Ayutthaya, Capital of a Kingdom, Part 18
The Tiger General :
Right Hand Man to Two Kings
(Jao Phraya Maha Surasee)
Born on 8th September 1743 and known as Boonma, Chao Phraya Surasee was the younger brother of Rama I of Siam. He rose to great military heights after Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese and during the period of reunification under King Taaksin of Thonburi. History has sometimes overlooked Jao Phraya Surasees contribution to the building of the New Siam perhaps because he was devoted to his older brother, Rama I, and the collective ideals of creating a new order in Siam.
In the days of Ayutthaya, a high-ranking Court Officer (a Royal Secretary to the King of Ayutthaya), Phra Pinit Aksorn, fathered five children two of whom were to become generals in the service of King Taaksin. The two boys were Thong Duang (born 1737) and his younger brother Boonma who were both destined for heartbreak, hardship, glory and power.
Two years before Thong Duang was born, a future friend, baby Sin better known as Taaksin, was born of a Chinese father who served the government as a gambling tax collector and of a Siamese mother who may have come from a noble family. Their neighbor, the Prime Minister, adopted Sin and sent the boy to study at a Buddhist temple. When he was old enough he became a novice where he met the other two novices Thong Duang and Boonma. After all left the temple, the three friends were sent by their fathers to serve as royal pages at different palaces. After some time Sin and Thong Duang entered monkhood at different temples but the two friends continued to meet. After leaving the monkhood, the three young men eventually returned to serve the king again. Boonma was given with the title Nai Soodjinda. In the later years, Sin and Thong Duang at the ages of 28 and 26 were promoted by the king to be deputy governors (Luang Yokgrabat) of Taak and Rajburi respectively.
King Hsinbyushin of Burma quietly sent two armies to invade Siam in 1764. The northern army was commanded by the famous old general, Nemyo Thihapate who controlled his military movement from Kengtung south to Chiangmai, Lanchang and onwards to Ayutthaya forming a junction with the southern army commanded by Mang Mahanawrahta who entered Siam through Tavoy, Tenasserim, Mergui to Petchburi, Rajburi, Thonburi and to Ayutthaya. With the massive Burmese troops using modern weapons, towns and cities in Siam were ransacked and citizens belongings, hidden treasures gold, silver, ornaments, and Buddha images, were looted. They put fire to houses, temples, palaces, and managed to collect the melting silver and gold. They raped women and butchered men and monks. Ayutthaya fell on the 7th April 1767. After the towns and cities were burnt, the palaces and a great number of temples to reduced ashes, the Burmese left two weeks later with the captives of more than 100,000 families. Am ong them were the royals, queens, consorts, traders, craftsmen and artists -- musicians, dancers, carvers, blacksmiths, gold smiths, silversmiths, coppersmiths, painters, cotton and silk weavers, herbal doctors, astrologists, horse and elephant experts.
Boonma witnessed the terrible massacre raping, looting, and destruction of people and the city. Though the Buddha images, weapons, cloth, uniform, utensils in the form of diamond, emerald, ruby, silver, gold, were carried off, heavy and bigger items which could not be taken away, were thrown into the river by the Burmese. Some people were lucky to flee and save their lives. Boonma was very sad to see everything destroyed. He and his 3 friends ran for safety despite worrying about relatives, friends, and houses. Boonma and his friends went home but nearly everything was burnt except his grandfathers (Phra Rajnigoon or Thong Kaam) hanging gong and a small unburned family boat. The four friends quickly decided to leave the ruined city for Rajburi to find Boonmas older brother. The young men in the small boat with four paddles, preserved foods, and the hanging gong of Boonmas grandfather courageously escaped their enemies fleeing through several rivers and canals: name ly, Chao Phaya River, Bangkok Yai Canal, Mahachai Canal and Thajeen River. Several times, they fooled the Burmese soldiers in the other big boats by beating the gong and whistling so that the enemy thought the four young men were Burmese. They were nearly caught a few times because the Burmese ships were coming so close. They had to flip their boat over and hide themselves. Though they lost all belongings and food, they kept rowing. Unfortunately two paddles were broken, their travelling speed was cut half.
There were several times the four men confronted with their own citizens who thought they were Burmese spies. The Siamese sometime fled and left belongings behind or refused to give correct information. Houses and temples were abandoned. The four hungry men fortunately met a monk whom Boonma remembered from the old days when visiting his older brother. The monk directed them to search for Boonmas brother and his family hiding in the jungle somewhere. Finally they met and celebrated their success after their hard struggle and deep hunger. Boonma urged the older brother and his family to take shelter at his friends, Jeenrueng, home in Chonburi. Later the older brother could join Taaksins liberation army. Thong Duang agreed with Boonmas idea but hesitated to leave Rajburi due to 4 reasons. He had to look after his pregnant wife, his older pregnant sister and her husband. k He did not know the whereabouts of his parents-in-law who would worry about their daughters futur e. l He still had hidden food, belongings, and treasures. Abandoning all treasures behind and would pose a big problem if food ran out during the trip. m He would need a better and bigger ship to continue travelling.
With love and compassion, Thong Duang provided Boonma and his three friends with a sizable boat without a roof, along with food and clothing. He advised Boonma to visit Taaksins mother who was sheltering at Baan Laem, Petchburi. If Boonma could take her to meet her son, the friendship would last forever. It was a successful trip for Boonma and his three friends to meet Taaksins mother in Petchburi, and all travelled to Chonburi at Jeenruangs home. The next day, they headed for Chantaburi travelling for 8 days until they met Taaksin who was fighting against other splintering leaders for victories and unity. Taaksin really appreciated and trusted Boonma for bringing the mother and join the liberation 7 months after Ayutthaya was collapsed.
From Chonburi, Taaksin and Boonma put together navy and marine troops heading toward Thonburi that was controlled by Jao Thong Inn who was appointed by the Burmese. After Jao Thong Inn was eliminated, Taaksins troops went straight to Ayutthaya and surrounding towns. The Burmese were defeated in fierce battles. Many Siamese nobles and citizens were rescued and treasures were returned.
After the defeat of the Burmese, the Siamese came out from hiding to join Taaksin and asked their leader to become their king on 28th December 1768 and still known as King Taaksin of Thonburi. He appointed Boonma or Nai Soodjinda to the noble rank of Phra Maha Montri and sent a message to Thong Duang of the former noble rank of Luang Yokgrabat to join him.
From 1767-1782 during the Kingdom of Thonburi, Boonma fought along and served King Taaksin in at least 13 battles against internal competitors and external enemies. Thonburi Kingdoms third battle (1771) led by Phraya Yommaraj to advance the troops and attacked several cities in the north. (NOTE: The noble rank started from Boonma g Nai Soodjinda g Phra Maha Montri g Phraya Anuchit Raja g Phraya Yommaraj g Phraya Surasee).
Chiangmai was under the control of the Burmese since 1760. King Taaksin and Phraya Yommarajs older brother as Phraya Apai Ronnarit at that time (i.e. Thong Duang g Phraya Yokgrabat g Phra Rajwarin g Phra Apai Ronnarit g Phraya Yommaraj g Jao Phraya Chakri g Jao Phraya Maha Kasatsuek) joined later but found out enemies had moved in and were being protected by a high and strong city wall. After 9 days, all Siamese troops were withdrawn to Thonburi. In 1774, the Burmese troops invaded the north again. King Taaksin assigned Phraya Chakri and Phraya Surasee (the latest noble ranks of Thong Duang and Boonma respectively) to fight back and they managed to unite the northern region Phrae, Naan, Lampang, Lampoon, and Chiangmai.
Two years later, the Burmese King sent his army to attack Chiangmai and the north again. Chiangmais governor, Jao Phraya Jabaan, could not repel invaders and had to flee to another city. King Taaksin assigned Phraya Surasee to lead the troops and join Lampangs governors, Jao Phraya Gawila who delayed one of the invading Burmese armies at the city of Lampang (and was able to hold out for several months until Siamese relief arrived). It was in 1776 under King Taaksins order, the two commander brothers Jao Phraya Chakri and Jao Phraya Surasee came to help Jao Gawila. The three commanders managed to push the Burmese out of Chiangmai. During that time, the 33 year old Surasee fell in love and later married Princess Siri Rodja or Sri Anocha the younger sister of Jao Gawila. Six years later, she took the big role to crush Phraya Sant who wanted to get rid of King Taaksin as well as her husbands older brother, Jao Phraya Chakri. Jao Gawila was the noble who revitalized the old Lanna Kingdom. Eventually King Rama I appointed him Viceroy of Lanna Thai.
Jao Phraya Taaksin was the acknowledged leader and he recognized the qualities of the two fighting brothers. In fact, it was Boonma who had first come to the notice of the future King Taaksin. Over the following years, Jao Phraya Chakri and his brother Jao Phraya Surasee (Boonma) were to become the favorite generals of King Taaksin and his twin swords in military campaigns and battles. The fact that the revered Emerald Buddha now resides in Bangkok is due to battles fought and won by the brothers as they brought the Buddha image from Vientiane in Laos.
After the death of King Taaksin in 1782 and the enthronement of General (Jao Phraya) Chakri as King Rama I, General Surasee was honored and elevated by his brother, the new king. He was appointed Uparaja or Second King (in modern terminology this would be Deputy King or Crown Prince) and continued to serve as an able and imaginative Supreme Commander. An aggressive leadership style, where Forward was his most common command, earning him the nickname Phraya Suea or The Tiger General from soldiers in the field.
Perhaps the Tiger Generals most illustrious battle was in 1785, at Laadya, Karnjanaburi, three years after King Bodawpaya of Burma took over the throne when he led 30,000 Siamese troops against a formidable Burmese force of 90,000. Strategy, again, by moving swiftly, and with surprise, Uparaja Jao Phraya Surasee enabled to prevent the Burmese settling in and picking their own battle position. A lack of iron cannon balls didnt deter the Tiger General who quickly ordered balls of hardwood to be fired causing much havoc as they rained down on Burmese foot-soldiers and cavalry.
This was the first war between Burmese and Siam during King Rama Is reign and known as The War of Nine Armies -- There were another 4 armies with their own commanders leading their men through Karnjanaburi in order to crush Bangkok directly. The sixth and seventh Burmese armies went to Thalang (Phuket), Chumporn, Songkhla, Pattaloong, and further by sea and land respectively. The eighth Burmese army moved through Chiangsaen, Chiangmai, Lampang, Sukhothai. The ninth Burmese troops attacked through Taak, Kampaeng Petch, and Nakorn Sawan. The Burmese King sent his nine troops all at once. Siam had only half numbers of Burmese Troops so that King Rama I assigned his younger brother and other 5 commanders dividing into 3 armies to fight through 3 directions West, South, and North. The King himself wanted to wait for direct attacks by other five Burmese armies. Siamese armies used most defensive strategies and direct attacks whenever opportunities opened. Burmese failed to conquer Siam. However, there were still another six wars between Burma and Siam. The last one took place at the beginning of King Rama IIs reign.
Uparaja Jao Phraya Surasee, as Deputy King and Supreme Commander, died in 1803 aged 60 years. It is fitting to recall that his last battle, at the age of 59, was ousting the Burmese from the northern city of Chiangmai. A statue of the Tiger General, who gave loyal service to two great Siamese kings, was unveiled by His Majesty King Bhumibol in 1979. It is situated at Wat Mahathat (Bangkok) and depicts a soldier, standing tall, with a sword in each hand. This is The Tiger General!