A Tribute to
Two Great Siamese Kings
Armed Forces Day
Who will forget the great surge of sea that swept countries surrounding the Indian Ocean during recent Boxing Day holidaymaking and festivities? As if nature needed to remind us of its awesome power, natural disasters do occur from time to time. And, at such times when human life is in peril, the military forces of numerous nations are amongst the first to react in efforts to bring succour and relief to the needy and traumatized. Thailand's Armed Forces are no exception they have rendered valuable assistance in stemming the results of violence (be it natural or man-made) in many corners of the world. Whether it is in peacekeeping roles in East Timor or Iraq or helping their fellow countrymen when disaster strikes their homeland the Thai Armed Forces have been there. January 25th is Thailand's Armed Forces Day as it is also the Anniversary Day of a great battle, long ago, when a young, Siamese King led his people to independence.
The Siamese king was King Naresuan and, on 25 January 1592, he led his Siamese Forces in a decisive battle against invading Burmese armies. King Naresuan was to Siam what George Washington was to the United States of America. For his heroic leadership and vision during a time when Siam was desperate to salvage its nationhood and dignity, his people acclaimed their monarch as King Naresuan The Great!
The story had begun many years earlier when covetous Burmese Princes and their invading armies regularly plagued Siam. The ancient capital of Siam was Ayutthaya and it had fallen to the Burmese (after capitulation by the then Siamese king). History has called this time "the first fall of Ayutthaya". Naresuan was a nine-year-old Royal Prince and he was taken to Burma and held hostage to guarantee the "good behaviour" of Siam. But, during the long time of his captivity, Prince Naresuan never forgot that he was a proud Siamese and that someday he would try to overthrow the yoke of Burmese rule. He mixed with Burmese Royals and Nobility, made himself at one with them, watched their military tactics and, as the years passed, he bided his time.
In his 16th year, Prince Naresuan was permitted to return to Ayutthaya (Siam was still a vassal State to Burma) provided he continued to give military service to his Burmese overlords. Skirmishes, revolts and mini-battles were common features of those times and when the Shan town of Muang Kung rose in protest, three Burmese armies were dispatched to deal with the rebels. Princes of the Burmese Royal Blood led the first two armies Prince Naresuan led the third army! The town of Muang Kung was atop a hill; the two Burmese Princes forced frontal attacks up the hill and were rebuffed by the defenders! Prince Naresuan, almost as a reservist, was called next. He instigated a noisy diversion on the frontal slopes to the town and, whilst this was happening, led a surprise (and successful) attack up the poorly defended rear slopes.
However, Prince Naresuan's victory, and natural military strategy, caused jealousy and loss of face within the Burmese. They ordered him back to the Burmese capital of Ava and determined to have him killed! But, in the Mon town of Muang Kraeng, a Buddhist monk warned Prince Naresuan of the assassination plan. All of his hatred for the Burmese, their deceit and treachery, boiled in Prince Naresuan's brain as, suddenly, in front of his army and the people of the town, the Siamese Prince declared "independence and restoration for the Kingdom of Siam". In 1584, Prince Naresuan led his army, and 10,000 freed people, back to Ayutthaya!
Prince Naresuan's father, King Thammaraja, was still the Siamese Monarch and was reinvigorated by his son's return. An independent Siam still had to chase all Burmese from Siam and the Prince worked and planned to that end. In 1590, at the age of 35, Prince Naresuan became King upon the death of his father. Two years later came the opportunity King Naresuan had been waiting for. The Burmese again invaded towards Ayutthaya and at the town of Nhong Sarai (Supanburi Province), King Naresuan set an ambush for the advancing Burmese and a small Siamese scouting party lured them into the trap. During the ensuing battle, King Naresuan focused his attention on finding his old enemy from boyhood days the Crown Prince of Burma! When the Crown Prince was sighted, King Naresuan urged his war elephant forward and, with personal battle engaged, dispatched the Crown Prince from the thrust of a fighting lance. It was 25 January 1592 and King Naresuan was hailed as "King Naresuan The Great".
Another Siamese Monarch to be acclaimed "The Great" was many years later when the beautiful city of Ayutthaya finally fell to conquering Burmese forces. Ayutthaya was the Golden Capital of Siam a glittering city of spires, Siamese architecture, canals, learning and civilization recorded in Europe as the "Venice of the East". The Burmese were determined that they would destroy Ayutthaya forever and, on 8th April 1767, the Siamese capital burned and blazed as vengeful Burmese troops gutted the city. Thousands were put to the sword, those who could fled southward as Siamese soldiers fought a losing, rearguard action. Ayutthaya dripped blood and gold as golden spires, and sacred Buddhist vessels, melted in the appalling heat of burning buildings. The Burmese forces remained in the destroyed city of Ayutthaya for only one week but that was long enough for them to pillage everything of value, including gold plate which had melted and cooled. Ayutthaya, the Golden Capital of the Kingdom of Siam, was no more.
After the destruction of Ayutthaya, Siam fell into fragments. Power vacuums appeared like "black holes" throughout the devastated kingdom as petty nobles fought for control and influence. Amongst those who managed a fighting escape from Ayutthaya was a 33-year-old army commander. His name was Taak Sin and, as Winston Churchill was to Britain during its darkest hours, Taak Sin was to put spine into the ravaged Siamese people, unite them against a common enemy and give them hope for the future.
Born of a noble Siamese lady and a Chinese father, Taak Sin was educated in Buddhist monasteries to follow the priesthood or government service. He opted for the latter and eventually became a circuit judge before being appointed a deputy provincial governor (of the Province & City, which now bears his name Taak). When Ayutthaya was invaded, Taak Sin rushed, along with 500 provincial troops, to defend his capital. But, seeing that defeat was inevitable, led all who would follow his flag south to the coastal province of Rayong. There Taak Sin planned his strategy to oust the Burmese from Siamese territory. It had been his intention to restore Ayutthaya but soon realized that that once magnificent city was beyond salvage. Instead, as more and more people rallied to his leadership, he decided to establish a new "capital" at Thonburi because it was both close to the sea and already fortified. So it was in Thonburi, during 1768, that Taak Sin was acclaimed by the masses and crowned King Somdej Phraboromraja. However, his followers and well-wishers would always affectionately know him as "King Taak".
Clearing Siam from Burmese encroachment was neither an easy or quick task. It took many battles and many years for King Taaksin to realize his dream. One such campaign, in 1775, King Taaksin led his forces against Chiang Mai (which was occupied by the Burmese). Seeing the besieging forces arrayed outside Chiang Mai's city walls, the Burmese commander led his troops in flight through Chang Puak Gate and retreated northwards along what is now Chotana Road. King Taaksin, at the head of his army, received a rapturous welcome from the citizens of Chiang Mai and grateful people of Lanna.
And so it was, eventually, throughout the Kingdom of Siam. People respected King Taaksin's banner and leadership. History would bestow upon him the title King Taaksin The Great" and he is remembered with affection as the Siamese Sovereign who reunited the Kingdom and gave it strength for the future.
On 25th January, Thailand's Armed Forces Day, it is worthy to remember two Great Siamese fighting monarchs King Naresuan The Great and King Taaksin The Great.