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Introduction to Phra Chaisuriya

Phra Chaisuriya, by the great Thai poet Sunthorn Phu, was composed during the reign of King Rama III at Devadhitaram Temple, where Sunthorn Phu lived as a monk (ca.1839-1842 A.D.). The form of this narrative poem indicates that the poet intended it to be used as a primer. Thus, Sunthorn Phu displays his genius by using only one type of syllable in each section so that children could master one pattern at a time before attempting the next.

Moreover, Phra Chaisuriya is a fascinating narrative with strong moral overtones, an additional teaching device for young readers. However, one suspects that this poem is meant for adults as well : it holds society's ills up to ridicule, a scathing comment on Sunthorn Phu's own period. For example, certain rabelaisian passages cannot have been intended for children.

Phra Chaisurlya is written in the traditional Thai versification called Kavya (pronounced "garb"). Three varieties of Kavya are used in various sections of the poem: Yani eleven (corresponding to the number of syllables per verse), Chabang sixteen, and Suranganang twenty-eight. Unfortunately, the original forms of these Kavyas cannot be retained in translation.

Phra Jaisuriya a Kavya by Sunthorn Phu

Yani 1 1

I pay my respects to the Three Gems; 1

My parents, preceptors, and all the gods

Of the Zodiac. I shall now begin

My poem with open syllables ; 2

Be it good or bad, withhold your criticism.

I shall tell an interesting story

To entice boys and girls to read and learn.

Once there was a good monarch on earth

Who ruled the fair City of Savathi; 3

He was called Phra Jaisuriya 4

And his young queen was called Sumali.5

His realm was free from adversity,

His nobles were all conscientious,

Merchants who came from faraway lands

Could sojourn safely in the City.

His subjects, laymen and monks alike,

Were quite happy and content in life.

The people cultivated their own land

And harvested abundant rice and wheat.

As time went by, a group of nobles began

To seek young and comely girls to play

Sweet melodies in their fine mansions.

Morning and evening they enjoyed Sor 6 music

And love making. They lavished their wealth

On their wives, and greed distorted their outlook:

They forgot the monks' moral teachings,

And turned to superstitious nonsense;

They were proud of owning many slaves,

Exploiting them and putting them in stocks.

Court cases were chicken and pork 7 to the judge:

Whoever offered him rice and fish

Would obtain his favour and win the case

Although he should have lost and been condemned

Respecting neither Buddha nor tradition.

Swindlers became prosperous and powerful

While the good were blamed and whipped like criminals

Those who were honest and pious were deemed

Blockheads, tortoises, crabs and fish , 8

Elders and scholars were looked down upon

As worthless and demented derelicts,

Monks and novices left the holy path

To chant profane verses instead of prayers;

The elders' advice was unheeded,

And insolent bullies were rampant.

(I do not mean to attack the righteous.)

In the City of Savathi, no one

Showed any pity to anyone:

Harsh, opinionated and selfish,

They grabbed hold of everything they could get;

Those skilled in fighting used their might

To appropriate goods that should have been bought;

They snatched the clothes off one's back and worse.

Courtiers and noblemen were negligent,

They did not discipline their subordinates;

They took oaths of allegiance but failed

To keep their bond and behave responsibly;

Since many acquired wealth by any means,

The people suffered from deprivation;

Officials beat and blamed them without mercy.

Finally, forest spirits doomed the City,

They brought death to the inhabitants:

A great flood inundated the dwellings,

Leaving people stranded and homeless.

Nobles and courtiers, monks and preceptors

Scattered and fled to distant kingdoms,

No one dared remain in the City.

Chabang 16

Phra Jaisuriya took his queen on a junk;

Abundant food was put on board.

Young girls, court ladies and noblemen

Accompanied the king on the ship;

Sounding the gong they unfurled the sails

After the tempest had subsided.

Sailing along the rapid current,

They felt isolated day and night

In the vast expanse of endless water.

Finding no land, the king and court ladies

Looked out of the portholes to admire sea creatures

Giant carp, dolphin, hammerhead sharks,

Horseshoe crabs and schools of mackerel.

The king fell quite lonely and forlorn

As the ship was blown by the strong wind

Toward the emptiness of the open sea.

No land could be sighted to please the eye;

Finally, twilight passed into evening,

And the king asked his nobles if they knew

The length and breadth of the vast ocean.

One explained the matter to the curious king :

"This mighty expanse of water flows

From the cow's throat 9 and extends far and wide.

No one refutes this in Pall Scriptures,

Thus I gather from the elders' account:

'Once there was a bird as big as a mountain

By the name of Phya Sambati 10

Who wished to discover the size of the sea.

He flew on until the sun was setting,

Still not sighting any land at all,

He felt quite discouraged and uncertain

His precious life was hanging by a thread.

Seeing a fish, he lighted on its head,

Gazing into the distance, Sambati

Humbly begged his forgiveness and asked him

How wide was the sea which he hoped to cross.

The fish answered that he was too young

To journey across the vast ocean,

So he always stayed close to the shore.

The mighty bird, cherishing his life,

Bade the fish farewell and flew straight back

To his lofty abode', so the story goes."

When the noble finished his narration,

The king understood and felt desolate.

The ship continued to wander aimlessly

Till a tempest tossed the anchor through the sails,

And the hapless junk was completely engulfed,

To make matters worse, sea spirits swarmed

Over the mast and sank the doomed vessel.

The King grasped his beloved queen by the hand,

And using her shawl, lashed themselves together.

The drowning court ladies and noblemen, Choking and struggling about in the waves, Were dragged down by crocodiles and sea monsters." Weeping, the unfortunate, king and queen Were finally swept by the current to land, Finding a big banyan tree thick with leaves, They fell asleep beneath it at nightfall.

Suranganang 28

1 begin new verses with closed syllables Ending with "n " 12 1 shall also make use Of open syllables from time to time. Pity the king sleeping in the forest By the banyan tree in place of the palace. Queen Sumali paid respect to her lord,

Served him and cared for him as before, So that he might feel happy and content. The king invited her to lie down to sleep, And make do with a log for a pillow. He taught her to say nightly prayers To protect her from danger in the forest. That night the moon was attended by stars, Earth and sky could be seen distinctly. In the forest and by the flowing stream, Flowers bloomed among the branches and leaves. Evening mists bathed the fragrant blossoms,

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The wind carried their perfume far and wide, Chan and In trees bore sweet-scented fruit,13 Bees swarmed at the flowers to gather nectar, When the moon finally descended, Krawainprai birds" and wild cockerels Announced the morn. Forest spirits Hailed one another from their glens, The cascades splashed and echoed loudly, The king awakened far away from the City, He heaved a sigh as he watched the sun rise Above the mountain peak; the force of Karmal@ Caused him to roam in the deep forest.

Chabang 16

1 am using closed syllables ending With "ng " 16 mixed with those ending with "n" To describe various kinds of trees and plants In the forest: towering Krai, Krang, Yang, Yoong trees, Talingpring, Pring, Prayong, Kansong, Fragrant poppies and Fang, Mango, Pluong, Plong, Chongnang, their fruit and flowers were scattered All over the ground. The king and queen ate The fruit while walking in the valley. They saw deer moving by gracefully Like the lady-in-waiting who carried The royal sceptre. They saw high mountains Where f ying swans descended side by side, Loudly singing their melancholy songs. Kiangprai birds sang while cockerels crowed, Sounding like the soothing pa ace lu@laby, Golden peacocks' loud cries, an orchestra Of sounds @ gongs, bells and drums, in harmony With horns, conches, and delicate crescent be Is. There were Kaling, Kalang, gu@ls and pheasants, Swallows, blackbirds, Egong by Tongteng trees. The golden woodpecker's haunting sound And the barking deer's call tilled the forest.

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A throng of strong-jawed Lamangs" buried themselves In mud sunned themselves' , or stood gazing big-eyed. A herd of elephants in the tall forest of Yoong and Yang trees trumpeted oudly Playing in the water. trunks intertwining.

Yani I 1

Closed syllables ending with 'k' '-' describe How the king and queen suffered hardship Far away from their k ngdom : they ate Baked sweet potatoes and taro daily A one with fresh fruit to maintain their strength. When the setting sun became bright crimson Like Krang" dye behind clouds and mountain peaks, Monkeys and angurs shrieked while foxes howled Gibbons cried mournfully, and budgerigars G ided back to their respect ve nests. The chicks with f apping w ngs chirped loudly, Mother birds opened their wings to protect them And fed the young with food from their beaks. The king lay on the slope beside the queen, Caressing her affectionately Deprived of her wealth and retainers, The queen looked weary and despondent, Fee ing sorry for her, the king said: "Seeing your gentle face in time of need, My grief has gradual y melted away. In the palace you looked fresh like the moon, Now you look dejected and begrimed, My friend in happiness and in sorrow, I wil cherish and protect you a ways. Do not remain sad, light of my life, Lest your lovely face shou d lose its lustre.' Gently, he roused her to sensual p easure, Kissed her sweet-scented body. Fragrant as lingering perfume from f ewers They fondled each other so tenderly That their heavy hearts were comforted.

SI,111, - t A@; I

Yani II

Now I use closed syl ables ending with "t' To describe the "miracle act"-' of love : In response, great mountains thundered and echoed. Birds turned upside-down and fel out of their nests, All creatures were stil drowsy with sleep, The earth resounded ike a roaring fire, Cottages and houses swayed to and fro, In dwellings on canals big and smal , Frightened people jumped into the water, Some woke up friends and shouted warnings, They leapt about, running into each other, An orchestra of xy ophones, gongs and drums Played melodious songs a I by themselves, Brazen be Is pealed eerily in deep tones, Nobles got up and ran, w in adies cl nging, They entangled themselves and stumbled

Monks emerged from their ea Is and ran away, Taking novices by the hand, The head nun fled from the head monk, Jumped into the mud and leapt out again, Temple dwellers found themselves in houses, Bald heads bumped into one another, Trees swayed back and forth in the wind, Monkeys and angurs jumped and somersau ted, Spirits that shaped the baby' were busy P acing the nose and eyes on the baby's face, Whi e the couple enjoyed their eye making. Unable to make the baby fast enough, The spirits became greatly annoyed. The love making shook the four elements, By morning, they were so exhausted That they could hardly walk and felt sad.

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Yani II

Now I use close syl ables ending with "P", 4 As I have finished those ending with "t". A he y man was contemplating the fire, Serenely sitting at the foot of a tree Seeking well-being and eternal truth, He closed his eyes and leaned against a rock As if he were in a long deep sleep. He maintained religious vows and attained The highest knowledge 29 and enlightenment. He meditated and saw the whole world, The entire universe, the highest heaven, He understood the nature of creation. He meditated in a fixed posture For months@ he fasted and lived blissfully On air alone through at the months and years. After the earthquake and great commotion He contemplated and recognized The four deadly sins of Savathi. The moral tradition was reversed Good deeds were denounced while wicked men Flourished and oppressed the honest and truthful, Students rebel ad against their teachers, Children were ungrateful to their parents, And peop a were at each other's throat, Their unnatural cravings drove them To exploitation and murder. Men and women Were greedy for profit and sinned without shame, They made false accusations out of spite. These evils upset the centre of the earth, And darkened the sky, causing all creatures To suffer calamity as punishment, The Traita Age 26 was coming to an end.

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Chabang 16

Now I use closed syllables ending with "M" 27 The holy man had pity on the king Who once ruled the City of Savathi. This honest king was misled by his nobles. Who were deceitful and totally corrupt, Thus his city sank under water. Wishing to en ighten the monarch,

The holy man sat quite still and focussed On bestowing good will upon the king, His words were melodious as Indra's lute 2 "Death will surely come one day to those Who exploit, defame and cheat others: Their sinful deeds will cause them to suffer Eternally through all ages to come. Those who are kind and compassionate Will attain heaven and bliss forever. Worldly wealth of mortals and GarudaS2-@ Will eventua ly be dissipated, Whereas heavenly riches will increase. One finds great joy and bliss in paradise Served by lovely maidens, none feels hunger. Music from lute and Sor'O accommpany Songs sung sweetly by heavenly damsels. The power of your former good deeds Wi I make each and every wish come true, Verily, believers of the holy path, If you pray and meditate daily, You wil attain heaven in you next life." Finishing his sermon, the holy man Glided through the clouds beyond their sight.

27 V,,,

28 !,I , @@9 A ....... ;I, VI h,Ei ,d

30 S@, 6

Chabang 16

Now I use closed syllables ending with .1y" 31 After listening to the divine words, The king and queen were convinced and inspired, They saw the harm of world y attachment And decide lo sever the devii's noose, They attained bliss and spiritual love. The couple donned habits of tiger skin-12' And wore the pleated hermit's headpiece, And began a life of austerity. Morning and evening they performed rituals, They tended the perpetual sacred fire, . The ground became their bed, logs their pillow, They swept their dwejling clean night and day, Striving hard to learn and practice dharma,33 They attained the highest good on earth, And after death, they ascended to heaven To live the life of bliss eternally Throughout the endless age of Buddhahood.31 Sunthon Phu composes these fine verses For teaching young children to learn to read The pattern of open and closed syllables Which little ones should try to master well. Be careful, dear children, fear your teacher Who may indeed punish you with the cane. I had the experience of being whipped: The cane made the skin smart, and the pinch Made it black and blue, so don't play truant But heed my warning, given for your own good So that you may perceive the difference Between sin and merit from these lessons@ I offer this advice for your sake. By the Good Grace of His Majesty, Whoever sees merit in this work, Please give me my due.

31 M K,@y

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