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Hanuman on his chariot, a scene from the Ramakien in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok.
Part of the mural in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Ramakien (Thai: รามเกียรติ์, RTGSRammakian, pronounced [rāːm.mā.kīa̯n]; lit.'Glory of Rama'; sometimes also spelled Ramakian) is one of Thailand's national epics.[1] It is a Thai version of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. Ramakien is an important part of the Thai literary canon.

King Rama VI was the person who shed the light first on the Ramayana studies in Thailand, by tracing the sources of the Ramakien, comparing it with the Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayana. He found that the Ramakien was influenced by three sources: the Valmiki's Ramayana, the Vishnu Purana, and Hanuman Nataka (all three are from Hinduism).[2] A number of versions of the epic were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767. Three versions currently exist, one of which was prepared in 1797 under the supervision of (and partly written by) King Rama I. His son, Rama II, rewrote some parts of his father's version for khon drama. The work has had an important influence on Thai literature, art and drama (both the khon and nang dramas being derived from it).

While the main story is similar to that of the Dasaratha Nataka, differences in some tales still prevail. Many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style. As Thailand is considered a Theravada Buddhist society, the Buddhist history latent in the Ramakien serves to provide Thai legends with a creation myth, as well as representations of various spirits which complement beliefs derived from Thai animism.

A painted representation of the Ramakien is displayed at Bangkok's Temple of Emerald Buddha, and many of the statues there depict characters from it.


The Jatakas including Dasaratha Jataka came to Southeast Asia by means of Buddhist missionaries, Indian traders and scholars who traded with the Khmer kingdoms (such as Funan and Angkor) and Srivijaya, with whom the Indians shared close economic and cultural ties.[3] The Thai adopted from the Khmer people components of Indianized culture such as the Ramayana.[4]

In the late first millennium, the Ramakien epic (written as Ramkerti, รามเกียรติ์ but read as Ramakien) was adopted by the Thai people. The oldest recordings of the early Sukhothai kingdom, dating from the 13th century, include stories from the Jataka legends. The history of the legends was told in the shade theater (Thai: หนัง, Nang), a shadow-puppet show in a style adopted from Indonesia, in which the characters were portrayed by leather dolls manipulated to cast shadows on a nearby screen while the spectators watched from the other side.

The Thai version of the legends was first written down in the 18th century, during the Ayutthaya Kingdom, following the demise of the Sukhothai government. Most editions, however, were lost when the city of Ayutthaya was destroyed by armies from Burma (modern Myanmar) in the year 1767.

The version recognized today was compiled in the Kingdom of Siam under the supervision of King Rama I (1726–1809), the founder of the Chakri dynasty, which still maintains the throne of Thailand. Between the years of 1799 and 1807, Rama I supervised the writing of the well-known edition and even wrote parts of it. It was also under the reign of Rama I that construction began on the Thai Grand Palace in Bangkok, which includes the grounds of the Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The walls of the Wat Phra Kaew are lavishly decorated with paintings representing stories from the Ramakien.

Rama II (1766–1824) further adapted his father's edition of the Ramakien for the khon drama, a form of theater performed by non-speaking Thai dancers with elaborate costumes and masks. Narrations from the Ramakien were read by a chorus to one side of the stage. This version differs slightly from the one compiled by Rama I, giving an expanded role to Hanuman, the god-king of the apes, and adding a happy ending.

Since its introduction to the Thai people, the Ramakien has become a firm component of the culture. The Ramakien of Rama I is considered one of the masterpieces of Thai literature. It is still read and is taught in the country's schools.

In 1989, Satyavrat Shastri translated the Ramakien into a Sanskrit epic poem (mahakavya) named Ramakirtimahakavyam, in 25 sargas (cantos) and about 1200 stanzas in 14 metres. This work won eleven national and international awards.[5]


The tales of the Ramakien are similar to those of the Ramayana, though transferred to the topography and culture of Ayutthaya, where the Avatar of Phra Narai (the Thai incarnation of Vishnu, who is also known as Narayana) is reborn as Phra Ram.

Main figures[edit]

Divine beings[edit]


Allies of Phra Ram[edit]

Enemies of Phra Ram[edit]


The text can be split into three logical parts: the first one dealing with the origins of the main characters, the second depicting the dramatic events including the fall of Thotsakan, and the final part describing what happened afterwards.

Part One[edit]

The first part begins with the story of Phra Narai in the form of a boar vanquishing the demon Hiranyaksha. This is followed by an account of the origins of the ancestors of Thotsakan. According to Ramakien, Phra Isuan grants his servant Nonthok (Bhasmasura) a boon which enables him to change his finger into a diamond and destroy anyone at whom he points it. As Nonthok begins to abuse this power, Phra Narai assumes the form of a charming woman who dances in front of Nonthok, who tries to imitate the movement of her hands. At one moment, he points the diamond finger towards himself and instantly dies. Nonthok is later reborn as Thotsakan. He also has four brothers and a sister, as well as half-siblings. Thotsakan first marries Kala Akhi (Mandodari), the daughter of Kala Nakha (Mayasura) of the underworld, and later receives Nang Montho as a gift from Phra Isuan. Thotsakan and Kala Akhi have a son with the first name Ronapak (Meghanada); after his victory over Indra, he is called Intharachit(Winner of Indra).

The text then explains the origins of the simian characters Phali and Sukhrip. They are born to Kala Acana (Anjana), the wife of king Khodam (Kesari), as a result of her adultery with Phra In and Phra Athit. When king Khodam immerses them in a lake to test their legitimacy, they turn into monkeys and vanish into the forest. Phra Isuan grants Phali a magic trident which will transfer to Phali half the strength of anyone fighting him. Sukhrip is rewarded with a beautiful young maiden Dara (Tara), but Phali takes her for himself. Later, Phali also seizes Thotsakan's consort Nang Montho and they have a son named Ongkhot before she is returned to Thotsakan. Finally, Phali banishes Sukhrip to the forest where he meets Hanuman.

Hanuman is said to be born after Phra Isuan places his celestial weapons in the mouth of Sawaha, the daughter of Kala Acana. Hanuman at first stays with Phali and Sukhrip, but later decides to join Sukhrip in his banishment in the forest.

Rama, known in the Ramakien as Phra Ram, has ancestors tracing back to Phra Narai through King Thotsarot. Phra Ram himself is a reincarnation of Phra Narai, and his brothers Phra Lak, Phra Phrot and Phra Satarut are manifestations of Phra Narai's emblems: the serpent, the discus, and the mace, respectively. Phra Ram's consort Nang Sida is a reincarnation of Phra Narai's consort Laksami, but she is born as the daughter of Thotsakan in Lanka and adopted by king Chonok (Janaka) of Mithila.

Part Two[edit]

Part two deals with the main drama of the story. Phra Ram and Nang Sida fall in love at first sight before an archery contest. A hunchback named Kucci (Manthara) instigates the queen to ask for the banishment of Phra Ram. He sets off to live in the forest with Nang Sida and his brother Phra Lak, where they meet Sammanakha (Surpanakha) who took on the form of a beautiful maiden. She tries to seduce the two brothers, but they resist and punish her. As revenge, Thotsakan abducts Nang Sida to his palace in Lanka.

Phra Ram and Phra Lak meet Hanuman, Sukhrip and another Vanara, Chomphuphan, and ask them to help find Nang Sida. When Hanuman locates Nang Sida in Lanka, he identifies himself by showing her ring and kerchief and retelling the secret of her first meeting with Phra Ram. Hanuman is then caught by Thotsakan's son Intharachit, but escapes while setting Lanka on fire. On returning to Phra Ram, Hanuman helps build a causeway with help of Nal and Nil to connecting Sri Lanka With Indian mainland and the war with Thotsakan begins. After a lot of fighting and attempts of treachery by Thotsakan's allies, Phra Ram manages to kill Thotsakan and Intharachit and free Nang Sida. After she passes a fire ordeal to test her faithfulness, Phra Ram takes her with him to Ayutthaya and grants various parts of his kingdom to his allies.

Part three[edit]

After Nang Sida draws a picture of Thotsakan on a slate, Phra Ram orders Phra Lak to take her to the forest and kill her. Instead of doing as commanded, he brings to Phra Ram the heart of a doe to trick him into believing that Nang Sida is dead. In the forest, Nang Sida finds refuge with a hermit named Wachamarik (Valmiki), and she gives birth to two sons: Phra Monkut (Kusha) and Phra Loph (Lava). Phra Ram decides to take her back to Ayutthaya, but she refuses and disappears into the Underworld. Finally, Phra Isuan brings Phra Ram and Nang Sida together again.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sanchez, Jane. "History and Thailand Literature". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Lipi Ghosh, 2017, India-Thailand Cultural Interactions: Glimpses from the Past to Present, Springer Publishing, pp. 157
  3. ^ "The characters | Phralak Phralam". phralakphralam.com. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  4. ^ "Thailand - Mon-Khmer civilizations. (n.d.)". Britannica. Retrieved 22 December 2021. The Tai borrowed from the Khmer many elements of Indianized culture, including royal ceremonies, customs followed at the court, and especially the Indian epic Ramayana, which influenced not only literature but also classical dance. Even in modern Thai culture the legacy of the Indianized culture of Angkor is still evident.
  5. ^ Sanskrit’s first Jnanpith winner is a 'poet by instinct'
  6. ^ Singaravelu, S. (1982). The Rama story in the Thai cultural tradition. Bangkok: Siam Society.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thai Ramayana (abridged) as written by King Rama I, ISBN 974-7390-18-3
  • The story of Ramakian – From the Mural Paintings along the Galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, ISBN 974-7588-35-8

External links[edit]