The stress on the past seems an inescapable part of any nationalist movement. In many, however, the look backwards has created severe tensions, strains, and fundamental insecurities. Nationalist movements led by revolutionaries against their own traditional social elites and classes have tended to be iconoclastic, repudiating any and all symbols of tradition. The anti-Manchu, anti-Confucian, anti-Mandarin reformers of China, for example, had great difficulty coming to terms with their own tradition; at one time they sought to “convert the Temple of Heaven in Peking into a school of forestry.”1 Yet the tug of the cultural inheritance on such revolutionaries could not be denied. However it might be expressed—in arguments for reappreciation of the values of the Chinese family or Chinese mysticism or 203Chinese peasant life—it needed to be expressed for the very sake of nationalism itself. A total rejection of all the past could only mean a total rejection of everything distinctively Chinese, that is, a rejection of the Chinese nation, an impossible stance for a nationalist.2
Tradition makes a very different claim on nationalist leaders reacting against foreign rule. Here the philosophic way seems clearer. The history before the dark colonial present is seen as the golden age to which a people, once free of colonial mastery, may return. Early in the history of Indonesian nationalism Sukarno put the problem clearly: “… first we point out to the people that they have a glorious past, secondly we intensify the notion among our people that the present time is dark, and the third way is to show them the promising, pure and luminous future and how to get there.”3 The problem with tradition for the modern anti-colonialist is how to define it, how to reconnect the thread that, in fact, colonialism and Westernization have broken.
Compared with the problems faced by most modern nationalists in adjusting to the past, Vajiravudh’s task was simple. There had been no foreign rule; the threads of Siamese tradition were still intact. Nor had there been any revolution against the country’s own social elites. There was, therefore, no reason to repudiate the Siamese cultural inheritance. Traditional links need not be severed; on the contrary, they required reinforcing and reemphasizing. Whatever the problems a traditional leadership may face in stimulating nationalism, they do not include that of finding threads of continuity. Such threads abounded in Siam; it was the role of the King as the nationalist leader to identify the ones that would serve best in weaving the fabric of a proud nation.
The ancient elements that Vajiravudh chose as having greatest value for his nationalist program were four: history, Buddhism, the arts, and literature.
While there were few philosophical or psychological obstacles for King Vajiravudh in his use of history as a means of stimulating nationalism, some problems did exist. First, Siamese historical records were sketchy; second, the mass of the people had only the meagerest knowledge of their history. In a sense there were assets inherent in these problems: historical research and popular notions of history could both be expanded in ways favorable to nationalistic purposes. To a large extent this is what occurred.
The sketchiness of the Thai historical record had several causes. 204White ants and wars with Burma had both taken their toll. But perhaps even more important was the traditional lack of interest in compiling historical accounts. It is too much to say that the Thai were ahistorical; the lucid and lively description of Sukhothai in 1292, partly in the words of the reigning king, shows a feeling for man’s place in time that is historical in a very real sense. And other inscriptions, portions of chronicles, and references to lost chronicles are evidence that records of past events were of some interest to the court. Yet that interest seems not to have been institutionalized or to have played a central role in the ideology of governance. In the Bangkok period, which saw some quickening of historical interest, at first because of the newness of the dynasty and later because of the intellectual challenge of the West, histories were compiled by members of the royal family and high nobles. The impact of these histories on the country at large was minimal, however, for they were written for an extremely small educated elite surrounding the court.
The concept of history presented in a style that would be meaningful for the masses was an innovation of King Vajiravudh’s. The King possessed to a degree the antiquarian interest and eye of his father and of his uncle, Prince Damrong.4 He was well read in the chronicles and epigraphs that had survived from Siam’s past. As a prince he had in 1908 made an extensive trip into the heartland of the first Thai kingdom in Siam, traveling across difficult terrain by boats, horses, and elephants. He described the ruins at Kamphaengphet, Sukhothai, and Sawankhalok and came up with theories related to history that he hoped would be useful to the experts on antiquity.5 He made other trips to historical sites during the reign, and in several literary works he set forth various ideas on Thai history. Essentially, however, his scholarly interests were far outweighed by his interest in the use of history as a means toward nationalism.
Some of the King’s concepts on the uses of antiquity and history are revealed in his description of his trip to the North in 1908. He expressed the hope that, because of his account of the Thai past, “the Thai will become more aware that our race is not a new race, is not a race of jungle folk, or to use the English word, ‘uncivilized.’”6 To put it simply, the King believed, and sought to persuade others to believe, that the Thai had a proud past, a past worthy of emulation in the present:
Our Thai race has achieved much progress, so we ought to feel shamefaced today not only before others but also before our own ancestors with whom we cannot compare…. The ancient Thai had the imagination 205and industry to build large and beautiful buildings that lasted. Thai today demolish and destroy old sites or let them decay because of their infatuation with new things from the West. They do not know how to select what is best for our country.7
There is little question that the King himself believed in past Thai achievements. In describing one temple in Sukhothai, for example, he marvelled at its construction and remembered how he had also marvelled, years before, at the monuments of Egypt: “I felt gratified that we also have something unusual and worth being proud of.”8
The ways in which Vajiravudh sought to use history to stimulate nationalism included emphasizing the need to preserve old sites, encouraging the production of historical materials, popularizing the stories of the past, and utilizing particular episodes or aspects of the past for present purposes.
The King’s policies of seeking to preserve old sites and ancient objects and of stimulating production of historical works were continuations of policies begun under Kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn. King Mongkut, while he was still a prince-monk, had been responsible for bringing a number of important stone inscriptions, including that of Ramkhamhaeng, to Bangkok. And King Chulalongkorn, particularly after an order of 1887 directing officials to search for old inscriptions, received many stone steles into the royal museum. New appeals for inscriptions and rubbings of inscriptions were made in the Sixth Reign, and the collection was considerably expanded.9 This work was given a firmer foundation with the creation of the Archaeological Service in January 1924.10 The work of preservation, research, and restoration of archaeological sites was placed under the control of the National Library. Within weeks after the establishment of the service, important sites were being given new attention. Prince Damrong and Prince Naris visited the ruins at Lopburi and Ayutthaya; G. Coedès inspected old monuments at Phitsanulok, Sawankhalok, Sukhothai, and Kamphaengphet—all with the aim of preparing a list of protected areas and planning for future research.11 The King was personally interested in this preservation work and was particularly vehement on the subject of the despoliation of ancient monuments by those who dug into them for buried treasure. He once wrote: “If these people would use the efforts and the strength they employ in destroying our antiquities in good and proper ways, our country would advance not a little.”12
The King realized that in the process of modernization some monuments of past glory might have to be destroyed. But he noted 206with regret that bricks from sites at the ancient capital at Ayutthaya had been used to construct railroad embankments; he expressed the hope that such exchanges of antiquities for progress would not occur often.13
The strengthening of the National Library and the expansion of publication of historical texts followed a dynamic begun before the Sixth Reign. Vajiravudh gave support to the library by assigning it new quarters in 1916. On the death of the head of the library in 1915, the King appointed Prince Damrong to the post. The Prince, whose vigor and power as Minister of Interior had rankled the King, was able to redirect his considerable energies into the politically harmless pursuits of scholarship and scholarly publishing.14 A similarly fortuitous, and similarly unexpected, change came to the library as a result of Siam’s entry into World War I in 1917: the elderly German curator, Dr. Frankfurter, was replaced by a young French epigraphist, G. Coedès, who was to become the premier scholar of Southeast Asia’s classical period. In 1924 Coedès as curator published a definitive edition of the inscriptions of Sukhothai, Siam’s first Thai kingdom.
It was in his own writings on history, however, that King Vajiravudh could fully apply his nationalistic notions. Although Vajiravudh did not write historical texts,15 his work was sprinkled with historical references and historical views. Historical justifications were freely supplied for old institutions he wished to preserve, such as the monarchy, and for new institutions he wished to establish, such as the Wild Tigers. And in history were found the values, the ideals, the goals the King hoped to instill in the Thai nation.
All the virtues the King hoped to reawaken in the Thai people—their loyalty to their king, their devotion to Buddhism and morality, their sense of unity and willingness to fight to preserve that unity—were discovered by him to be ancient virtues. History showed that Siam was strong when its kings were strong; history showed that Siam was weak when the royal authority was in dispute, as, for example, when King Thammaracha died, when King Songtham usurped the throne, and when King Čhakkraphat died.16 In the sweep of Thai history the King tended to see the earliest epochs, the Sukhothai period in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the early Ayutthaya era through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as the most glorious. He felt that a decline had begun in the seventeenth century and noted that the whole last hundred years of the Ayutthaya period were marked by irregular accessions, petty rivalries, and a lack of harmony or feeling of national purpose, which had given the 207Burmese the opportunity to invade and lay the country to waste.17 The Bangkok period, however, under the dynasty of his forebears, had seen a return to glory: a succession of wise rulers, appreciating the force of the “stream of progress,” had been wise enough to welcome civilization and progress with open doors, “without being forced to do so at the cannon’s mouth.”18
Vajiravudh’s interest in history was not restricted to the episodical or illustrative or the brief literary allusion that provided background for a specific argument. Certain historical figures intrigued him. Not surprisingly these figures were all “heroes.” They were all warriors. They were men, and a few women, who had met the challenges of their times. They were Thai of the past whose lives and values merited emulation by modern Thai.
Three men received more attention than most; they were Naresuan, Taksin, and Phra Ruang. As might be expected, all three were kings, all three were military leaders, all three were unifiers of the Thai people.
King Naresuan the Great, as Vajiravudh called him, had been the Thai monarch during the last years of the sixteenth century. He had successfully brought an end to a fifteen-year period of Burmese suzerainty in Siam. According to Thai chronicles, Naresuan had fought a decisive battle against a new invading Burmese army in January 1593 and, to commemorate this victory, had erected a stupa, or čhedi, at the scene of the victory. The stupa and the victory had subsequently been forgotten. The new interest in history and the rediscovery of old Thai historical accounts led Prince Damrong to direct provincial officials to search for Naresuan’s stupa. A likely site, called Dο̨n Čhedi, was found and reported to the King in 1913.19
King Vajiravudh, who had extolled King Naresuan for his bravery and for exemplifying the true ideals of a “Wild Tiger” as early as May 1911,20 decided to make use of the discovery of Naresuan’s stupa in a large public display. During the Wild Tiger maneuvers early in 1914, the King organized a march of almost a thousand men from the Tiger camp at Nakhο̨n Pathom to the stupa site in Suphanburi Province. After a seven-day march, the stupa remains were reached. The site was verified through various artifacts that were identified as dating from Naresuan’s time. On January 28, approximately on the day 321 years after Naresuan’s “glorious victory,” a great commemorative service was held, a service that concluded with the King’s delivery of a ringing patriotic address.
In the address Naresuan was praised as the king whose victory 208“upon this very spot secured our national freedom and made our nation respected by the Burmese and Takings [Mon].” Naresuan, however, did not act alone; he was able to rely upon a Thai people who were loyal to him and gave him their full confidence. The historical lesson to be learned from Naresuan’s time was that a united and patriotic people who were loyal to a capable leader could overcome any adversity. Vajiravudh said:
When every Siamese shall begin to think and speak as one man, then will the time have arrived when there will be no longer any anxiety for the well-being of our nation. Individually each one of us is comparable to a lump of earth which goes to form part of a mountain. It would be great folly to look after only the small lump and allow the mountain to crumble. We must exert ourselves to preserve the mountain in order to preserve the existence of its component parts.21
The way to become “the worthy successors of our ancestors who fought for King Naresuan the Great” was for all Thai to resolve “to think and act together” and so become the unified patriotic people they had once been.
King Vajiravudh’s glorification of Taksin, the King of Siam from 1767 to 1781, would at first glance appear to be a paradox, since the Chakkri dynasty had taken over the throne that Taksin had been forced to vacate. Although the first Chakkri ruler, Vajiravudh’s great-great-grandfather, had not deposed Taksin, he had accepted the accession and had ordered the execution of the king who had been imprisoned as a madman. Vajiravudh restored King Taksin to respectability by stressing the virtues of the early years of his reign. Whatever his later faults, Taksin had, Vajiravudh noted, been responsible for ridding Siam of the Burmese hosts and reuniting the kingdom. Taksin, he said, was a brave leader who exemplified the true ideals of a Wild Tiger. Unlike some kings who thought only of their personal pleasure, Taksin always put the needs of his country first and, heedless of his own safety and comfort, risked all in his desire to save Siam.22 In addition to making favorable comments about Taksin, Vajiravudh in 1916 devoted the “people’s” kathin (the ceremony of the giving of robes to monks) largely to celebrating that king’s memory. A temple particularly associated with King Taksin was made the site of the King’s pilgrimage. The temple had never been visited before by a reigning king of the Chakkri dynasty. The barge on which the King was transported to the temple was deliberately designed in the shape of a Chinese dragon, and the royal pavilion 209on its back was fashioned as a Chinese house.23 These were stylistic references to King Taksin’s part-Chinese ancestry.
The hero nonpareil in Vajiravudh’s estimation, however, was Phra Ruang. The name Phra Ruang is a name that appears often in early Thai legend. In the Chronicle of the North (Phongsawadan nu̓a) Phra Ruang refers to the Thai leader who established the independence of the kingdom of Sukhothai, that is, the first king of Sukhothai, who is called Si Intharathit in inscriptions. King Vajiravudh used the term Phra Ruang in this sense, but he also understood the term as a name applying to the entire dynasty founded by Si Intharathit. When he used the term to refer to a particular individual, he meant either Si Intharathit, who reigned early in the thirteenth century, or his son, Ramkhamhaeng, who reigned late in the century.24 The glory of the former was his establishment of Thai independence from Cambodia; that of the latter, the expansion of Thai power over much of present-day Thailand.
References to Phra Ruang abound in Vajiravudh’s writings. His best-known travel account is that of his trip to “Phra Ruang country” (Thiao mu̓ang phra ruang), and his most highly regarded historical play is about Phra Ruang’s success in winning Thai independence. A number of poems celebrate Phra Ruang’s memory. And, as has been mentioned, the object of the great patriotic drive organized by the Navy League was to purchase a warship that the King named Phra Ruang.
The play Phra ruang was prepared in at least three versions: a traditional dance drama, written in December 1912; a modern drama, written before February 1914; and a musical, first presented in 1924.25 The modern drama is the version that is best known and most frequently performed. The King, in fact, deliberately wrote it in a style that would make it relatively easy for Wild Tiger groups and other amateur players to perform. The play eventually became a standard text in secondary schools.26
Phra ruang exemplifies Vajiravudh’s historical technique, patriotic didacticism, and dramatic skill at their finest. The historical method he used, which probably borrowed not a little from Prince Damrong,27 was to subject his legendary sources to a critical and logical examination, conjure up a rational explanation, and present that rationalized account as history. This method depended on the theory that careers of heroes in history undergo a continuous embellishment in time, that there is a natural inclination to endow heroes with extraordinary powers, to see their noble acts as arising from 210superhuman attributes; the historian merely has to peel away the fabulous to get back to the real personality.28 The legend of Phra Ruang in the Chronicle of the North, for example, described him as possessing various magical powers. Phra Ruang’s difficulties with his Cambodian overlords began when the vassal prince sent tribute water to the Cambodian king in loosely woven baskets. The baskets retained the water because of the power of Phra Ruang’s words commanding that they do so. The Cambodians became alarmed at a vassal whose magic was so great and decided that they must take action against him. Vajiravudh rejected the magic of the legend, but retained the story by supplying the reasonable element that he was sure history had lost. The Thai of Phra Ruang’s time, he said, had suffered keenly from the Cambodian exactions. To reduce the difficulty in sending the water tribute, Phra Ruang, who was extraordinary only in his intellect and compassion for his people, decided to replace the heavy and breakable water jars ordinarily used to contain the tribute water with much lighter containers, and so he devised baskets coated with waterproof lacquer. On receiving the water in such an unorthodox fashion, the Cambodians became aware of the potential danger this clever vassal posed. At another point in the traditional Phra Ruang story, a Cambodian was sent by his king to capture Phra Ruang. He started on his mission by miraculously plunging into the earth, and emerged hundreds of miles away in Thai territory. This Cambodian “earth diver” of legend, the King said, was simply a popular distortion of what originally was a commonplace spy mission; the figurative “going underground” had acquired a fantastic literal meaning.
The Phra Ruang story, as finally rationalized by Vajiravudh, became a straightforward history of a Thai hero leading a valiant people out of bondage into freedom. Phra Ruang outsmarts the Cambodians; his people resist the Cambodian armies; and, at the play’s end, the populations of Sukhothai and Lopburi combine to offer fealty to Phra Ruang as the monarch of a new independent Thai state.
Phra Ruang is brought out of legend and into life by Vajiravudh, but he remains very much the hero. He is the epitome of all virtues. He is extolled by other characters in the play as loving his people as if they were his own children and as being courageous, compassionate, beneficent beyond the beneficence of parents, incomparable:
211In the earlier version of the Phra Ruang play, one noble says of him, “Not once in a thousand years does there appear a man with his merit.”30
Phra Ruang is the brave leader, but a brave leader to be successful needs a loyal and courageous people. The hero—be he Phra Ruang or Naresuan or Taksin or, indeed, Vajiravudh—cannot work miracles all alone. The final speech of the play, delivered by Phra Ruang as he accepts the throne of Sukhothai, is a stirring patriotic call to all Thai to realize their great promise as a free people. The speech is, of course, Vajiravudh’s own call to the Thai of his time rather than an attempt to recreate Phra Ruang’s sentiments. In this speech—and occasionally in some other contexts as well—Vajiravudh identified himself with Phra Ruang.31 Phra Ruang urges his people to maintain their armed might and their unity so as to leave no opportunity for an enemy to destroy the state. He says, in part:
I ask the Thai to join in love,
To join in fellowship,
So that when the enemy comes
We can fight him in full strength.
The Thai combining their power
Will be able to raise a staunch defense.
Even if a powerful foe comes,
He will be defeated.
I ask only that we Thai not destroy our nation.
Let us unite our state, unite our hearts, into a great whole.
Thai—do not harm or destroy Thai,
But combine your spirit and your strength to preserve the state
So that all foreign peoples
Will give us increasing respect.
Help one another to further our progress
So the name “Thai” will redound throughout the world.
Help one another to sustain
Both our nation and our faith
So they will last to the end of time.
Let us progress, Thai! Chaiyo!32
The patriotic purpose of dramatizing the Phra Ruang story, which is abundantly clear in the text itself, was made explicit by the royal author. In a preface to the first version Vajiravudh wrote: “I hope it will serve for more than casual reading. I hope it will be a means for our Thai race to reflect on our history and make us feel that our race is not a new race but an old race with an admirable history.” 212The King continued in the preface to point to the lessons of the past: the lesson of a king who loved his nation so much he was willing to suffer and die for it; the lesson of a loyal people who respected their leader and obeyed him. This relationship between the king and his people, Vajiravudh stated, was proper and good in Sukhothai times, and this relationship was “suitable for us Thai today to emulate.”33
Vajiravudh extolled Phra Ruang in several poems in addition to his dramatic works. One long poem was a versification of a collection of old Thai proverbs known as The Maxims of Phra Ruang (Suphasit phra ruang).34 The maxims, which include the well-known saying that Thai are free men and not slaves, were introduced by the King with lines praising Phra Ruang and his moral teachings—teachings which, the King said, despite their age, retained relevance and value. Another poem refers to Ramkhamhaeng, “the most daring of men in battle,” as Phra Ruang and urges Thai to contribute to the fund to purchase a warship that will bear his name.35
Historical figures other than the three heroes already mentioned were honored by Vajiravudh. Among them were two women: Queen Suriyothai, a sixteenth-century heroine who sacrificed her life to save her husband; and Khunying Mo, the wife of a governor of Khorat who helped defeat an invading Lao army in the early nineteenth century. One important work, a verse-play entitled Thao saen pom, was devoted to the demythologized history of the father of the founder of Ayutthaya; here, however, Vajiravudh made little attempt to turn the principal character into a major patriotic hero.36
The evoking of the past for nationalistic purposes extended beyond the preservation of historical sites and objects, the encouragement of production of historical works, and the heralding of old heroes. A deliberate attempt was made, for example, to revitalize traditional ceremonies and customs in order to focus attention on the nation. King Vajiravudh’s elaborations of the homage to dynastic ancestors, resulting in the creation of a “National Day,” and his additions to the celebrations of the king’s accession day and the king’s birthday have already been discussed in chapter 6. Vajiravudh’s revival of the first plowing ceremony is another example of his use of traditional ceremonies for new purposes. This ceremony, an old Hinduist rite meant to insure good crops, had almost disappeared by Vajiravudh’s time. Vajiravudh brought it back into favor. While the ceremony had little direct bearing on nationalism, it had been popular among Siam’s large farm population, and its resuscitation could not help but bring the people closer to their government. This fact was 213appreciated by the King, as an article on the plowing ceremony either written by or approved by him made clear. The article pointed out that, although the ceremony had no tangible use, it was popular among the people and had meaning for them. “And when most people think it useful, then it is!”37
A number of other ceremonies and social customs received the King’s support. The old popular festival of lο̨i krathong, the floating of candle-lit offerings on the rivers, had received no royal attention for more than twenty years; in Bangkok it had ceased to be celebrated. King Vajiravudh in 1915 revived the festival by fixing three evenings for its celebration, by encouraging members of the royal family and certain officials to take part in it, and by himself going to watch the procession of floating decorations.38 The festival was a huge success. In the following year, however, royal support for it was not continued because of the augmentation of the ceremonies for the anniversary of the King’s accession (at which the new dynastic name was introduced) and the augmentation of the ceremonies for the King’s birthday (his thirty-sixth, the end of his third cycle). And the King made no further attempts to revive the festival.
King Vajiravudh supplied some reasons for his support of old Thai custom in a rejoinder he wrote to a newspaper criticism of the tonsure ceremony as a waste of money. The King grouped the topknot-cutting ceremony with ordination, marriage, and funeral rites as all belonging in the same category. All could be regarded as wasteful, as “grinding pepper sauce in the river.” Yet, held the King, they were no more wasteful than Western social affairs—coming-out parties, balls, and concerts—which the Thai did not indulge in. Such social affairs were, said Vajiravudh, earmarks of civilized peoples. Peaceful and pleasant social intercourse, the gathering of friends, the mingling of peoples from various stations of life were all part of the necessary cement of society. If topknot ceremonies were to go, the King wryly queried, what would take their place? Western barroom bashes perhaps?39
It is impossible to measure with any accuracy the effect of the King’s campaign for increasing Thai historical awareness. But there can be no doubt that it had some effect. Even as early as 1921 the Bangkok Times was able to conclude that “… practically up to the time when the present King came to the throne, the history of Siam for the average Siamese began with his own earliest recollections. Young Siam to-day is gaining a wider vision and some sense of the fact that the roots of the national life go deep into the past.”40 214
Buddhism occupied a very special and important place in the nationalistic program of King Vajiravudh. For adherence to Buddhism was seen by the King as one of the essential characteristics of the Thai as a people. A primary element in the definition of Siam was that it was a Buddhist nation.
Regard for Buddhism was, of course, nothing new for kings of Siam. The relationship between the monarchy and the Buddhist Order had been close since earliest history. It was a symbiotic relationship: the Buddhist Order supported the state, the state supported the order. The religious and civil administrations complemented each other; very rarely did either interfere in the vital concerns of the other. In addition to supporting Buddhism, Thai kings had also long maintained a body of court Brahmins whose role was limited to the performance of certain royal ceremonies, such as the coronation ceremonies. During the reign of King Mongkut, however, the Buddhist ceremonial role in state affairs had been expanded and the significance of the court Brahmins had declined.41
Vajiravudh, as a prince, had received traditional instruction in Buddhist principles. This instruction had been maintained even during the Prince’s period of education in England. Indeed, the experience abroad may have sharpened Vajiravudh’s conscious adherence to Buddhism, for in the European setting, young Thai students often encountered Christian arguments against and Christian challenges to their Buddhism. Vajiravudh may have been reflecting on his own experience when he pointed out that young Thai studying abroad were particularly vulnerable to Christian arguments: they did not know their own religion well enough to defend it; they were apt to remain silent before the voluble European and his criticisms of Buddhism.42 Vajiravudh apparently met this Western threat successfully, and his faith in Buddhism emerged, if anything, stronger from the encounter. When he returned to Siam, he underwent the traditional ordination for Thai young men and spent four months in late 1904 in the monkhood, studying Buddhist discipline, Pali and Sanskrit texts, and the administration of the Buddhist Order.
Vajiravudh, as king, was Buddhism’s prime patron. He maintained traditional support of the order and traditional Buddhist rites of merit-making such as the kathin (giving of robes to monks) and the wisakhabucha (celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha). In an effort to popularize wisakhabucha Vajiravudh attempted to make it a special day for children. At the Royal Pages 215School a wisakha tree made of bo tree branches was decorated “like a Christmas tree” and presents were distributed by the King to the young boys.43 Special Buddhist ceremonies in the palace were also continued. One such ceremony was the fashioning of a special Buddha image for the reign to insure prosperity and victory. This image, known as the Phra Chai Watthana, was cast on January 8, 1911, and consecrated in a two-day ceremony and celebration in October 1912.44 There were countless other such ceremonies dotting the royal calendar.
The customary administrative tasks related to the Buddhist Order were also performed by the King. By and large, appointments, promotions, and awarding of names to monks in high administrative posts were given routine royal approval, but in some cases the King scrutinized them carefully and asked questions or made suggestions. On one submission on October 16, 1925, for example, Vajiravudh approved the promotion of forty-nine monks, suggested the promotion of one additional monk, and suggested name changes for four monks.45 At ministerial meetings the King discussed revisions of examinations for monks and the amount of aid to be given royal monasteries for maintenance.46 A crucial decision on the successor to the Supreme Patriarch, who died in 1921, was also made by the King, who chose the new patriarch’s rank and even decided on the proper translation of his title into English (“Patriarch of the Kingdom,” later changed to “Prince Patriarch of the Kingdom”). The King, in an interesting aside on this subject of patriarchal titles, wrote his secretary: “I rather like the style of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is called ‘PRIMATE OF ALL ENGLAND.’ But it might sound too imitative.”47
One policy of the reign toward religion that marked a change from previous policy was the King’s encouragement of merit-making in practical and progressive ways. His favor for the building of schools over the building of temples has already been noted in chapter 6. This policy marked an extension of an idea expressed in a rescript of King Chulalongkorn that called for a more modest than usual cremation for himself so as to reduce the customary “display of pomp and circumstance” and “waste of labour and expense” that conferred “no lasting benefit on the public.”48 This rescript was often referred to during the Sixth Reign by the King, by Queen Saowapha, and by other individuals when they made donations for public works such as schools, hospitals, or book publishing. Vajiravudh carried the meaning of the rescript considerably farther, however, by deciding not to follow tradition by building a temple dedi216cated to his reign but to build schools and a memorial hospital instead. In the dedication of Vajira Hospital in 1913, the King stated that, although tradition “mentions that the King after his Accession … erects and consecrates a monastery as a pious memorial of Thanksgiving,” Siam already had a great number of monasteries and “to add more to the number … would be of no immediate benefit to the people.” However, since some sign of “Our gratitude for the Virtues which have raised Us to Our exalted position of power and wealth” was proper, he had chosen to build a hospital, which would be infinitely more beneficial to the people and “far more gratifying to Our heart than the sowing broadcast of money and presents to casual mendicants.” The King prayed that the “Virtues of the Holy Trinity of the great Religion” which “We devoutly observe and defend” would shower blessings on his act of devotion “towards the People whom We regard as Our beloved children.”49
The great change in the role of Buddhism in Siam initiated by Vajiravudh, however, was his use of Buddhism to buttress nationalism. One of the three essential attributes of a patriotic Thai, along with loyalty to king and love of nation, was devotion to Buddhism. A true Thai was a good Buddhist. Adherence to the Buddhist faith was necessary for the well-being of the state. Previous kings had supported Buddhism publicly for somewhat different reasons. They had favored Buddhism as a means of increasing royal virtue, as a means of public welfare, and as a means of adding miraculous power to the state. But Vajiravudh identified Buddhism with patriotism; a devoted Buddhist was a devoted citizen.
The Buddhist messages of the King consisted of four main elements. First, a good Buddhist was a moral citizen and a strength to the state. Second, a moral state would be strong in competition with other states. Third, for the Thai at least, Buddhism was a better route to morality than any other religion. And, fourth, the Thai had a mission to preserve and protect the Buddhist faith. These messages were conveyed in various ways—in plays, speeches, essays, and poems. Particularly noteworthy was a series of lay sermons to the Wild Tigers delivered on Saturdays during 1914 and 1915.50 The sermons were preceded by Buddhist devotions performed before the King’s own Buddha image that was brought along with him wherever he went. Also noteworthy were the lectures the King gave on Wisakhabucha Day to students at the Royal Pages School51 and an essay on the knowledge gained by the Buddha on his enlightenment.52
Vajiravudh’s first message, that a good Buddhist was a moral citizen and a strength to the state, was supported very simply. 217Buddhism, in the King’s view, was primarily a system of morality. The moral codes and moral laws of Buddhism kept men from barbarism. These moral codes had been discovered by an extraordinary man, the Buddha, not through divine revelation, but by “researches and experiments in nature’s own laboratory.”53 The Buddha then out of his infinite kindness and compassion had dedicated his life to teaching others what he had learned. The golden rule of Buddhism was “Do good, receive good; do evil, receive evil.” Indeed, said the King, through a character in one of his plays, “If you plant weeds, how can you expect to reap rice?”54 A man consumed by selfishness, lusts, passions, and desires inevitably had to suffer, for subjugation of desires was essential to one’s own well-being. But it was also essential to the well-being of society. No society could tolerate individuals “without moral decency”; such individuals were “just as dangerous as a ferocious beast of the jungle.” Vajiravudh wrote: “Therefore, if we wish to live in peace and happiness in any community of people it is really necessary that we conform ourselves to the principle of morality and Dharma so that our neighbors can be friendly with us without suspicion and distrust.”55 No man, after all, could stand alone, no matter how strong, wealthy, or wise he was. He needed at least a wife, parents, children, servants. He was dependent on others. And, being dependent, he was obliged to consider the welfare of others.56
Some Westernized Thai, the King said, thought it modern to deprecate Buddhism as old-fashioned and outdated. But morality, said the King, knew no time, and true righteousness was worldwide. Buddhism had always had and always would have its carpers, men who for their own private interests preferred not to be bound by any code of morality. But civilization in any country depended on peace and order, on a system of morality.57
King Vajiravudh could hardly expect that, even with his encouragement, all Thai would immediately become exemplary Buddhists. Indeed, he explicitly stated, in the traditional mode of Buddhist tolerance, that different men had different levels of achievement. All that was necessary was that one try to exercise control over himself. If a man were born with a low karmic balance sheet, he could not do much, but “No matter how little it is that you can do, that little is better than nothing at all.”58 More, much more, might be expected of government servants. A persistent effort of the King was to improve the ethical standards of government officials. And in part this effort had a religious purpose. Government officials, after all, could be seen as agents of His Majesty’s own karmic capital. 218His Majesty’s Buddhist virtue, accumulated in previous births, was the ultimate source of his servants’ authority. It was particularly important, therefore, that government servants be honest and trustworthy so as to protect the good name of the king and the nation. “Better an honest official‚” said Vajiravudh, “than one who is cleverer but less honest.”59
The adherence to Buddhist morality of each and every Thai could not help but strengthen Siam. Thai who loved the nation, the King said, should be attentive to their moral behavior. Since every Thai person was a part of the Thai nation, it was necessary for each person to tend his morals for the advantage of the nation. For, as the King once said, “a good nation is made up of moral people.”60 And a good nation endured. In the “sublime” and “truthful” words of an old Thai cosmological work, “the length of a nation’s days are greater or less in accordance with the righteousness of the individuals thereof.”61
Adherence to Buddhism contributed to the strength of the state not only in a general way but also in a very specific way: it contributed to the bravery of soldiers. Buddhism, no less than Christianity or Islam, steeled the hearts of warriors, converted the timorous into the brave. In former times, Vajiravudh pointed out, Thai soldiers had carried amulets into battle or had worn protective symbols on their bodies as reminders of the protective power of the triple gems of Buddhism.62
The King’s second message, that a moral state would be strong in competition with other states, followed an argument that flowed logically from the arguments for individual morality. An immoral nation was one that used its strength to oppress other nations. Such a nation not only earned a bad name in the world, but also, eventually, earned the ruinous fate it deserved. An immoral state might succeed in getting away with its oppressions for a time, but sooner or later its immorality would lead to its downfall. It was like the immoral official who might rise in rank through cheating; eventually he would be discovered and would lose all. Vajiravudh buttressed his arguments with numerous examples. In an obvious reference to Germany, he pointed out that states which proclaimed the doctrine of “might is right” had fallen into disgrace. Other examples, he said, were closer to home. He wrote:
The great nations that once were our enemies and fought the Thai nation, that once oppressed us, what is their fate today? The Chinese, who were our masters for 2,000 years, and the Cambodians, who once 219caused us hardships to the point of tears, and the Burmese and Mon, who once oppressed us so that our hearts and bodies ached beyond describing, what is their status today? Anyone with eyes and ears can answer.
The Thai, he said, had withstood the oppression and had been able to retain their freedom because, unlike their neighbors, they had remained steadfast in morality.63
The third message of the King, that Buddhism was, for the Thai at least, the best route to morality, led Vajiravudh into lengthy comparisons of Buddhism with other religions—comparisons that were inevitably to Buddhism’s advantage. Vajiravudh said that, as a Buddhist, he was bound to think that Buddhism was the best religion in the world. But beyond this bias, he declared, there were good reasons for his preference of Buddhism.64
First of all, Buddhism was tolerant. The Buddha was a teacher who, having found what he felt to be the true path for men to follow, proclaimed it to others. The Buddha’s proclamation, however, was a generous deed; it was not a command. Men could follow or not, as they chose. There was no dogma, no set of beliefs—not even a belief in a god-creator (such as Jehovah or Allah)—that it was necessary to accept in order to avoid being in eternal sin.65 Buddhism set forth a philosophic way for men to become happier, to help themselves. There was no god who demanded obedience and threatened terrible punishments for those who did not obey.
Secondly, the Buddha, the predecessor of Jesus and Muhammad, was the most remarkable of the three teachers. The Buddha taught without setting forth commandments. He made no claims of being a god or speaking for a god. The truth he proclaimed commended itself to men simply on its own merits as truth. In his personal life the Buddha, born a wealthy prince, had renounced his easy life and voluntarily assumed a life of hardship. Neither Jesus nor Muhammad had made such a sacrifice, for both had been born poor and had been used to poverty. Muhammad, in fact, had become a well-to-do ruler during his lifetime.66
The Jewish and Christian concept of a single god, Vajiravudh felt, contained weaknesses. The Jewish god, for example, sided with his “chosen people,” yet he was supposed to have created all mankind. How could a god, who should above all be just, love some of his creatures and hate others?67 As for the Christian god, his multiple personalities gave Vajiravudh pause. How could Jesus be the son of God? How could a disembodied holy spirit be the husband of a 220woman? And if Jesus were the son of God, why did Matthew bother to provide Jesus with a royal genealogy by tracing Joseph’s line back to King David? Vajiravudh suggested that Mary had indeed been the mother of Jesus but that some man other than Joseph had been his father and, after Jesus became a famous teacher, the Holy Ghost story had been invented to cover Jesus’ unsavory past. The superiority to Jesus of the high-caste and pure-born prince who became the Buddha was manifest. The Thai could be proud of the Buddha, could be happy that his birth was no cause for shame. There was no need for the Thai to beat an implausible story into their heads.68
To Vajiravudh, the role of faith made the vital difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Christianity placed great stress on faith. A Christian had to begin, for example, by believing in the virginity of Mary. Not all Christians had the same beliefs, but there was an essential core of belief. Not so with Buddhists. The Buddha taught men how to be good, but he fashioned no articles of faith. Men followed the Buddha because they recognized the merit of his teachings, because they recognized the goodness of his person. This recognition led to love. And love led to faith. The basis of Buddhist faith, said Vajiravudh, was not superstition and fable, but intelligence.69
Buddhism, it was true, had miraculous and superstitious elements, as did Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism. But rejection of the miracles in Buddhism need not lead, as some misguided people thought, to rejection of the entire faith. Miracles, said the King, were a religion’s embellishments. A great religious teacher or a great king who aroused extraordinary respect during his lifetime was apt to have his wondrous life improved upon after his death. He became larger than life, superhuman. But these heroic embellishments were not intrinsically important. They were like the ornaments on a house—curtains, pictures, lights—that dressed it up but were in no way essential to its architecture. The story of Christ’s resurrection, for example, was but the vehicle for the real message of the persistence of his teachings. And the miracle of the Buddha’s single-handed victories in his contests with Mara, the evil tempter with a thousand arms and an army of a hundred thousand, was but the means for illustrating the power of the human spirit when committed to the way of truth.70
King Vajiravudh’s religious comparisons were meant to make Buddhists proud of their Buddhism; they were not meant to make Thai Buddhists disrespectful of other religions. Time after time the King pointed out the basic similarities of all religions. All religions 221taught their adherents a similar moral code; they taught men to do good, not to harm others. The important messages of Christianity, said the King, had already been enunciated by Buddhism. Christian criticisms of Buddhism amounted in fact to an admission of similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, for only relative equals debated; Christians did not bother, for example, to argue the relative merits of Christian love and the cannibalism practiced by some primitive faiths. Christian criticisms of Buddhism also amounted to an appreciation of the challenge that Buddhism posed to Christianity as a rival claimant to universal belief.71
Only one specific criticism of Buddhism was attacked by the King. This criticism was that Buddhism was a negative faith, that it taught quiescence and was thus a religion for lazy people. Vajiravudh argued that messages of asceticism, surrender, and otherworldliness were common in religion. And he quoted the Sermon on the Mount to make his point: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” The intention of such words was not to make people lazy, but to get them to appreciate that the true values of life do not lie in material things. The heart of Buddhism was contained in the words “Do good, receive good; do evil, receive evil.” If one did nothing, one would receive neither good nor evil. Those who criticized Buddhism for its passivity, said the King, were poorly informed on Buddhism and were wrong.72
The conclusion Vajiravudh drew from these religious comparisons—that Buddhism was at least the equal of other world religions—was not the end of his arguments in favor of Buddhism for the Thai. History and national identity provided Buddhism’s final substantiation. For Buddhism had come early to Siam. It had preceded Christianity in Asia as Christianity had preceded Buddhism in Europe. For a European to become a Buddhist or for an Asian to become a Christian was unnatural. Such conversions amounted to a repudiation of one’s ancestors and of one’s nation. They were signs of weakness, vacillation, and opportunism. Europeans converted to Buddhism were looked down upon by other Europeans. And Thai who became Christians won the favor of no one except the missionaries. The Thai should realize, the King said, that one’s religion was an essential element in one’s nationality. Religion and nation were inseparable. The Thai were fortunate in having a religious faith of such outstanding value, a religious faith that was truly in accord with a high state of civilization.73
The fourth Buddhist message the King brought his people was 222that they had a duty in the world to preserve Buddhism. There was no place other than Siam where Buddhism could be properly studied and understood. Siam was Buddhism’s last line of defense. The first and second lines had already fallen; only Siam, the third line, remained. (Although Vajiravudh did not specify what he meant by first and second lines, it is probable that he was regarding India as the first fallen line and Burma, Cambodia, and Ceylon together as the second.) Siam was Buddhism’s great citadel, and the Thai must be soldiers proud to defend it against all internal and external enemies.74 The main weapon of defense was practice of true Buddhist principles.
The image of Thai Buddhists as soldiers defending the last bastions of their faith was probably no accident. Although it was only natural that Vajiravudh’s military enthusiasms would be reflected to some extent in his rhetoric, the King was undoubtedly also aware of an undercurrent of Thai thought that saw the pairing of Buddhism and militarism as inherently inappropriate. He disagreed with this view. The allegory of the Thai Buddhist bastion defended by its citizen soldiers corresponded with the King’s view that real soldiers were necessary to protect the Buddhist state. Those who cited the Buddhist injunction against taking life as proof that military duties were immoral and that soldiers could not be good Buddhists had only a superficial knowledge of Buddhism, said the King. The Buddha himself understood that defense of a nation was a necessity and that those responsible for a nation’s defense could indeed be moral individuals.75 The Buddha, he said, “never expressly forbade war”; indeed, there was evidence that he approved of the waging of war to defend a state against an outside enemy.76 The King told the story of a Buddhist king of Magadha named Bimbisara whose soldiers were deserting the ranks to enter the monkhood. The Magadha king appealed to the Buddha, who laid down the rule that thenceforward no soldier would be accepted for ordination as a monk. “This,” said Vajiravudh, “could only mean that the Lord Buddha, who was himself a prince of the warrior caste, fully understood and appreciated the necessity of national defence.”77 Other clues to the Buddha’s attitude toward soldiers existed. The vinaya, or rules for the behavior of monks, gave monks permission to preach to soldiers. Further, monks had long been in the habit of conducting prayers for military men and performing rites to protect men in battle. Neither of these actions were prohibited by the vinaya, as would certainly have been the case if the Buddha had disapproved.78
The real meaning of the prohibition of the taking of life, said 223Vajiravudh, was to end aggression. It was counsel for those who would use their strength to inflict injury on others. It was not meant to deter the innocent from protecting themselves. The soldier engaged in defending his countrymen from the depredations of an aggressive enemy was not behaving immorally. Quite the contrary, such a soldier was, or should be, a particularly moral man because the arms he bore gave him special means of harming others. The soldier must be outstandingly moral in order to be worthy of the trust he had been given. The Thai soldier, engaged purely in defense, was a man with such compassion for the group that he was willing to sacrifice his life for his neighbors and a man with such a commitment to his faith that he was willing to sacrifice his life to protect and preserve the Buddhist dharma, or moral law.79
The close association in the King’s mind between Buddhist morality and the military was exhibited in the long sermons Vajiravudh gave to Wild Tiger troops and the various religious devotions in which he led them. In the latter the King embellished and “improved” standard prayers, or mantras (mon in Thai), by adding pertinent lines of his own. A prayer to be recited by navy men added lines calling for Siamese victories at sea,80 and the daily prayer for Wild Tiger units was supplemented with the lines:
Though there be a special enemy
With the strength of Mara,
May the Thai fight and destroy him
As did the holy Buddha.81
When Siam entered World War I against the Central Powers, Vajiravudh carried his argument further. The Central Powers were viewed as evil incarnate. If evil were allowed to triumph, how could the dharma survive? Going to war to defend the dharma was no sin.
And why is it “no sin”? Because we go to war in defense of right. If there were no right there would be no religion. If there were no right we could not exist as nations, as communities, or even as households. This principle is so important that we have to fight for it.82
The opposition to the pairing of Buddhism and militarism already mentioned as an undercurrent in Thai thought did not always remain an undercurrent. On at least one occasion an opposing voice was heard publicly. The voice was that of Phra Deb Mori, a prominent monk who was abbot of a Bangkok monastery. Early in 1916 this monk delivered a sermon, later printed, in which he labeled the military profession as evil and stated that those in the military 224establishment and those associated with it as manufacturers of arms were all guilty of sin. Public espousal of such views could not be tolerated. The monk was deprived of his rank by the King and removed to another monastery where he was placed “under close watch in order that he may not do such a thing again.” The monk was castigated for his misinterpretations of the teachings of the Buddha, who, it was held, had never condemned the military life and had never interfered with politics. The strong action taken against Phra Deb Mori was meant as a warning “in order that no other monk should make such mischief again, and interfere with politics, which are not his profession.” The Supreme Patriarch, it was announced, thoroughly sympathized with His Majesty in the action taken.83
The Supreme Patriarch, Prince Vajiranana, was a close and dependable ally of King Vajiravudh not only on the subject of the compatability of military defense and Buddhism but also on the King’s nationalistic program in general. The correspondence of the ideas of the Prince and the King was not surprising. Prince Vajiranana had been Vajiravudh’s preceptor during the latter’s indoctrination as a monk, and the relationship between a novice monk and his preceptor was customarily very close in Siam and lasted throughout life.84 The Prince Patriarch, further, was Vajiravudh’s uncle. And Vajiranana’s family and dynastic loyalties were strong. His decision to remain in the monkhood had been due, in large measure, to the urging of his brother, King Chulalongkorn, who wanted a trusted and capable relative in the monkhood who could one day assume a position of authority in the order and who could be relied upon to be sympathetic to the King’s program of government reform. Vajiranana had not disappointed King Chulalongkorn; among other things, the important initial steps in bringing mass provincial education into being had been entrusted to Prince Vajiranana and the Buddhist Order.85
During the Sixth Reign, Prince Vajiranana on numerous occasions gave clear indications in word and action of his support of the administration. The Prince, for example, gave a benediction to the Wild Tiger Corps at its inauguration in May 1911. The benediction itself constituted an act of support for the paramilitary corps. And to the standard Pali verses asking that those he blessed be accorded respect, honor, and freedom from harm, the Prince added a verse that showed his specific approval of the idea of the corps.86 On the same occasion the Prince gave an address that echoed the King’s own comments on the need for Thai to be united and to support and love their nation. The nation, he said, must be cherished more 225than life itself. And loyalty to nation must precede loyalty to family, for the continuation of a family depended on the continuation of the nation; the nation, therefore, must be cherished “much more” than the family. The nation, he pointed out further, needed a leader who would give it direction; without a leader, a king, the nation was like a body with arms and legs but no mind. The Prince also spoke of the need for individual morality as a prerequisite for national survival. He pointed out that nations that lacked morality had lost their independence to colonial powers. As for the Wild Tiger Corps specifically, Vajiranana praised its members and said that their act of membership in itself was proof that they were already imbued with the highest national ideals. Vajiranana urged the corps members to maintain their integrity and always honor their sacred vows.87
Among the other addresses, or sermons, delivered by Prince Vajiranana, three stand out as particularly important for their support of national policy. These three were part of the series of addresses the Prince Patriarch gave each year on the occasion of the King’s birthday on January 1. The three were delivered in 1916, 1918, and 1919 and were subsequently translated into English “by one of his disciples”—undoubtedly the King.
The sermon of 1916, termed “a special allocution,” was entitled “The Buddhist Attitude towards National Defence and Administration.” In it the Prince praised the King for his righteous rule. On the subject of national defense he made his position clear: “The defence against external foes is one of the policies of governance, and is one that cannot be neglected.” He added, in much the same terms as Vajiravudh had used, that “war must be prepared for, even in time of peace, otherwise one would not be in time and one would be in a disadvantageous position towards one’s foe.”88 The historical picture of Siam as a country that had once been a nation of warriors but had lost its military skills through long years of peace—a picture also drawn by Vajiravudh—was now being changed, said the Prince, by a vigilant and wise King who was promoting the welfare of the army, improving the navy, and creating units to teach civilians the arts of war and to give schoolboys the warrior spirit.89
The sermon of 1918, another “special allocution,” was entitled “Right Is Right.” The sermon was delivered after Siam’s entry into World War I and clearly defended the King’s action. Vajiranana said:
Your Majesty has broken off friendly relations with and declared war on the Empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the name of the 226Kingdom of Siam, and has put an end to peace, because of Your desire to uphold International Rights.
When Right is in question, Wealth, Limbs, and even Life itself, all must be sacrificed should the occasion so demand it, any other policy is thereby practically forbidden.90
In other passages the Prince Patriarch strongly upheld “the duty of those who are in the right to chastise those in the wrong‚” and he ended the sermon with the invocation: “… may the success of glorious victory attend Your Majesty at all times henceforth.”91
This sermon of 1918 particularly delighted the King, who, in the translator’s foreword, pointed out to those who “affected to find in Buddhism grounds for conscientious objection to war” that they need no longer take the King’s word that his policy was correct but could now rely on the “pronouncement of the head of the Buddhist Church of Siam,” who said that “to fight for Right is not only a patriotic duty but also eminently a moral one.” The King used Vajiranana’s words of support, quoting liberally, in an important speech of his own given before the Wild Tigers on February 3, 1918.
The third sermon, that of 1919, also termed a “special allocution,” was entitled “The Triumph of Right.” It was essentially a victory address by the Supreme Patriarch. Siam had allied itself with nations opposed to the Central Powers, who had been “making war in an unrighteous manner” and threatening the freedom and equality of all nations. In so doing Siam had come to the defense of the right, and “in the end the Allies have achieved victory and Right has been upheld.” The policy the King had followed thus constituted a special blessing that had resulted in “enhancing Your dignity throughout the world.”92 The Prince enlarged his remarks into a general principle on “The Policy of Governance”:
… the Defence of Right forms part of the Policy of Governance which the King must consider one of his chief duties, chastising the wicked within his dominions who trespass against right and liberty of others, causing everyone to enjoy the blessings of his government in equal measure with one another, and likewise defending the realm from invasion by an enemy from without.93
To illustrate the propriety of righteous men’s going to war to defeat the unrighteous, Prince Vajiranana in his 1919 sermon told a story from the Dharma Jataka. It was an allegory concerning two minor gods, Dharma (“Morality”) and Adharma (“Immorality”), each of whom rode chariots in the air around the world. Dharma exhorted his fellowers to seek the ten paths of virtuous action; Adharma 227gave his followers opposite advice, exhortations to perform unvirtuous acts. Dharma’s circumambulatory route was by the right, or auspicious, side; Adharma proceeded by the left, a sign of disrespect. The two chariots eventually met face to face. Each god demanded the right of way. Each presented his case for precedence, Dharma arguing that he deserved it because he caused men to do meritorious deeds, Adharma insisting that he would go forward because he had the power to do so. Adharma challenged Dharma to fight. A battle ensued, and just as Dharma was about to be overcome, Adharma fell from his chariot, the earth held him firm, and he was slain. Prince Vajiranana saw “a striking similarity” between this story and the course of the Great War in Europe.94 Vajiravudh certainly agreed; in fact, he used the tale, inserting contemporary allusions, in a verse dance drama he wrote in 1919.95
Another example of Prince Vajiranana’s support of the King’s policies was his participation in the ceremonies that greeted the returning members of the Siamese Expeditionary Force on September 21, 1919. The Prince praised the troops who had volunteered for service in the war in Europe “to help the Allies defend the right and to prevent the victory of immorality.” He commended the men for having brought pride to the Thai nation. And he blessed the troops “in the name of the Buddha,” wishing them health, happiness, and future success. After the speech, the Prince Patriarch sprinkled consecrated water on the flag of victory and successively on each soldier as he passed in line before him.96
One other matter concerning the Prince and state policy deserves mention, although it only indirectly concerned nationalism. This was the Prince’s handling of Phra Siwichai, a village monk from Lamphun who had won great reverence in northern Siam for his piety. The popularity of the monk, the adulation accorded him by thousands of people, the stories that circulated regarding his miraculous powers all aroused considerable suspicion among local civil and religious officials that the monk might become the center of a northern separatist movement. Harassment of Phra Siwichai ended in his being sent by the Viceroy of the North down to Bangkok. There his case was examined by a committee of monks and finally by Prince Vajiranana himself, who concluded that Phra Siwichai had committed only minor errors, for which he had already been punished “more than he deserved,” and that most of the charges against him were without merit. The Prince recognized the danger of making a martyr of the monk and, in order to repair the damage that had been done, sent Phra Siwichai back to Lamphun under the official protection of 228the Supreme Patriarch.97 The Phra Siwichai case exemplified to the full the political astuteness of Vajiranana, his appreciation of the best course to follow in order to discourage the growth of regionalism and prevent disruption of national unity.
King Vajiravudh’s enlistment of Buddhism in the course of Thai nationalism was by and large a safe policy, for the vast majority of the people of the country were Thai and virtually all Thai were Buddhists. Nonetheless, there were minority elements in the population who were not Buddhists, and the King had no wish to antagonize these minorities. The special treatment accorded the Muslim minority has already been discussed in chapter 7. With respect to the very small number of Christians, the almost century-old royal policy of toleration was retained. Early in 1911, for example, Vajiravudh made donations in memory of King Chulalongkorn to several Christian groups—Christ Church, the Catholic mission, the Presbyterian mission, the Bangkok Nursing Home, and the St. Louis Hospital.98 Periodically during the reign other similar gifts were made. In 1921 the King and his consort paid a long visit to the charity sale at St. Joseph’s Convent.99 There is no evidence of local Christian or missionary antipathy toward the reign. On the contrary, there is evidence that at least some Christian groups eagerly took up the King’s nationalistic cause. The American Presbyterian Church mission in northern Siam, for example, composed and distributed patriotic hymns, published prayers for the King and officials, and wrote a flag song for the schools. In 1915 a mission conference adopted the following resolution: “We agree together that whenever Christians meet for worship or prayer, they should always pray for our King first, and for all those in authority and for our fellow Tai citizens. This should never be forgotten. Let us truly love those of our blood and nation.”100
In addition to their belief in the world religion Buddhism, the Thai also had a great body of informal religious notions. There was a vast ideational world peopled by spirits, angels, and demons that formed part of Thai religious concepts. This world was not part of formal Buddhism, but neither was it in conflict with Buddhism. The Buddha’s attitude toward notions of heavens and hells and gods and demons had been tolerant; in general, he had neither confirmed nor denied such popular ideas. Vajiravudh’s attitude was also tolerant. For the most part he said little on these subjects. To an extent, however, he attempted to utilize these popular beliefs for state and nationalistic purposes.
Vajiravudh himself seems to have been freer from superstition than most of his subjects. A Western observer called him “sober-minded” 229and “far from superstitious or fanciful” on supernatural subjects.101 One of the few mystical phenomena he seems to have given credence to was the appearance of a miraculous light ringing the top of the Phra Pathom stupa on October 24, 1909. The then Prince Vajiravudh reported to his father that he and sixty-nine of his courtiers had seen the light, which lasted for seventeen minutes. He tried to explain the phenomenon scientifically, decided he could not and so concluded it was a miracle. He ordered various religious ceremonies performed, presumably as a safeguard.102 Much later he explained the meaning of the phenomenon as a portent of a change in reign.103 And, indeed, the reign change did occur one year almost to the day later. Other portents in which the King apparently believed, such as the miraculous finds of “the Bow and Arrows of Rama’s Strength,”104 were intimately associated with the monarchy and betokened an auspicious reign. Belief, or professed belief, in such matters could hardly have been avoided.
One supernatural idea that the King encouraged was belief in a tutelary personal deity of his named Hiranhu or Hiranphanasun. Hiranhu was large and powerful, and his divine function was to keep King Vajiravudh and his retinue free from harm. As long as Hiranhu was propitiated with incense, candles, and food the King would remain safe and well. A portion of the King’s food was allotted daily to this royal genie.
The story of Hiranhu’s first appearance is revealing. In 1906, during his northern tour, Crown Prince Vajiravudh and his party were about to enter a jungle trail. Several members of the royal party expressed anxiety over the perils they would face in the jungle. The Prince assured the group that royal persons in their travels were always protected by supernatural beings who continually watched over them and kept them from harm. A short time after these comments, one member of the party had a dream in which a tall, powerful man appeared, telling the dreamer that he was Hiranhu, a forest spirit whose appointed duty was to protect the royal party. Vajiravudh heard of the dream and ordered that propitiatory gifts be laid out for Hiranhu. Several people subsequently reported seeing the spirit, the custom of propitiatory gifts became set, and the idea of Hiranhu was established. After he became King, Vajiravudh had a statue of Hiranhu prepared and set up on the grounds of Phya Thai Palace; it was dedicated in April 1911 in a ceremony in which the spirit was invited to occupy his bronze image.
In the royal announcement telling the Hiranhu story, there is no indication that the King ever saw Hiranhu or even that he believed 230in his existence. Rather the royal opinion is given that “Such beliefs, whether there is reason for them or not, serve their purposes for the common people.” Belief in a supernatural force for good, for protection from danger, made people less afraid, and, being less afraid, they were less likely to encounter danger; unnatural fear, after all, was a danger in and of itself.105
The establishment of Hiranhu as Vajiravudh’s personal deity did not contribute directly to the enhancement of nationalism, but to the degree that it enhanced the power and prestige of the King, it lent some strength to all of his programs.
The arts of Siam, by almost universal account, were in a sorry state by the beginning of the reign of King Vajiravudh. This was true of painting, sculpture, architecture, the handicrafts in metal, leather, and lacquer, and the performing arts of dancing and music. The reasons for the decline were not hard to see. As a contemporary newspaper put it, the eclipse of native genius in the arts was due to the “all invading” impact of the West.106 A longtime British resident in Siam noted that with the opening of Siam to the West “her own arts and crafts suffered. Many of them disappeared.” He added that Kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn “did nothing to stop the decline; it is doubtful indeed if they desired it. To Europeanize his country became with Chulalongkorn one of the dominating passions of his life….”107 King Vajiravudh came to the same conclusion about the status of the arts—but without, of course, attributing any blame to his royal predecessors. It was “Young Siam,” he said, that was to blame. The young people were obsessed with the idea of “Civilisation-at-any-price,” turned their backs on everything traditional in Siam, wanted Siam to “start with a clean slate.” It was their “shallowness of thought” that was responsible for equating civilization with an outward show of European tastes. It was enthusiastic “Young Siam” that had committed “all sorts of vandalism” against Thai arts “in the name of Civilisation.” He wrote:
Instead of treasuring objects of Art which have been in the family for generations, such objects are sold or exchanged for more “civilised” articles; priceless “thom” bowls have been exchanged for Thermos flasks, beautiful mother-of-pearl boxes for cheap cigarette cases, lovely pieces of cloth for the latest product of Lancashire looms, and so on ad nauseam.
And he added: 231
The best example of Siamese decorative painting with beauty and grace in every line is despised and has to make way for a piece of lithographic horror, whose colours knock you down at the distance of ten yards; for we prefer to defile our walls with the horror in order to show people that we are civilised.108
These analyses by the King and Western writers were essentially correct. For the productions of the fine arts and the expert crafts had always been destined for elite consumers, and the elite class of Siam was the most Westernized element. The elite were most influenced by Western tastes and most anxious to make a good impression on Westerners. When the demand for Thai arts began to decline among the elite, the decline of the arts had to follow.
The King saw Siamese art as a very sick creature that needed “general appreciation and public support” in order to survive. And its survival was to be desired not solely for the sake of the real merits of the art itself but also for the sake of the nation: art was “part and parcel of our national life.” Art, Vajiravudh wrote, expressed “the individual ideas of our nation” and if such individual ideas were lost “then we shall cease to be Thai.”109 The nation was not merely a political unit, it was a totality of culture that most certainly included the arts; if the political unit survived but the culture it was designed to house died, then the nation would truly be lost. The King thus took on the role of a strong defender and patron of Thai arts for both aesthetic and nationalistic reasons.
Part of the King’s work was in the area of propaganda. He wrote newspaper pieces on Thai art; he gave speeches urging the Thai to support their arts and crafts;110 he wrote poems extolling the work of Thai artisans. The poetic lines on art appear most profusely in a work called Samakkhi sewok (Harmonious Officialdom), written as an accompaniment for dance performances. Part 2 of this work praises Ganesha as god of the arts, and part 3 praises Visvakarma as god of architecture and the crafts. The poems are meant to instill pride in the Thai arts and to urge their continued support. For example:
Thailand is as civilized as other lands, For we have craftsmen who are expert
In carving and in drawing
And in the composing of music
And in all sorts of work in gold
And in fashioning superbly in silver.
We also have many excellent painters
And talented jewelers.
We Thai should nourish our crafts,
The beautiful products in Thai style.
We should support our artisans
And not let them shamefully decline.
Helping our artisans is helping our country,
Because then our art will enhance our reputation
So we can take our place without shame
Among the great nations of the world.
The civilized arts are a nation’s glory.
A nation without artists
Is like a man without a woman.
It is not a pleasant sight;
He is derided and shamed.111
Vajiravudh’s sponsorship of the arts was not confined to words, however. The Thai arts were supported in administration, in education, and in government projects.
Administratively, the most significant move was the establishment of a Department of Fine Arts in April 1912. The department was created in connection with changes that transformed the Ministry of Public Works into a Ministry of Communications. The technicians and artisans not needed in communications, and craftsmen from other ministries as well, were placed in the new department. The Department of Fine Arts was put under the immediate supervision of the King, “whose object is to preserve and develop the art and craftmanship of the country under one control.” Prince Nares, who had been Minister of Public Works, was placed in charge of the new administrative unit.112
In education, one important step taken was the creation of a School of Arts and Crafts at Wat Ratchaburana. The school, which was officially opened by the King in January 1914, accepted from other schools students who had shown particular promise in manual skills. One objective was to revive the old handicrafts by training a new generation of artisans. For example, the school taught the art of niellowork, which by 1914 “had become almost a lost art in the country.”113 Other schools with more conventional curriculums were also encouraged to include training in art. As early as 1914 the press noted that the “arts and crafts now occupy an important place in the general scheme of education.”114 Even the Boy Scouts were introduced to “practical training” in the form of classes in wood233working, metalworking, and the like; proficiency medals were instituted for boys who showed exceptional skill.115
Allied to education were the various arts and crafts exhibitions sponsored by the King. The exhibitions served several purposes: they encouraged art students to improve their work so that they could compete; they helped the students financially through the sale of their works; and they helped advertise the Thai arts to a wide public. For Vajiravudh realized that to encourage production without stimulating demand was to build a road that led nowhere. The first Arts and Crafts Fair was held at Suan Kulap School in January 1913. The fair became an annual event and was held at various sites thereafter until the King’s death in 1925. Vajiravudh always opened the fair; he frequently gave a short address on the utility of the arts; he admired the various productions; and he bought articles for his own use.116 The fair seems to have been popular. By 1920 the exhibits included furniture, drawings, paintings, photographs, woodblocks, baskets, and works in silver and ivory, and, according to a news account, “a large part of the exhibits” was sold the first day.117 Art exhibits were also included in other fairs sponsored by the King at various temples and palaces.118
As a means of promoting Thai arts and winning worldwide recognition for them, and for Siam, King Vajiravudh underwrote Siam’s participation in international exhibitions—those at Turin in 1911, at Leipzig in 1914, and at San Francisco in 1915.119 At Turin and at San Francisco a building of the traditional Siamese style was erected to house examples of Thai art and industry. His Majesty took a personal interest in these exhibits; for the Leipzig show he even contributed some of his own photographs and books.120 The Siamese exhibits were well received abroad; at Turin the Siamese displays won a total of ninety-three prizes, medals, and awards.121
Among the foreign residents in Siam, a few took active interest in Thai arts. These few were given hearty support by the King, who once presciently commented: “The Art of my Country will only find its salvation through the interest that Europeans take in it.”122 Foremost among these foreigners was Karl Doehring, a German architect who had served in the Siamese Ministry of the Interior for several years. Doehring, “under the protection of the scientifically and highly educated King Vajiravudh of Siam and of Prince Damrong,” made extensive studies of Thai art, producing “architectural surveys, drawings, and photographs.”123 Doehring, again with Siamese government support, published the first careful examinations of Thai architecture and Thai lacquer designs.124 Doehring’s role in Siam was similar to 234that of Ernest Fenollosa in Japan: the role of the respected Westerner whose appreciation of the Asian aesthetic reopened the eyes of the Asian to the value of his own art heritage.
Direct sponsorship of art production was, of course, another route of artistic revival. Vajiravudh’s main contributions here were in the fields of architecture and the performing arts. He did give some attention to other fields such as book production and illustration, however; many of the King’s works were issued in special editions with designs and drawings by leading artists such as Prince Naris.125
In architecture there is evidence that the King disapproved of the heavy intrusion of Western styles and sought a return to Thai motifs. He apparently rued the very expensive Italianate throne hall, Anantasamakhom, that his father had started and that he felt obliged to complete. He is said to have stated that, although the hall was large and grand and unique in Siam, there was nothing Siamese about it and Westerners were not apt to be impressed by it since grander and larger structures of this style were to be seen all over Europe.126
Among the public buildings erected during the reign, many marked a return to traditional forms: for example, the buildings at the Royal Pages School, at Chulalongkorn University, and at Sanam Čhan. These buildings adopted a modified Khmer-Thai style that had begun to emerge at the end of Chulalongkorn’s reign (for example, in the building that formerly housed the National Library). These buildings, however, continued to rely on Western engineering to supply the multistories and the large enclosed spaces that old Siamese society had not needed but that new Siam did.
By and large it seems that the attempts at resuscitation of traditional architecture were not successful. Buildings of European design continued to be built, some undoubtedly with the King’s approval. Notable among such buildings is Samakkhichai House, an imposing pile in Venetian Gothic built by the King for his favorite courtier, Čhaophraya Ram. Unequivocally high marks can be given to only one type of building, the wooden towers called phra men (meru in Sanskrit) that were built for royal cremations. These buildings were constructed for but a single purpose and a single occasion; they were destroyed after the cremation rites were over. Consequently they survive only in verbal and graphic depictions. The funeral structure for King Chulalongkorn won lavish praise as the most “perfectly constructed” building of its type ever fashioned in Siam.127 Later phra men designed by Prince Naris for the Queen Mother and for Prince Chakrabongs, and other phra men executed for high members of the royal family, received similar words of adulation.
235A final field of artistic promotion that received extraordinary royal attention and achieved considerable success was that of the traditional performing arts. Certainly a good deal of the royal attention was due to the King’s personal interest in the theater, but there is no doubt that Vajiravudh also saw revival of Siamese drama, dance, and music as a part of the essential task of preserving Thai national culture. He suspected, in fact, that the Thai had not grown so far from these old theatrical tastes as some supposed: “We may, in our innermost hearts, really prefer to sit through the performance of a ‘Khon’ or ‘Lagor’ of the old Siamese style, but instead we go and sit through a fearful entertainment called an ‘operetta’ at the Pramothai or some one of the other houses, because we think that style of entertainment is more like what they give in European theatres.”128
Vajiravudh’s support of the traditional theater began while he was still a prince at Saranrom Palace. There he sought out old teachers and performers of the classical music and dance and, as was mentioned in chapter 1, organized an amateur dance company. After his coronation, Vajiravudh expanded on his early work, establishing a special Department of Entertainments (Mahο̨rasop) and a school of the performing arts. He recruited a number of teachers who were specialists in ballet and in music.129 These men were given noble titles according to merit and in the same fashion as other government officials. Apparently the awarding of high noble titles to performers was an unprecedented step; it aroused considerable criticism among “his orthodox and conservative ministers.”130
The theater in all its forms received a powerful stimulus during the Sixth Reign, and among these forms the classical styles were given full attention. The old styles, which had been seriously in decline at the end of Chulalongkorn’s reign,131 were revived under Vajiravudh’s patronage. Once again carefully rehearsed troupes of khon and lakhο̨n players, musicians, reciters, and singers brought to life on stage, in the proper costumes and with the necessary sets, the old dramas of Inao, Anirut, and Rammakian (the Thai Ramayana) as well as newer dramas that borrowed much from the old forms. The revivification of the classical theater, however, depended too much on the King personally to be permanent; with his passing the revival came to an end.
On September 13, 1913, King Vajiravudh started a poetic story that was to become his longest work. A little less than eight months later, on May 9, 1914, the first draft was completed. There followed two 236years of editing and of revising, after consultations with other scholars, before the work was ready for printing.132
The poem, Phra non kham luang133 (The Story of King Nala in Classical Verse Forms),134 began with traditional stanzas that offered homage to the author’s teachers, and proceeded with the following preamble:
To begin, this story of King Nala
Is translated from a Sanskrit epic
Into khlong, chan, kap, and klο̨n verse forms combined
As a work called kham luang, or classical model of prosody.
May all Thai scholars
Appreciate the value
Of Siamese poetry present and future
And not let it disappear.
The aim of the author of this Nala story
Is to show our young men examples
Of interesting poetry in various forms
So they can use them as models to compose their own.
Listen, young men of the Thai nation:
Our nation is brilliant and shining.
If we had no poetry we would be shamed
And laughed at for having no scholars.
Great poetry is like a jewel;
Beautiful words are a begemmed sash.
We should add to the works of Vedic poetry
And treasure them unselfconsciously.
Don’t be afraid of being criticized.
If you are teased, don’t be discomfited.
Whoever ridicules us Thai
And our literature is a boor.
Peoples abroad all respect
Scholars and writers.
Those who reject literature are savages;
Whoever downgrades poetry is a barbarian.
Don’t be misled by the words
Of sophomoric men who are brash boasters
And would sinfully lead you nowhere;
Our scholars will bring back joy to your hearts.
Don’t try to emulate any other race.
Think only of Thailand right now. 237
Our country is civilized and should so remain.
Don’t listen to glib talkers who would lead you to madness.
Be careful to choose the good;
Choose poetry as your guide.
Be a good citizen, work hard,
And Thailand will be honored as a bright jewel.135
“Choose poetry.” Choose the glorious classics of Siam’s past. Value Thai literature, a mark of civilization. And continue the literary traditions uncorrupted and undefiled. These were some of Vajiravudh’s messages to his countrymen to help them find national pride in their literature.
The threat to traditional literature was real. The nineteenth century had seen the introduction of printing, the spread of reading beyond the royal elite, and the development of a popular prose literature—all with deleterious effects on many classical forms. Old dance dramas were rarely staged except in truncated versions. “The present day Siamese are forgetting the old songs,” one writer complained.136 And the King commented that, although Siam had “a great deal of genuine literary genius,” many people preferred “to read execrable translations of European ‘penny-dreadfuls’ and ‘shilling-shockers.’”137 On top of all this, the King reported that “foreigners say the Thai nation has no books or records.”138 This foreign view was particularly irritating to His Nationalistic Majesty.
The solutions Vajiravudh turned to—in addition to making known the value of Thai letters and the danger to Thai letters—were to preserve the classics, to write himself, to encourage others to write, to inveigh against pernicious influences on the language, and to work for language purity.
Preservation of the classics was advanced by sponsoring the publication of old poetry and the performance of old dramas. As mentioned above, the Royal Company of Players put on a succession of classic dramas, including Anirut, Inao, and episodes of the Rammakian. The publication of Thai classical poetry had already made much progress in the reign of King Chulalongkorn through the issuance of a monthly literary journal, Wachirayan, and the growth of the habit of making merit, particularly at cremation rites, by the distribution of texts chosen by the National Library.139 Vajiravudh continued to encourage such publications. In 1913, for example, to commemorate the opening of Chitralada Palace, he printed at his own expense the first complete edition of the Rammakian of Rama II, together with 238his own study of the sources of the Thai Rammakian. In the introduction to the Rammakian the King specifically pointed out that he had chosen to publish a volume that would do honor to the Thai nation and would repudiate the Western argument that the Thai had no books that could be called literature.140
In the area of his own writing, Vajiravudh was by no means a classical purist, but he did compose a large number of works on classical themes, in classical meters, and in classical styles. There is hardly a genre—nirat (“travel poem”), lilit (“narrative poem”), suphasit (“proverb”), nithan (“story” or “fable”), lakhο̨n (“drama”), he ru̓a (“boat song”)—that he did not try his hand at. As a crown prince he wrote a long narrative poem, Lilit phayap, about his journey through northern Siam. In 1923 he wrote another long lilit, Lilit narai sip pang, which was a poetic narrative of the ten incarnations of Narayana, or Vishnu, including his incarnations as Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha. He wrote several nirat. He also wrote a succession of he ru̓a, a literary form that had practically ceased to exist with the death of its great exponent, Prince Thammathibet, in the early nineteenth century. And he wrote the long poetic romance Phra non kham luang quoted from above, which was based on the popular Indian story called Nala and Damayanti. The largest number of his works in classical style, however, were written for the theater. These works include several episodes of the Rammakian; three plays from the Sanskrit: Savitri, Priyadarshika, and Shakuntala; and several original works, including Phra ruang, Thao saen pom, and Matthanapatha. The Sanskrit plays and several other works by the King were based on English versions of the Sanskrit classics; the King stated more than once that he did not read Sanskrit.141 Whatever the literary value of these works by Vajiravudh, the King fully demonstrated, simply by using the old literary forms, that he intended to keep them alive.
Closely allied in spirit to the King’s rendering of Sanskrit classics into Thai was his translation of outstanding classics of the West into Thai. Although this enterprise can be seen as an aspect of the Westernization process, the King justified his work on the grounds that Shakespeare and other such writers transcended national boundaries and their works were a universal heritage for all mankind. In his preface to his translation of The Merchant of Venice the King wrote that the plays of Shakespeare were read in all the languages of Europe and some were even available in Japanese; that his works had not also been rendered into Thai poetry was a reproach the King could not bear.142 Vajiravudh rendered into Thai verse four Shakespeare 239plays: The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello. He also translated School for Scandal by Sheridan, Le Médecin malgré lui by Molière, and several lesser works by other European dramatists.
Another measure taken to accord official recognition to literature of value—old works and new—was the establishment in 1914 of a Literary Society (Wannakhadi Samosο̨n).143 The society was patterned after the Historical Research Society (Borankhadi Samosο̨n) that had been organized by King Chulalongkorn in 1907. The Literary Society, like the Historical Society, was headed by the King and composed of a select group of Thai intellectuals. Works that the society deemed meritorious were to be allowed to use the society’s seal, a design featuring the god Ganesha, patron of the arts. The society considered literary works in all fields except history, which was already under the purview of the Historical Society and certified by its dragon seal.144 Shortly after its formation the society issued a special list of outstanding works in Thai literature. One work was singled out in each of seven fields. Winner of the award in the field of Western-style drama was Rama VI’s own Huačhai nakrop (The Soul of a Warrior).145 In later years the king also won certificates of merit and the privilege of using the seal for at least two additional works—Phra non kham luang in 1917146 and Matthanaphatha in 1924.147
The Literary Society was also given the charge to become “the guardian of correct style,” by which it was meant that the society should help prevent the corruption of the language with foreign words and foreign locutions. King Chulalongkorn had taken a step in the direction of maintaining language standards in 1907 by appointing an Etymological Commission (Nirukkati Samakhom) composed of Prince Vajiranana, Prince Devawongse, Prince Damrong, and Prince Naris. However, the commission, composed as it was of extremely capable but extremely busy men, had long been inactive. Three new members seem to have been added to the commission in 1916 or 1917, but there is no indication that this move brought the commission into action. By 1921 there apparently were serious discussions about the formation of a new Institute of Etymology and Orthography (Sapha Photčhanabanyat lae Akkharawithi) to handle the problems of finding the right words for foreign scientific and technical terms and for transliterating Thai into Roman letters, but the institute was not established.148
Whatever may have been the King’s reasons for failing to bring into being a working commission to guard the Thai language, he was exceedingly active himself in the matter. His role as a drumbeater 240for language purity grew out of his annoyance with what he regarded as the corruptions in diction and style that had come largely from Western influence. One poem dealt exclusively with this theme:
Feeling lonely and alone,
I chose a book for solace.
The more I read, the more I missed
You beside me, inducing laughter.
Feeling lonely and forlorn, I thought of you with sad heart,
So I chose a book to while away my boredom and read on.
The more I read, the more I grew annoyed at modern writings
In ununderstandable style. They don’t write in Thai.
The language of today that students like
Makes me dizzy. They excel at destruction.
The modish language, presumably Western,
Is unbearably dull to read, nauseating to hear.
It is incomprehensible to read, irritatingly boring,
Composed in excessive disorder like the language of drooling idiots.
Oh, the Thai language is going to wrack and ruin;
The Thai people are becoming shamefully “smart.”
The more I read of the book that I hoped would give momentary respite
The madder I got, so I finally had to throw it into the sea.
I looked for another work and chanced on verse,
A play that I understand has gained quick fame.
Oh, I lose heart. Why are we so unfortunate?
Thai poetry is finished; no people are more unlucky.
All is worthless; all forms are of fleeting value.
The stories ramble on in disorder; their vocabulary is vulgar.
I go back to find a good story that I brought with me
And read to gain contentment and to ease my sad loneliness.149
The Westernisms and the vulgarisms that Vajiravudh deplored were constant objects of his attention and criticism. By 1910 a host of words from European languages, mostly English, had found their way into Thai. Vajiravudh warred against these “unThai” words and tried to reverse the trend. He suggested alternates, for example, for such borrowings as “editor,” “steam,” “motor,” “lecture,” “policy,” “empire,” “economics,” “goal” (in football), and “toxicology.”150 The new words coined by the King depended on Thai roots or on Sanskrit, the traditional Thai source for new vocabulary. The King’s national241istic purpose here was obvious. It was even clearer in the King’s suggested name change for the loose black pajamalike trousers commonly called kangkeng čhin (“Chinese trousers”); the King preferred they be called kangkeng thai (“Thai trousers”), justifying the change with the comment that although the trousers may have been Chinese in origin, they had become thoroughly domesticated in Siam.
Apparent contradictions of Vajiravudh’s announced policy of maintaining language purity may be seen in some of his own writings. Many of these are in early writings that date from the time before he became king and began to be more rigorous in his use of “pure Thai.” Others, for example the many Westernisms, misspellings, and uses of “improper” language that abound in the play Tang čhit khit khlang, are found in works that belong in the category of humorous writings, in which, said the King, ordinary rules of propriety need not apply.151
Spelling was always of particular concern to the King. He wrote a number of newspaper articles proposing spelling changes that would return words to what he regarded as their correct etymologies.152 He also made his preferences known as to the best way to render Thai in the Roman alphabet. His system was a transliteration of Thai writing into Roman letters, without dependence on phonetics. He used the system in awarding surnames, giving his transliteration in each case.153 He believed that a letter-by-letter transcription of the writing was most important since it preserved a word’s etymology, that is, the linkage of a word to its past.154
Vajiravudh’s most remarkable effort in the direction of linguistic nationalism was a scheme he developed for the radical reform of the Thai system of writing.155 The scheme was put forth as a trial balloon, not a royal order. It never achieved popularity, and it was quietly set aside.
The reformed spelling scheme of the King, from the point of view of nationalistic analysis, was derived almost equally from Western and from traditional inspiration. It showed an almost perfect placement of a logical and efficient change in the context of old Thai culture. The scheme, thus, was not solely a Westernizing reform, nor was it solely a return to the past; it was both simultaneously.
The spelling scheme, in brief, prescribed that all Thai letters be written on a single line and in the sequence in which they were pronounced. The existing Thai system in which vowels that were pronounced after consonants were sometimes written in front of, sometimes after, sometimes above, sometimes below, and sometimes in a combination of positions with regard to the consonants would 242be abandoned. The scheme would, he noted, mark a return to the system of the earliest Thai writing, that used on the stele of King Ramkhamhaeng in the thirteenth century, in putting all letters on a line, but it would modify that system by adopting the Western practice of placing vowels and consonants in the order in which they were pronounced. In addition, the Western practice of leaving spaces between words would be adopted.
In urging use of the new system, Vajiravudh argued his case strongly in terms of making it easier for Westerners to read Thai. Thai native speakers had the advantage of knowing the spoken language so well that spelling peculiarities gave them little trouble; foreigners learning Thai did not have that advantage. And the Thai habit of leaving no space between words caused much trouble to Westerners. The King, however, also urged the new system as a means of removing ambiguities that even Thai speakers often had to face. The existing writing system, he wrote, served as a block to progress; it posed problems even for the Thai. The older generations, he admitted, would have trouble adjusting to the new system, but the new generation of Thai, learning their language at school, would be able to progress much faster at their studies if the new system were available. And this new generation deserved the fullest consideration.
Although Vajiravudh invited comments on the system, there seems to have been little open discussion of it. Some of the English-language newspapers praised the idea.156 And at least one official wrote several letters to the King’s secretary in August and September of 1917 using the new system.157 But the system died a quiet death.
The idea behind the system, however, showed the subtle forms that nationalism under Vajiravudh could take; in concept the system represented a delicate balance between the new and the old, between the practical and the traditional, that nationalistic formulas at their best seek. The difficulty with the idea was that it called for changes in an area that is heavily weighted with habit and emotion in every culture. It failed for much the same reasons that an attempt by King Mongkut to reform the spelling of religious texts failed. And that efforts by Premier Pibulsonggram in the 1940s to simplify all spelling failed. And that, indeed, despite Shavian persistence and wit, reform of the spelling of the English language remains a subject of dreams.
1. BT, January 8, 1913.
2. For a stimulating exploration of the problems of modern Chinese nationalists, see Joseph Levenson, Modern China and Its Confucian Past (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1964).
3. Sukarno’s defense of 1930 as quoted by Bambang Oetomo in “Some Remarks on Modern Indonesian Historiography” in Historians of South East Asia, ed. D. G. E. Hall (London: Oxford, 1961), p. 75.
4. G. Coedès cites only four Thai as really interested in epigraphy after King Mongkut: King Chulalongkorn, King Vajiravudh, Prince Damrong, and the Prince Monk Pawaret. See Recueil des inscriptions du Siam. Première partie: Inscriptions de Sukhodaya (Bangkok: Bangkok Times, 1924), p. 4.
5. Thiao mu̓ang phra ruang, preface.
8. Ibid., p. 51.
9. Coedès, Recueil, pp. 4–6.
10. NA 37, decree of January 17, 1924. In 1922 the French minister had deplored Siam’s failure to establish an archaeological department, which, he said, betokened a “lack of progress, moral as well as material, in this 313fine country” (NA 37, Pila to Devawongse, June 17, 1922). The French minister’s comments seem to have stimulated Vajiravudh to take action.
11. BT, January 22, February 11, and February 21, 1924.
12. Thiao mu̓ang phra ruang, p. 42.
13. Ibid., p. 140.
14. The rivalry between Prince Damrong and King Vajiravudh cannot be detailed here. The basic problem was that of a young inexperienced king, seeking to develop his power base, facing an older experienced uncle who was widely respected for his experience and for his close association with King Chulalongkorn.
15. An exception is the essay “The War of the Polish Succession” presented by Prince Vajiravudh as a student at Oxford in 1901.
16. Plukčhai su̓apa, June 23, 1911, pp. 42–43.
17. Ibid., July 4, 1911, pp. 60–61.
18. A Siam Miscellany, pp. 54–55.
19. “Ru̓ang sadet phraratchadamnoen pai namatsakan phračhedi somdet phra naresuan maharat mi chai chana yutthahatthi,” CMHSP 6, no. 10 (February 1916): 333–358. See report on the march in BT, February 7, 1914.
20. Plukčhai su̓apa, May 26, 1911, p. 4.
21. BT, February 14, 1914. CMHSP 6, no. 10 (February 1916), 347–352. For details on the January 28 ceremonies, the march to Dο̨n Čhedi, and Vajiravudh’s historical theories, see the King’s diary entries for January 1914 (Čhotmaihetraiwan, pp. 113–146).
22. Plukčhai su̓apa, May 26, 1911, pp. 4–5.
23. BT, November 4 and 6, 1916.
24. Prefatory essay to Phra ruang, p. (9).
25. The dance drama, entitled Khο̨m damdin (The Cambodian Earth Diver), has been republished in Thi ralu̓k nai ngan phraratchathan phloengsop phon ek phonru̓a ek mahasewok ek čhaophraya ramrakhop (Bangkok: Thannakhan Krungthep, 1967), pp. 1–52. The first edition of the modern drama, entitled Phra ruang, bears no date or publisher. The musical, entitled Phra ruang, hot lakhο̨n rο̨ng, was first published in 1961 with an introduction by Prince Dhani. An earlier musical version of the story, first performed in 1894, was written by Prince Naris.
26. The seventeenth edition for school use was published in 1958.
27. The King notes his debt to the method of Prince Damrong, whom he calls “the person responsible for helping me in historical research,” in “Ru̓ang khο̨m damdin,” the introduction to Khο̨m damdin.
28. Prefatory essay to Phra ruang, p. (6). The King’s rationalizations of the Phra Ruang legend, which are summarized in the rest of this paragraph, are detailed in the prefatory essay, pp. (6)–(9). 314
29. Phra ruang, pp. 106–108. Quotation is on p. 108.
30. Khο̨m damdin, p. 49.
31. One of the three places in which Vajiravudh directed that his ashes be deposited after his death was the base of a large standing Buddha attributed by experts to the reign of Phra Ruang. This image was found in Sukhothai, “invited” to move down to Bangkok (Buddha images are not transported; they are invited to change residence), restored by the King, and set up in front of the great stupa at Nakhο̨n Pathom. See BT, June 18, 1914.
32. Phra ruang, pp. 116–117.
33. “Ru̓ang khο̨m damdin,” pp. b, c.
34. Samutthasan 8 (August 1915): 1–29.
35. Ibid., 25 (January 1917). Another poem that has essentially the same message appeared in Samutthasan 2 (February 1915): 29–31.
36. The preface to the play contains, however, excellent examples of Vajiravudh’s demythologizing technique.
37. Anonymous, “Kan raek na,” Dusit samit 2, no. 23 (1919): 177–178. See also Graham, Vol. 2: 272.
38. BT, November 22, 1915.
39. “Tam namphrik lalai maenam,” in Phraratchaniphon bang ru̓ang, pp. 34–37.
40. BT, November 23, 1921.
41. See chapter 6.
42. Plukčhai su̓apa, June 27, 1911, pp. 52–53; Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, August 2, 1913, p. 78.
43. Maitri Buranasiri, “Kan pluk fang yaowachon khο̨ng chat nai ratchakan thi 6,” in Riangkhwam ru̓ang phraratchaniphon nai ratchakan thi 6 (Bangkok: Khurusapha, 1961), pp. 282–283.
44. BT, October 14 and 15, 1912. In addition to the reign image, one image was cast for each year of the reign; see BT, April 8, 1913.
45. NA 106/1. The King’s comment (phraratcha krasae) is dated October 18.
46. NA 74/7, report of meetings of the Council of Ministers, March 25 and April 22, 1912.
47. NA 106/1, King to Prince Dhani, August 30, 1921.
48. BT, December 10, 1910.
49. NA 128/8, proclamation of January 2, 1913.
50. Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa.
51. Wachirawutthanusο̨n (1960) contains the lectures for 1914, 1915, and 1916.
52. Phraphutthačhao trat ru arai (Bangkok: Khurusapha, 1964). This 315edition contains a version in English by M. C. Upalisan Jumbala. Quotations are from the English version.
53. Ibid., p. 13.
54. Mahatama, p. 115.
55. Phraphutthačhao trat ru arai, p. 34.
56. Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, March 24, 1915, p. 134.
57. Ibid., pp. 130–133.
58. Phraphutthačhao trat ru arai, p. 32.
59. Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, March 24, 1915, p. 138.
60. Ibid., p. 146.
61. Uttarakuru, p. 6.
62. Plukčhai su̓apa, June 27, 1911, pp. 55–56.
63. Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, March 24, 1915, pp. 144–146.
64. Ibid., April 25, 1914, p. 5.
65. Ibid., May 2, 1914, pp. 15–16.
66. Ibid., May 16, 1914, pp. 29–32.
67. Ibid., June 6, 1914, pp. 40–41.
68. Ibid., June 12, 1914, pp. 47–51.
69. Ibid., pp. 52–55.
70. Ibid., July 26, 1914, pp. 58–66.
71. Ibid., August 2, 1914, pp. 73–74.
72. Ibid., pp. 73–78.
73. Ibid., pp. 79–82.
74. Ibid., August 16, 1914, pp. 93–95.
75. Ibid., March 24, 1915, pp. 141–142; May 8, 1914, pp. 168–169; August 14, 1915, pp. 206–207.
76. Speech of August 9, 1914, in BT, August 15, 1914, and in Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, pp. 220–226.
77. Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, August 9, 1914, pp. 220–226; see also May 22, 1915, p. 194.
78. Ibid., March 24, 1915, p. 142.
79. Ibid., p. 143.
80. Phrabο̨romrachowat su̓apa, November 21, 1914, pp. 27–28.
81. Ibid., August 9, 1914, p. 20.
82. Ibid., February 3, 1918, p. 111; see also January 4, 1916, pp. 81–82.
83. BT, January 5, 1916.
84. See Jane Bunnag, “Monk-Layman Interaction in Central Thai Society,” in In Memoriam: Phya Anuman Rajadhon (Bangkok: Siam Society, 1970), pp. 87–106. 316
85. Niramol Kangsadara, “The Buddhist Order under Prince Wachirayan (1898–1921)” (M. A. thesis, University of Hawaii, 1972); Wyatt, pp. 233–255.
86. See translation of stanza in chapter 3.
87. Prachum phrabǫromrachowat lae phra-owat (Bangkok: Sutthisan, 1966), pp. 61–66.
88. The Buddhist Attitude towards National Defence and Administration [Bangkok, 1916], p. 19.
89. Ibid., pp. 20–21.
90. Right Is Right (Bangkok, ), p. 24. In a memorial service for two Thai students who lost their lives on a vessel torpedoed by a German submarine, the Supreme Patriarch spoke pointedly about German evil deeds and about the sad loss to Siam of foreign-educated youths who might have helped Siam in its program of catching up with the West (BT, November 8, 1918).
91. Right Is Right, p. 29.
92. The Triumph of Right (Bangkok: Bangkok Daily Mail, ), p. 11.
93. Ibid., p. 18.
94. Ibid., pp. 18–21.
95. Thammathamma songkhram (Bangkok: Sam Mit, 1971). The parallels in the literary allusions and figures of speech used by the King and the Prince are remarkable. It is hard to say who influenced whom, although in this case the Prince preceded, at least in print.
96. O-phat, pp. 280–281.
97. BT, June 7, July 3, July 13, July 28, August 5, and August 18, 1920. Vajiranana, Pramuan phraniphon …: Phrasommana winitchai (Bangkok: Mahamakut Ratchawitthayalai, 1971), pp. 305–307.
98. BT‚ March 11 and 14, 1911.
99. Ibid., December 8, 1911.
100. Ibid., November 26, 1915.
101. William, p. 123.
102. Letter of Vajiravudh to King Chulalongkorn, October 26, 1909, in Amorn, Kamnoet phraratchawang sanamčhan lae phra pathom čhedi, pp. 22–25.
103. William, p. 122.
104. See chapter 2.
105. The royal announcement is in NA 37/3 and is published in Khwamru kiao kap phraratchakaraniyakit nai ratchakan thi 6 (Bangkok: Phračhan, 1960), pp. 37–38. See also the pamphlet Thao hiranphanasun (Bangkok: Udom, 1969).
106. BT, October 8, 1910. 317
107. Smith, p. 92.
108. NA 30/27, “Siamese Art” by “Asvabahu,” undated typescript in English presumably written for the Siam Observer. Internal evidence suggests January 1914 as the probable date.
110. See, for example, the speech to the Royal Pages College, November 12, 1913, in Phraratchadamrat nai phrabatsomdet, pp. 61–62.
111. Samakkhi sewok (Witsawa kamma), as quoted in S[awai], pp. 673–674, 680–682. See also Saksi Yaemnatda, “Riangkhwam ru̓ang phraratchaniphon praphet rο̨i krο̨ng,” in Riangkhwam ru̓ang phraratchaniphon nai ratchakan thi 6, pp. 190–192.
112. BT, March 29, 1912.
113. Ibid., January 8, 1914.
114. Ibid., January 9, 1914.
115. Ibid., September 1, 1917.
116. S[awai], pp. 181–185. The fair was not supported by King Prajadhipok, probably in the interest of economy. It was resumed in 1948.
117. BT, January 6, 1920.
118. For example, the Dusit Park Fair, initiated by King Chulalongkorn as a means of raising funds for the upkeep of Wat Benčhamabο̨phit.
119. BT, July 5, 1911; December 17, 1913; June 28, 1915. See also G. E. Gerini, Siam and Its Productions, Arts, and Manufactures: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Siamese Section at the International Exhibition of Industry and Labour Held in Turin April 29–November 19, 1911 (London: Stephen Austin, 1912).
120. The Leipzig show was previewed in Siam, and at the preview His Majesty’s photographs won two gold medals, one silver medal, and a bronze (BT, January 12, 1914). The policy of participating in international expositions was started by King Mongkut with a Siamese contribution to the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867. Exhibits followed in 1868 (Havre), 1878 (Paris), 1885 (Antwerp), 1889 (Paris), 1893 (Chicago), and 1904 (St. Louis). See Gerini, pp. xliv–xlvi.
121. Gerini, p. 282.
122. NA 30/27, “Siamese Art.”
123. BT, February 1, 1913, based on an article in the Dresden Nachrichten. Doehring organized an exhibit of Thai arts in Berlin in 1912 and inspired another at Dresden.
124. Buddhistische Tempelanlagen in Siam (Bangkok: Asia Publishing House, 1920), 3 volumes; Kunst and Kunstgewerbe in Siam (Berlin: Bard, 1925), 3 volumes. The latter, which illustrates Thai designs originally executed in lacquer and gold leaf, was issued in a regular and a special edition; the special edition, in which the illustrations were executed in gold on 318black paper, is one of the most beautiful books ever published anywhere. There is a copy of this edition at Harvard University.
125. The King mentions, in the preface to Thammathamma songkhram, that he commissioned Prince Naris to do the illustrations for the work.
126. Amorn, “Kamnoet suan lumphini‚” as quoted in S[awai], pp. 169–171.
127. On architecture during the reign, see BT, March 17,1911, and Amorn, “Mahasinlapin ek khο̨ng thai,” in Phraratchakaraniyakit samkhan … ru̓ang phraratchaniphon, pp. 171–207.
128. NA 30/27, “Siamese Art.”
129. S[awai], pp. 175–179; Amorn, “Mahasinlapin,” pp. 191–194; Dhanit Yupho, Khon (Bangkok: Department of Fine Arts, 1957), pp. 49–50, 60.
130. Powell, p. 236.
131. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Tamnan lakhο̨n inao (Bangkok: Khlang Witthaya, 1964), p. 206.
132. Prince Sommot is credited with inspiring the work, and Prince Kawiphot Supricha, Phraya Photchanasunthο̨n, and Phra Pο̨riyatthamthada are named as critical readers.
133. Phra non kham luang (Bangkok: Sinlapabannakhan, 1953), 574 pp.
134. Kham luang literally means “royal words.” As applied to literary works, however, starting with the Mahachat kham luang of the fifteenth century, kham luang designates a poetic work composed in a variety of verse forms that has been either written by a king or commissioned by him. Kham luang literature, then, consists of royally approved, that is, classical, examples of prosody.
135. Phra non kham luang, pp. d–f.
136. BT, December 9, 1911.
137. NA 30/27, “Siamese Art.”
138. King’s speech on the opening of the National Library, January 6, 1917, in Phraratchadamrat nai phrabatsomdet, p. 205.
139. Encouragement of the printing of books to make merit by distributing them at funerals apparently was started in 1901 by Prince Sommot; see Union Catalogue of Thai Materials (Tokyo: Institute of Developing Economics, 1972), p. xxiv.
140. Bot lakhο̨n ru̓ang rammakian lae bο̨koet rammakian (Bangkok: Sinlapabannakhan, 1966), p. (17).
141. See preface to Shakuntala in Sakuntala, matthanaphatha, thao saen pom, pramuan suphasit (Bangkok: Sinlapabannakhan, 1966), p. 4, and preface to Phra non kham luang, p. 1.
142. Baep rian kawiniphon ru̓ang wenitwanit (Bangkok: Khurusapha, 1961), 19th ed., p. b. 319
143. RKB 31, July 23, 1914, pp. 309–314.
144. NA 271, royal decree establishing the Literary Society, July 23, 1914; BT, August 8, 1914.
145. Bamrung Ratchabο̨riphan, “Huačhai nakrop,” in Wachirawutthanusο̨n (1967), p. 251.
146. King’s acceptance speech to the Literary Society, January 6, 1917, in Phraratchadamrat nai phrabatsomdet, p. 207; BT, January 8, 1917.
147. Matthanaphatha ru̓ tamnan haeng dο̨k kulap (Bangkok: Aksο̨nnit, 1951). This edition reproduces the letter of award which praises the play for its unique use of the difficult chan meters in a work for the theater.
148. NA 271/1, note of an opinion on establishing an Institute of Etymology and Orthography; no date, but probably before December 1921.
149. “He khruan thu̓ng nangsu̓,” Sumutthasan 2 (February 1915): 25–26.
150. In 1909 King Chulalongkorn’s Royal Secretariat proposed the use of four Thai words to replace English words in common usage. This step Vajiravudh heartily endorsed. (See Čhotmaihetraiwan, p. 17.) Among the many writings of Vajiravudh as king on this subject, see “Kham chai thaen kham ‘editor’‚” in Nangsu̓phim thai, reprinted in Phraratchaniphon thi naru, pp. 198–200; NA 2/28, King’s note on Royal Naval Institute letter of February 11, 1916; NA 2/38, King’s comments on maritime strategy, 1913; BT, September 16, 1915; Amorn, Phraratchakaraniyakit samkhan … ru̓ang phraratchaniphon, pp. 9–11; NA 84/5, King’s notes on Chulalongkorn University, undated. The new words suggested by the King for those listed above were bannathikan, ainam, khru̓angyon, banyai, ubai, annačhak, setthawitthaya, pratu, and phitsayasat.
151. Vajiravudh as quoted by Amorn, Phraratchakaraniyakit samkhan … ru̓ang phraratchaniphon, p. 111.
152. See “Phuket ru̓ phuket” and other such articles in Phraratchaniphon thi naru.
153. See Amorn, Phraratchakaraniyakit samkhan … ru̓ang kamnoet nam sakun, vol. 1: 36–38.
154. NA 30/25, undated, unsigned article in English on romanization.
155. Withi mai samrap chai sara lae khian nangsu̓ thai (Bangkok: Thai Khasem, 1950); the original document is dated April 6, 1917.
156. See, for example, BT, June 9, 1917.
157. NA 184, Phraya Siphuri Pricha to Phraya Buri, August 30 and September 2, 4, 10, and 22, 1917.