The Ramakian [ Ramakien ]

  • The Ramakian is the Thai version of the Indian Hindu epic written over 2,000 years ago, '' Ramayana ''. The Ramayana is a long and complex epic concerning the reincarnation on earth of the Hindu God Vishnu.
  • The epic was introduced throughout South East Asia during the Indianization of the region and features in the theatrical, dance and decorative arts of the region including, Bali, Java and Cambodia as well as in Thailand.
  • The Thai Ramakian version was written in the reign of King Rama 1 at which time the 178 large panels of murals at the Emerald Buddha Temple were commenced.
  • The purpose of the epic and also the murals is to exemplify the virtues in easily comprehended fashion.  

Hunoman the monkey in a mural.

The Hindu Ramayana

  • Valmiki, a legendary Hindu sage is historically regarded as the author of the Raymayana. It consists of 24,001 verses in seven Kandas [ Books ] and tells the story of a prince, Rama of Ayodha [ the name from which the Thais adapted the name '' Ayutthaya '' or '' Ayodyha '' ]  whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king Rakshasa king of Lanka. 
  • In its current form, the Valmiki Ramayana is dated variously from 500 BC to 100 BC.
  • Whilst the theme of the story is fantasy as also are its characters, its purpose is to ever present conflicts of duty and moral obligations as between duty to different people or situations. Valmiki portrays Rama not as a supernatural being, but as a human with all the attendant shortcomings, who encounters moral dilemmas but who overcomes these by simply adhering to the Dharma, the righteous way.
  • There are several instances narrated in the Valmiki Ramayana which cast shadows on the pristine character of the hero and reinforce the theme of Rama struggling with mortal flaws and prejudices whilst struggling to follow the path of Dharma.

  • Ramakian is the national epic of Thailand and is based on the Indian Ramayana epic. A number of versions of the epic were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767. Three versions currently exist, one of which was prepared in 1797 under the supervision of King Rama 1, his son, Rama 11 rewrote some parts of his father's version for Khon drama. The work has had an important influence on Thai literature, art and drama. The Khon Dramas are based upon it.
  • While the main story is identical to that of the Ramayana, many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style.
  • While Thailand is considered a Theravada Buddhist society, the Brahman mythology derived from the Ramakian serves to provide Thai legends with a creation myth, as well as representations for the spirits that both help and hinder humans on their way to enlightenment, as well as a balance to other former beliefs.
  • A painted representation of the Ramakien is displayed at Wat Phra Kaoe and many of the statues there depict characters from it.
  • The Thai version of the legends were first written down in eighteenth century, during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Most editions, however, were lost when the city of Ayutthaya was destroyed by armies from Burma in 1767.
  • The version recognized today was compiled in the Kingdom of Siam under the supervision of King Rama I, the founder of the Chakri dynasty, which still maintains the throne of Thailand. Between the years of 1797 and 1807, Rama I supervised the writing of the well-known edition and even wrote parts of it. It was also under the reign of Rama I that construction began on the Grand Palace in Bangkok which includes the grounds of the Wat Phra Kaeo the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The walls of the Wat Phra Kaew are lavishly decorated with paintings representing stories from the Ramakien.
  • Rama II (1766-1824) further adapted his father's edition of the Ramakien for the khon drama, a form of theater performed by non-speaking Thai dancers with elaborate costumes and masks. Narrations from the Ramakien were read by a chorus to one side of the stage. This version differs slightly from the one compiled by Rama I, giving an expanded role to Hanuman, the god-king of the apes, and adding a happy ending.
  • Since its introduction to the Thai people, the Ramakien has become a firm component of the culture. Though many consider it only an adaptation of a strange work from an archaic system of beliefs, it is firmly embedded in the cultural history of the country and the people. The Ramakien of Rama I is considered one of the masterpieces of the Thai literature. It is still read, and is taught in the country's schools.