MEMORY OF THE WORLD REGISTER
Thailand – The King Ram Khamhaeng Inscription
PART A – ESSENTIAL INFORMATION
The King Ram Khamhaeng Inscription (RK) of 1292 A.D. is considered a major documentary heritage of world significance because it gives valuable information on several major themes of world history and culture. It not only records the invention of Thai language scripts that are the foundation of the modern scripts used in Thailand by 60 million people, its rare detailed description of the 13th century Thai state of Sukhothai also reflects universal values shared by many states in the world today. Those values include good governance, the rule of law, economic freedom, and religious morality, in this case Buddhism, one of the world's major religions. The inscription's value as a historical document has already been evident when it was used to support Thailand's successful proposal to inscribe the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns on the World Heritage List in 1991.
2 DETAILS OF THE NOMINATOR
The Thai National Committee on Memory of the World Programme of UNESCO
Relationship to the documentary heritage nominated
It is the authorities and duties of this Committee to consider documentary heritage and nominate to the Memory of the World Register. The committee also organizes activities to raise people's awareness of values of documents, necessity of conservation and right to access the heritage widely.
Contact person (s)
1) H.E. Mr. Pongpol Adireksarn, Minister of Education of Thailand
Chairman of the Thai National Commission for UNESCO
Ministry of Education, Rajadamnoen Nok Avenue
Dusit, Bangkok 10300
Tel: 662 628 6137
Fax: 662 280 0138
Mrs. Savitri Suwansathit
Secretary-General, the Thai National Commission for UNESCO
Ministry of Education, Rajadamnoen Nok Avenue
Dusit, Bangkok 10300
Tel: 662 628 5611, 662 628 6153
Fax: 662 280 1249
Prof. Khunying Maenmas Chavalit
Chairperson of the Thai National Committee on Memory of the World Programme of UNESCO
SPAFA Headquarters Building
81/1 Si-Ayutthaya Road, Sam-sen, Dusit
Tel: 662 280 4022-9
Fax: 662 280 4030
Contact details (include address, phone, fax, email)
Same as above
3 IDENTITY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE
Name and identification details of the items being nominated
King Ram Khamhaeng Inscription of 1292 A.D.
National Museum Registration Number 158/2511.
Custodian: The National Museum Bangkok
Na Phra That Road
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: 662-2249911, 662-2241396
3.2 Description (Attach a description of the documentary heritage: refer to the guide for completing this form)
Description and inventory
A siltstone inscription 114.50 centimetres high with four sides and topped by a quadrilateral pyramid. The first side has 35 lines, the second 35, the third 27 and the fourth 27. Each side is 35.50 centimetres wide. It is written in the Thai language in Sukhotai scripts.
National Museum Registration Number 158/2511.
Acquisition date (from the National Library) 29 November 1968.
Summary of its provenance
The RK was discovered by Prince Mongkut of Siam, later King Chomklao or Rama IV, in 1833 in the old city of Sukhothai during his visit there while he was in the Buddhist monkhood. It was brought down to Bangkok along with another stone inscription and a stone bench believed to be a throne known as Manangsilabat. These objects were kept at Rachathirat monastery where he resided. They were later moved to Bowon Nivet monastery with the Prince. After his accession to the throne, the King moved them to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha where they were kept until 1923 when King Vajiravudh ordered the inscriptions to be moved to join a collection of inscriptions at the Wachirayan Library building in front of Maha That monastery. The Manangsilabat throne was still kept at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. All the inscriptions were moved to Siwamokhaphiman Hall in the Bowon Sathan Mongkhon or Front Palace during the reign of King Prajadhipok (1925-1935) as the Hall was to be used as the Wachirayan Library building, now known as Vajiravudh Library. In 1968 the King Ram Khamhaeng Inscription alone was moved to the Siwamokhaphiman Hall which is now part of the National Museum. It was put on display as a part of the Sukhothai exhibits where it still stands today.
In spite of these various movements, the Inscription suffered no damage. As inscriptions had no commercial value, no exact replicas were made for sale or as substitution in a theft attempt.
Assessment of physical state and condition
The inscription is in good physical condition, except for some minor surface cracks. The writings are nearly all legible, with only about 6 small places where a few letters either have disappeared or are difficult to decipher.
Visual documentation (please see photographs of the inscription and its present display location)
Coedes, G. Recueil des Inscriptions du Siam Première partie: Inscriptions du Sukhodaya. Bangkok: Bangkok Times Press, 1924.
Griswold, A.B. & Prasert na Nagara. "The Inscription of King Rama Gamhen of Sukhodaya (1292 A.AD): Epigraphic and Historical Studies No.9". Journal of the Siam Society 59 (1971): 179-228.
Wyatt, David K. Thailand A Short History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984, pp.54-59.
Dr. Prasert na Nagara. Professor of History, Silpakon University, Thailand.
Former President of the Royal Academy of Thailand.
Contact address: 101/1 Soi Than Phuying Phahon,
Ngam Wongwan Rd.,
Bangkok 10900 Thailand
Dr. David K. Wyatt. The John Stambaugh Professor of History, Cornell University, USA.
Contact address: 5 Leslie Lane
Ithaca NY 14850, USA
Dr. Yoneo Ishii: Professor of History, President, Kanda University of International Studies, Chiba, Japan.
Contact address: Kanda University of International Studies
Wakaba 1-4-1, Mihama-ku, Chiba-city
Chiba 261-0014 Japan
4 JUSTIFICATION FOR INCLUSION/ ASSESSMENT AGAINST CRITERIA
4.1 Is authenticity established? (see 4.2.3)
While the RK belongs to a period in Thai history that is relatively well documented with epigraphic records, there are still gaps in the historical knowledge that makes it difficult to authenticate pieces of evidence with scientific precision, whether they are works of arts or written records. Nevertheless, because of its uniqueness and importance, it is one of the most studied historical records in Thailand.
The Inscription's authenticity has been established through various factors:
It was personally discovered in Sukhothai and recorded by King Rama IV of Siam while he was still Prince Mongkut and a Buddhist monk in 1833.
Since its discovery, it has been thoroughly read and studied by both Thai and foreign scholars, historians, art historians, anthropologists, linguists, and epigraphists, including Kings Rama IV, King Chulalongkorn, King Vajiravudh, Prince Pawaret Wariyalongkorn, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Prince Subhadradis Diskul, M.R. Subhawat Kasemson, George Coedes, Adolf Bastian, Pere Schmitt, C.B. Bradley, James R. Chamberlain, Yoneo Ishii, Hiram Woodward Jr., Betty Gosling, B.J. Terwiel, Richard A. O'Connor, and David K. Wyatt. All of them have no doubt of its authenticity.
This is not to say that there are no questions over its authenticity or genuineness. Issues raised in relation with the scripts, vocabulary, and content have led to the following suggestions:
It was not written by King Ram Khamhaeng but by a later Sukhothai king.
It was not written by a Sukhothai person at all.
It was a fake made by King Rama IV himself in order to justify the extent of his kingdom and his liberal economic policies.
The debate over these issues raised particularly by Michael Vickery and Piriya Krairiksh took place in the late 1980s. Their lines of arguments, logic and evidence were intensively questioned by several western and Thai historical linguists, art historians, epigraphists and scholars, who, while recognizing some enigmas in the Inscription and concurring with some of the points raised, maintained that it is an authentic inscription, not an attempt forgery by a later generation to mislead its readers. In fact, as it has been pointed out, the evidence to show forgery a argues for its authenticity. The debate helped to reinforce the Inscription's authenticity even further and demonstrates how the world's scholars recognize its value and are prepared to defend it as an import authentic document of global significance.
It seems that the problem with the Ramkhamhaeng Inscription is that it was an early attempt to set up a writing system that was later modified, leaving it a distinctive Sukhothai document different from the rest. Its simple Thai language and style was not followed by later inscription makers who preferred words derived from Sanskrit and Pali, and a more regal style associated with monarchical grandeur. There were ready-made formats for writing inscriptions that made this Inscription, with its direct way of communication and lengthy narration, appear an oddity. Finally, historical knowledge of Sukhothai and Thai history in the 13th-15th century period is still limited and therefore always open to debate.
In 1990, Chirapon Aranyanak, conservation scientist of the National Museum of Thailand, and Srisopa Maranate, scientist of the Department of Mineral Resources in Thailand made a preliminary study of the surfaces of five Sukhothai inscriptions including the Ramkhamhaeng Inscription, using scanning electron microscope and energy dispersive x-ray spectrometer equipment. They confirmed that all of them had been made in the same period 700-500 years ago, and not in the 19th century as some had suggested.
4.2 Is world significance, uniqueness and irreplaceability established? (see 4.2.4)
The Inscription can be divided into three parts. The first part from lines 1-18 describes the personal background and heroic deeds of King Ram Khamhaeng from his birth to accession to the throne. The personal pronoun "I" is used throughout. The second part from line 18 on the first side to line 8 on the fourth side describes the various aspects of Sukhothai city in detail—physical, political and social. The third part from line 8 to the last line 27 on the fourth side glorifies the King as the inventor of Thai scripts and ruled over an extensive kingdom. The absence of the first pronoun in the last two parts has given rise to the speculation that they were composed by the King's successors.
The RK contains several political, economic and cultural values that modern civilized states in the world today subscribe to or are familiar, with namely:
Good governance political legitimacy.
Although descent was the main principle for the legitimate assumption of power, King Ram Khamhaeng added that filial piety and bravery were his personal virtues (hence the name khamhaeng meaning brave). His rule was based on justice (dharma) or the rule of law for all, which he urged his people to follow. He was generous and merciful, as well as responsive and accessible to his citizens.
"When commoners or men of rank differ and disagree, [the King] examines the case to get at the truth and then settles it justly for them. He does not connive with thieves or favour concealers [of stolen goods]. When he sees someone's rice he does not cover it, when he sees someone's wealth he does not get angry. If anyone riding an elephant comes to see him to put his own country under his protection, he helps him, treats him generously, and takes care of him; if [someone comes to him] with no elephant, no horses, no young men or women of rank, no silver or gold, he gives him some, and helps him until he can establish a state [of his own]. When he captures enemy warriors, he does not kill them or beat them. He has hung a bell in the opening of the gate over there: if any commoner in the land has a grievance which sickens his belly and gripes his heart, and which he wants to make known to his ruler and lord, it is easy; he goes and strikes the bell which the King has hung there; King Rama Gamhen, the ruler of the kingdom, hears [the bell] calls this man and in question him, examines the case, and decides it justly for him. So the people of this Moan of Sukkhodai are happy."
Economic freedom and market economy.
This document is one of the rare historical records in the world that not only describes economic activities, but also shows that the ruler enthusiastically subscribed to free trade and an open market economy seven hundred years ago:
"In the time of King Rama Gamhen this land of Sukhodai is thriving. There is fish in the water and rice in the fields. The lord of the realm does not levy toll on his subjects (and) it is easy for them lead their cattle to trade or ride their horses to sell; whoever wants to trade in elephants, does so; whoever wants to trade in horses, does so; whoever wants to trade in silver or gold, does so."
It can be seen from the text that under King Ram Khamhaeng's rule, the citizens had the rights of access to their ruler, the rights to petition, religious freedom, the rights to trade, and property ownership rights, for example:
"When any commoner or man rank dies, his estate – his elephant, wives, children, granaries, rice, retainers and groves of areca and betel – is left in its entirety to his son."
Sukhothai was a vibrant Buddhist state with a unique blend of traditional animistic beliefs and a new international style of Pali Buddhism from Sri Lanka through southern Thailand. Religious observance gives the city peace, tranquillity and harmony with nature:
"The people of this city of Sukhodai like to observe the precepts and bestow alms. King Rama Gamhen, the ruler of this city of Sukhodai, as well as the princes and princesses, the young men and women of rank, and all the noblefolk without exception, both male and female, all have faith in the religion of the Buddha, and all observe they celebrate the Kathina ceremonies, which last a month, with heaps of cowries, with heaps of areca nuts, with heaps of flowers, with cushions and pillows: the gifts they present [to the monks] as accessories to the Kathina [amount to] two million each year. Everyone goes to the Arannika over there for the recitation of the Kathina. When they are ready to return to the city they walk together, forming a line all the way from the Arannika to the parade-ground. They repeatedly to homage together, accompanied by the music of instruments and singing. Whoever wants to make merry, does so; whoever wants to laugh, does so; whoever wants to sing, does so…
Inside this city of Sukhodai, there are viharas, there are golden statues of the Buddha, there are statues eighteen cubits in height there are big statues of the Buddha and medium-sized ones, there are big viharas and medium-sized ones; there are monks, Nissayamuttas, Theras and Mahatheras…
West of the city of Sukhodai is the Arannika, built by King Rama Gamhen as a gift to the Mahathera Sangharaja, the sage who has studied the scriptures from beginning to end, who is wiser than any other monk in the kingdom, and who has come here from Moan Sri Dharmmaraja. Inside the Arannika there is a large rectangular vihara, tall and exceedingly beautiful, and an eighteen-cubit statue of the Buddha standing up. East of the city of Sukhodai there are viharas and monks, there is the large lake, there are groves of areca and betel, upland and lowland farms, homesteads, large and small villages, groves of mango and tamarind. [They] are as beautiful to look at as if they were made for that purpose. North of this city of Sukhodai there is the bazaar there is the Acan statue, there are the prasadas, there are groves of cocoanut and jackfruit, upland and lowland farms, homesteads, large and small villages. South of this city Sukhodai there are kutis with viharas and resident monks, there is the dam, there are groves of cocoanut and jackfruit, groves of mango and tamarind, there are mountain streams and there is Brah Khabun. The divine spirit of that mountain streams and there is Brah Khabun. The divine spirit of that mountain is more powerful than any other spirit in this kingdom. Whatever lord may rule this kingdom of Sukhodai, if he makes obeisance to him properly, with the right offerings, this kingdom will endure, this kingdom will thrive; but if obeisance is not made properly or the offerings are not right, the spirit of the hill will no longer protect it and the kingdom will be lost…
In 1207 saka, a year of the boar, he caused the holy relics to be dug up so that everyone could see them. They were worshipped for a month and six days, then they were buried in the middle of Sri Sajjanalai, and a cetiya was built on top of them which was finished in six years. A wall of rock enclosing the Brah Dhatu was built which was finished in three years."
King Ram Khamhaeng considered himself a model Buddhist ruler who governed and delivered justice in accordance with the Buddhist moral precepts. In that process he was a teacher to his people:
"In 1214 saka, a year of the dragon, King Rama Gamhen, lord of this kingdom of Sri Sajjannalai and Sukhodai, who had planted these sugar-palm trees fourteen years before, commanded his craftsmen to carve a slab of stone and place it in the midst of these sugar-palm trees. On the day of the new moon, and the eighth day of the waning moon, (one of) the monks, theras or mahateras goes up and sits on the stone slab to preach the Dharma to the throng of lay-people who observe the precepts. When it is not a day for preaching the Dharma, King Rama Gamhen, lord of the kingdom of Sri Sajjannalai and Sukhodai, goes up, sits on the stone slab, and lets the officials, lords and princes discuss affairs of state with him. On the day of the new moon and the day of the full moon, when the white elephant named Rucari has been decked out with howdah and tasselled head cloth, and always with gold on both tusks, King Rama Gamhen mounts him, rides away to the Arannika to pay homage to the Sangharaja, and then returns…
King Rama Gamhen was sovereign over all the Dai. He was the rightly… All the people who live in these lands have been reared by him in accordance with the Dharma, every one of them".
Freedom of expression through a written language.
The Inscription is a rare piece of historical evidence at is displays a unique recognition 700 years ago of the importance of writing. King Ram Khamhaeng's invention of scripts for the Thai language was a milestone. As far as we know, there is not other primary record in the world that claims the invention of a major writing system that is still in use today, as well as proclaiming the significance of this action. Although the Thai writing system is used by only about 60 million people in the world, the act of invention itself should be regarded as of world significance and a landmark in the history of human progress. The long inscription successfully describes both facts and values to demonstrate its versatility and ability to convey verbal expression into written words.
The Thai language existed as an oral language among peoples who lived in the areas around the Red River and the upper Mekong River. It is generally agreed that Thai scripts were first adapted from Pallava scripts in the 9th century. They were then broken into two branches, one was associated with Mon and the other with Khmer scripts. Sukhothai writing combined the two lines. The Ram Khamhaeng Inscription is the earliest linguistic evidence of this development. As the writing system continued to evolve after the 13th century, the Inscription could best be considered a "prototype" that was later continuously modified.
King Ram Khamhaeng's invention is very important for Thailand and the Tai-speaking peoples for the following reasons:
The RK is unique and irreplaceable as it is the oldest inscription in the Thai language. In the Ram Khamhaeng scripts, 9 consonants and more than 15 vowels were added to Indian scripts, so that all Thai words may be transcribed, while other Southeast Asian scripts use only alphabets from Indian scripts, so that one symbol represents 2 or 3 sounds.
In the Ram Khamhaeng scripts, tonal marks are used to denote different tones. This practice is probably unique among all other tonal languages.
Each consonant is simplified from 2 or 3 lines to form a continuous line, and makes it faster to write a passage.
Subscript consonants are replaced by ordinary consonants and are written on the main line. It is no longer needed to memorize them. Professor George Coedes remarked that this practice helped Thailand to devise a Thai typewriter 50 years ahead of other Southeast Asian nations.
In the Ram Khamhaeng scripts, there is no ambiguity in reading a passage; e.g. "taa klom" is distinguished from "taak lom". These two passages merge into one form in the present Thai scripts which diverged from the original invention.
While other Tai communities, such as those in Assam and northern Vietnam may have introduced Tai scripts in some form, there is no surviving dated record older than the RK anywhere.
4.3 Is one or more of the criteria of (a) time (b) place (c) people (d) subject and theme (e) form and style satisfied? (see 4.2.5)
The RK was written on the occasion of the setting up of a stone throne to be used by King Ram Khamhaeng. A total of 4 inscriptions were made. The RK is the only one to survive. The inscription reflects a momentous change in the history of Southeast Asia. The 13th century is usually regarded by historians such as D.G.Hall, George Coedes and Oliver Wolters as a watershed, as the Mongols invaded Southeast Asia and two important mainland states, Pagan and Angkor, disintegrated. The Tai-speaking groups began to establish themselves in upper Myanmar and Thailand, were Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya were founded or further developed into important political centres. King Ram Khamhaeng is remembered in northern Thai historical sources as one of the co-founders of Chiang Mai city in the year 1296, four years after the date of the 1292 Inscription. The RK is therefore an important document that defines the nature of this momentous change in the 13th century. Military prowess was a necessary quality, but the Inscription also describes a peaceful and civilized state. The invention of the Sukhothai scripts was a momentous event as it laid the foundation of the literate society that was see in Thailand today.
The RK was discovered by Prince Mongkut together with a stone throne in what is now the old city of Sukhothai and a World Heritage Site. It is surmised that both were originally inside a main royal palace ground. The importance of the old town of Sukhothai is based largely on the Inscription's detailed description (see attachment). It is an idyllic place, perhaps a picture to match a vision of an ideal state and society.
The description of the city layout is very informative, a rare source for urban history anywhere in the world for that period.
If we accept his claim as the inventor of a major writing system, then King Ram Khamhaeng must be regarded as a person who has made an outstanding contribution to world history and culture. In addition, he was a devoted Buddhist leader in the mould of King Asoka who "taught all the Thai to understand merit and the Dharma rightly." His rule and method of government must be regarded as an enlightened one by any standard.
4.3.d, subject and theme:
While the aim of the RK is to glorify King Ram Khamhaeng and his kingdom of Sukhothai as an ideal state, the RK contains universal themes and stands as a record of political ideals and achievements that cut across time and space. The creation of scripts to accompany an existing oral language is a worthy accomplishment as it creates increased opportunities in learning and education. In the overall context of the document the description of the ideal state and society actually functioning in Sukhothai over 700 years ago cannot be easily rejected as fictional or untrue. In that state there was justice for all; the King was accessible to the people; there was economic freedom and guarantee of property rights. Buddhism thrived, linking the King with his people. The RK contains many social and political values that all states and nations aspire to.
4.3.e, form and style:
The RK is an outstanding example of a classical Southeast Asian inscription that was beautifully crafted using the silky siltstone as the basic material. The scripts were carefully placed because it was also a proud presentation of a personal creation and a gateway to a Thai world of written communication. The language used is beautifully simple and direct, almost reflecting the way it was spoken. Its style is unique among the 1200 inscriptions found in Thailand. While it was common to have inscriptions made to mark an important event, usually a religious donation, this inscription was intended to mark a momentous event of great social significance and to be a display of how the Thai-speaking people could now communicate and make lengthy narrations through writing. As such it is a rare piece of epigraphy.
4.4 Are there issues of rarity, integrity, threat and management that relate to this nomination? (see 4.2.6)
The RK is the oldest Thai language inscription found. Its shape, scripts and content are unique.
The RK is an unimpaired physical condition. The inscribed texts are legible throughout.
At present the RK is kept in a temperature controlled room at the National Museum in Bangkok where it is guarded 24 hours.
The National Museum is a state agency managed under Thai law with international standard. There are standing plans to respond to different types of emergencies or disasters, such as theft and robbery, fire, riots, natural disasters, vandalism, accidents and terrorism. There are also post-emergency recovery plans.
5 LEGAL INFORMATION
Owner of the documentary heritage (name and contact details)
The National Museum Bangkok
Office of the National Museums
Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture
Na Phra That Road
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: 02-2249911, 02-2241396
Custodian of the documentary heritage (name and contact details, if different to owner)
Same as above
5.3 Legal status:
(a) Category of ownership
The RK is on display five days a week. The Museum is open to the public everyday except on Monday, Tuesday and national holidays. The admission fee is 40 Baht (US/1=43 Baht) which is an affordable rate in Thailand.
The texts have been photographed and transcribed many times. Rubbings have been made and are available at the National Library of Thailand. The texts are widely available in print form in the original language as well as in modern Thai language, with English and French translations.
A number of small replicas were made in 1983 by a Thai philanthropist for distribution to schools on the occasion of the 700th year anniversary of the invention of Thai scripts.
(c) Copyright status
The texts are in public domain and not subject to copyright.
(d) Responsible administration
The Committee of the National Museum Bangkok for Museum Standard Administration;
The Committee of the Fine Arts Department for Important Administration.
(e) Other factors
Under the Law on Historic Places, Historic Artifacts, Artistic Artifacts and National Museums of 1961, Revised in 1992, it is forbidden to make an exact replica of the RK Inscription.
6 MANAGEMENT PLAN
6.1 Is there a management plan in existence for this documentary heritage? YES
There is not special management plan for the RK. It comes under the management plan for the National Museum Bangkok as a whole.
If yes, attach a summary of the plan. If no, please attach further details about current storage and custody of the materials.
The RK is on display in the History Display Room of the Siwamokhaphiman Hall, the National Museum Bangkok, which operates in accordance with the international standard for museum management and the relevant Thai laws on museums and the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage.
7.1 Provide details of consultation about this nomination with (a) the owner of the heritage (b) the custodian (c) your national or regional Memory of the World committee
The National Museum Bangkok,
Office of the National Museums,
Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture.
Same as (a) above. The Museum supports this nomination.
Relevant Regional or National Memory of the World Committee
The Thai Memory of the World Committee comprises experts, scholars and officials from the state agencies concerned with the safeguarding of national documentary heritage. Since its formation in June 2002 it has held monthly meetings to consider possible candidates for nomination to the Memory of the World Register.
PART B – SUBSIDIARY INFORMATION
8 ASSESSMENT OF RISK
8.1 Detail the nature and scope of threats to this documentary heritage (see 5.5)
The RK is not under any threats except in the event of unexpected disasters such as a fire or flooding. There is a contingency plan for such events, as well as for riots and sabotage.
9 ASSESSMENT OF PRESERVATION
9.1 Detail the preservation context of the documentary heritage (see 3.3)
The RK has been well kept and safely guarded. No major attempts have been made to repair the cracks or make the writings more visible. Plans are being made to review the needs for preservation measures for important stone inscription under the care of the National Museums.
PART C - LODGEMENT
This nomination is lodged by:
Mr. Pongpol Adireksarn
Chairman, the Thai National Commission for UNESCO
29 January 2003
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