Phraya Anuman Rajadhon
Phya Anuman Rajadhon (Thai: พระยาอนุมานราชธน; RTGS: Phraya Anuman Ratchathon, also spelled Phaya Anuman Rajadhon or Phrayā Anuman Rajadhon; December 14, 1888 – July 12, 1969), was one of modern Thailand's most remarkable scholars. He was a self-trained linguist, anthropologist and ethnographer who became an authority on the culture of Thailand. His name was Yong Sathiankoset (Thai: ยง เสฐียรโกเศศ); Phraya Anuman Rajadhon was his noble title. He also took his family name, Sathiankoset, as a pen name by which he is well known.
Phraya Anuman Rajadhon was the first Thai scholar to conduct a serious study of Thai folkloristics, taking notes on the nocturnal village spirits of Thai folklore. He established that since such spirits were not represented in paintings or drawings, they were purely based on popular traditional oral stories. Thus most of the contemporary iconography of ghosts such as Nang Tani, Nang Ta-khian, Krasue, Krahang, Phi Am, Phi Hua Kat, Phi Pop, Phi Phong, Phi Phraya, Phi Tai Hong and Mae Nak Phra Khanong has its origins in Thai films that have become classics.
Moved by an innate curiosity and having an eye for detail, Phya Anuman Rajadhon observed and took notes on Thai society at a crucial time when much of the traditional culture was being overwhelmed by modernity. As years went by he studied in depth the language, popular customs, oral tradition, social norms and the value system of the Thai people.
He worked in different locations, including the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, during his youth and middle age. In the years when Phya Anuman Rajadhon worked as a clerk at the Thai Customs Department, he befriended a Mr. Norman Mackay, who helped him to polish his broken English.
He had no academic titles and did all the training he needed for his research and compilation work on his own. Phya Anuman Rajadhon took a special interest in popular culture. Many of the ancient habits of Thais that he recorded and described would have died unnoticed if they had not been put down into writing by him. Often his descriptions were accompanied by illustrations.
As a writer he wrote novels under the pen name Sethyankōsēt, often spelled as Sathirakoses, (Thai: เสฐียรโกเศศ). He also wrote works on important Thai cultural figures, including a biography of Phra Saraprasoet '(Trī Nākhaprathīp)' (1889–1945), a likewise dedicated author and commentator in the field of Thai literature. He knew Phra Saraprasoet well, as they worked together as co-translators of many works. One particular work which he co-translated into Thai with Phra Saraprasoet was "The Pilgrim Kamanita", a novel by Danish Nobel laureate Karl Adolph Gjellerup about a young Indian merchant's seek for truth and his encounter with Lord Buddha. The translation was admired for its beautiful Thai prose and was selected as one of the textbooks for the Thai secondary school curriculum.
Recognition came to Phya Anuman Rajadhon only towards his later years, when he was invited to universities to give lectures and began travelling abroad. He was given the post of President of the Siam Society and ended up becoming one of Thailand's most respected intellectuals, both in the last years of his life and posthumously.
The commemoration of the 100th year of his birth was staged in 1988 by UNESCO, where social activist Sulak Sivaraksa, founder of the Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, described Phya Anuman Rajadhon as a National Hero.
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