30 Aug 2020
Thai literature begins with an inscription on stone in the name of King Rama Khamheng dated to 1283. With its legal provisions and its historical references, this inscription is our main source of knowledge of Thailand in that period. It also tells us that Rama Khamheng, if not actually the creator of Thai literature, at any rate made it possible by devising its alphabet, since “the characters exist because the king invented them.” The text itself has a distinctly literary character.
The four centuries of the Ayutthaya period were particularly creative and fruitful in the field of literature. Little remains to bear witness to its greatness, however, for only a few fragments survived the burning of Ayutthaya in 1767. The literature of Ayutthaya was a courtly literature, written by and for members of the court circle, who apart from the monks were the only people in the country who could read and write.
Aristocrats and members of the royal family themselves made a name as poets, novelists and historians. A considerable part was also played by oral transmission, and this literature was familiar to cultivated people. Poetry flourished particularly during this period, but the refinements and complexity of the versification were more easily appreciated when it was spoken aloud. This rather mannered trend was counterbalanced by the epic and religious inspiration of most of the works, the main themes usually being taken from the Mahabharata (the great Indian verse epic, of earlier date than the Ramayana) and the Jatakas (stories of the 500 earlier lives of the Buddha).