The Biography of H.M. King Narai the Great

 

Translated by Maj. Gen. Amporn Samboonying

Edited by Timothy Noble, RITS

 

H.E. King Narai the Great was the son of King Prasart Thong, king of the Ayuthaya Empire, who lived from 2123–2198 B.E. (1580–1655 AD) according to the genealogy written by H.E.Prince Damrong Rachanupap, “The War between Thailand and Burma”. According to a book written by a foreigner, King Narai’s mother was the daughter of King Songthum and was named Queen Phra Rachatewee. From that evidence, the date of King Narai’s birth can be dated on one Monday of April, 2175 B.E. (1632 AD).

There are also two reasons for King Narai’s name. First, on the day his mother gave birth, the royals saw that the child had four hands, which was greatly amazing to them. Therefore the King’s father, King Prasart Thong, gave the child the name “Narai”, from the god Narai in literature. The second reason for King Narai’s name was that while the prince was a child there was a fire at the Mangkalapisek Royal Hall and some of the people and royals saw that the small prince used four hands to extinguish the fire. Therefore, he was given the name “Narai” on the day he ascended to the throne.

 

Before King Prasart Thong passed away, he assigned the throne to his son Prince Chai, who was Prince Narai’s elder brother. When Prince Chai occupied the throne, Prince Narai cooperated with his uncle, Phra Srisutum to Take a coup d’etat and place Phra Srisutum on the throne, while Prince Narai himself took the viceroy position and stayed in the Jankasem Palace. Later on, King Srisutum tried to take Princess Phra Racha-Galyanee, the only sister of Prince Narai, as his wife, so King Srisutum became a foe of Prince Narai and was got rid of from the power. The throne was occupied by Prince Narai from that time forth.

On the auspicious day and date when Prince Narai began his 25th year in 2199 B.E. (1656 AD), King Narai occupied the throne of the Ayuthaya Empire, and his different names were recorded thus:

From the genealogy according to Royal scribes; Somdet Phra Boromrachatirach

From the record at Julamanee Temple: Phra Sompetch Somdet Phra Rama Tibodee

From the Public Prosecutor: Phra Baht Somdet Egatosarot Isuan

From another record: Somdet Phra Ramatibodee the third

Though King Narai had occupied the throne, he did not proceed to stay at the Royal Palace, but stayed at the old palace until the year 2204 or 2205 B.E. (1661 AD), when he began to stay at the Royal Palace. When King Narai had lived in the city of Ayuthaya for ten years, he had the city of Lopburi restored so it could be a reserve capital. The record of the people stated that, “After ten years of living in Ayuthaya City, His Majesty the King Narai has proceeded to restore the old city, that is Lopburi City. When all of the palaces and halls were constructed, H.M. the King Narai proceeded to Lopburi City and named the new palace Dusit Mahaprasart. In addition, there were other new buildings, such as two halls to the right and left of Dusit Mahaprasart Palace, namely Suthasawan and Jantharapisarn, and another audience hall, regalia and glass fountain basins…” Later on, King Narai stayed in Lopburi for long periods of time, about 8–9 months a year. According to the genealogy of H.E. Prince Damrong Rachanupap, The War between Thailand and Burma, King Narai did not trust the Netherlands and was concerned that Ayuthaya City was vulnerable to enemy attack by ship because it was not far from sea. This was the reason for using Lopburi City as a reserve capital, to counter enemies with naval capabilities.

However, there were some that disagreed with the King’s conduct, complaining that he spent too much time per year in Lopburi City. The response to these complaints was that Lopburi City was a city of fresh air, free from flooding, with a number of wild animals for hunting such as elephants and tigers (which the King liked to hunt). Also, the King preferred to make trips to different places, which were free of the rules and traditions of the capital. Evidence for this argument appeared in the records of different foreigners who came to Ayuthaya City. For example, the record of Nicolarz Chairvaz, a Frenchman who lived about 4 years in Ayuthaya City, wrote that,

Louveau (Lava) City, or generally called by the Siamese ‘Niccheboury’ (Nopburi) City, is a city in the Siamese Kingdom which is similar to Woozier City in France. There were rayal pleasure areas for the previous kings, but these collapsed 100 years ago. The present King has restored these areas because the site of this city is on high terrain, and is free from flooding. It was about .. kilometer boundary length, with a good strategic location and fresh air. It was about .. kilometers to the capital via a main river, but it might be only Kilometers by canal, which is under construction.

King Narai was mighty, especially in diplomacy with foreigners. He was admired as excellent in commerce and diplomacy. There were more records concerning King Narai from foreigners who had opportunity to meet and talk with him than other kings of Siam, especially the records from some western foreigners. For instance, Sir Chevalier de Chaumont, the French King’s envoy, wrote the following in 2228 B.E. (1688 AD) :

His Majesty the King Narai is about 55 years old, handsome, lovely, dark, has good behavior, and is brave. He is also intelligent, a good ruler, kindhearted, and pays attention to engineering science. King Narai has given up almost all of the old objectionable traditions of the capital, and tries to use either traditions from Europe or any traditions which seem to be good and useful for himself and his citizens.

Saint Tarsard’s records also had more details about the conduct of King Narai :

The present His Majesty the King of Siam, Narai, is about 55 years old. His Majesty is the greatest of all the kings of Siam. He is quite shorter than the average height but handsome and fit, smiling, polite, has a good temperament especially with the French. His Majesty is active. He does not like lazy men, unlike most kings of Siam, and His Majesty the King Narai himself does not like war because war destroys his citizens. However, if his own citizens rebel or a neighboring country attack, he would strongly suppress them and would likely win in the long run .

Another entry of Nicolas Chairvaz states that,Because I have the opportunity to have close contact His Majesty the King Narai, I should describe him accurately thus : H.M. the King Narai is smart, with high shoulders, a long face, dark, and bright eyes showing good intelligence. His general appearance shows greatness and majesty, politeness and good behavior.

The record of Chevalier de Forbang, a Frenchman who came to meet King Narai with a group of diplomats from King Louis the 14th , the king of France at the time of the French envoy Chevalier de Chaumont, states :

H.M. the King Narai was dressed in a high top hat , which is similar to French hats, but the width of the rim is not wider than one inch and there is a hat strap made of silk under his chin. His Majesty’s clothes are golden, with a blaze of color, and there is a very beautiful Kris on his belt, and valuable rings on all his fingers. H.M. the King Narai is about 50 years old, with a thin build, no moustache, but a big mole on the left side of his chin with two long hairs.

Saint de Shusasie’s record states :

H.M. the King Narai is intelligent and very good in politics. He has occupied the throne more than thirty years, and he works very hard in every official duty, more than eight hours a day. He is one of the geniuses of the world. I have gotten close to him and I feel that H.M. is quite emaciated, but his eyes brightly show his high intelligence. H.M. speaks quickly, but he also stutters when he speaks. His attitude seems virtuous, and he seems carefree.

On the occasion of meeting with King Narai, Saint de Shuresie asked the king to change his religion to Christianity, but King Narai refused in a very wise manner, and there was no reaction from Saint de Shuresie. King Narai asked for the time to study this religion. With this friendly response, Saint de Shuresie stopped asking the king.

King Narai was not only very intelligent in politics and diplomacy, he was also very intelligent in literature. King Narai wrote many literary works, poems, verses, works of prose, and so on, such as :

1. Tosarot teaches Phra Ram (poem)

2. Parlie teaches brother (poem)

3. Rachasawadi (poem)

4. Samoot kosa (middle age) (prose)

5. Elephant lull (old age) (prose)

6. Buffet (a joint work between King Narai and other poets) (poem)

There were many philosophers and poets during the long reign of King Narai, such as Phra Maharachacrew, Phra Horatibodee, Koon Tepkavee,

Sriprach , and Phra Srimahosote. The literary work, The Celebration to Honor His Majesty King Narai, written by Phra Srimahosote, is very good literature concerning the restoration of Lopburi City in detail.

His Majesty the King Narai the Great was on the throne 32 years, and passed away on July 11, 2231 B.E. (1688 AD) at the age of 56.

His Majesty the King Narai’s reign was one of the periods of time in the national history that Thailand had wide diplomatic relations with several countries. It was also a great, prosperous age of literature, like a “Golden Age”

 

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