

4.17

enemies with vast cities and a multitude of elephants, He has subdued to the east

4.18

ʹ ǧ ͧ Ҩ ʤ

4.18

as far as Sra Luang, Song Khwae, Lumbachai, Sakha, to the bank of the Mekong,

4.19

է § § ໹

4.19

To Wiangchan, Wiangkham as the limit; to the south

4.20

͹ ʹ ҧ á پó

4.20

as far as Khonti, Phra Bang, Phraek, Suphanaphum

4.21

Ҫ ྪ øҪ

4.21

Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Si Thammarat, to the seacoast and

4.22

ط ໹ ͧ ǹ ʹ ͧ

4.22

the ocean, as the limit; to the west, as far as Muang

4.23

ʹ ͧ ˧Ҿ ط ໹

4.23

Chod, Muang…, Hongsawati, to the ocean

4.24

ᴹ ͧ չ ͹ ʹ ͧ ͧ

4.24

as the limit; to the north, as far as Muang Phrae

4.25

ҹ ͧ ͧ ͧ

4.25

Muang Man, Muang N…, Muang Phlua, beyond the banks of the Mekong

4.26

ͧ ໹ ١ § ٧ ١ ҹ

4.26

Muang Chawa as the limit. He brings up every one of his people in the villages

4.27

١ ͧ ͺ ء

4.27

and towns to be righteous in the Dharma.

 

Trirat
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