The literature in Thailand was traditionally heavily influenced by Indian culture. Thailand’s national epic is a version of the Ramayana called the Ramakien. A number of versions of the epic were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767. Three versions currently exist: one of these was prepared under the supervision (and partly written by) King Rama I. His son, Rama II, rewrote some parts for khon drama. The main differences from the original are an extended role for the monkey god Hanuman and the addition of a happy ending.
Early Thai literature was primarily concerned with religion and until the mid-19th century was in verse form. Thai verse was written exclusively by the aristocracy or royalty, the only educated classes able to do so. The tradition of authorship by kings can be seen in all periods of the country’s history, from Sukhothai up to Bangkok. Two Chakri monarchs, King Rama II (1809-1824) and King Rama VI (1910-1925), were distinguished poets and stalwart patrons of Thai arts.
One of the most important Thai literary works is the Ramakian, a uniquely Thai version of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. Early Thai versions of the Ramakian were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya. The longest of the three present versions was written in 1798 by the first Chakri King, Rama I, and a group of intimates, who incorporated Thai and Buddhist elements into it to preserve oral knowledge of Ayutthaya state rites and traditions. Indeed, King Rama I’s Ramakian is the major historical source of medieval Thai courtly traditions.
King Rama II composed two episodes of the Ramakian for classical drama purposed and wrote several other epic poems, including the Inao, a romance with a Javanese background. The Inao is a treasure trove of historical information on early 19th century Thai customs, habits, and manners and figures prominently in the repertoire of classical drama.
Another major Thai literary figure was Sunthon Phu (1786-1855), a poetic genius and well-beloved commoner. Sunthon Phu’s enduring achievement (apart from his legendary personal adventures) was to write superbly well in common language about common feelings and the common folk. Easily understood by all classes, his work became widely accepted. His major works were Phra Aphai Mani, a romantic adventure, and nine Nirats mostly written during a pilgrimage, associating romantic memories with the places he visited in central and eastern Thailand.
Both King Rama V and Rama VI were also distinguished writers whose creativity contained the rich intellectual heritage in several prose and verse forms. Among outstanding literary works of King Rama V were Ngo Pa and the well-known collection of Klai Ban or Far Away from Home, on his journey to Europe in 1906-7. Those well-known works of King Rama VI were Matthana Phatha, Phra non Kham Luang, and several patriotic articles entitled, Muang Thai Chong Tun Thoet or Wake up-all Thais, etc.
An outstanding writer and scholar was Phya Anuman Rajadhon, who was born in 1888 and died in 1969. Interested in all aspects of Thai culture, from language to folklore, Phya Anuman wrote dozens of books on such subjects and served as an inspiration to numerous younger Thais who are now prominent in academic fields.
Moving into the modern age about 1900 onward, most of the Thai readers are well acquainted with the work of Dokmaisod whose real name is M.L. Boobpha Nimmanhaemindha. She was a novelist in the pioneering age. Her best known works were for example, Phu Di, Nung Nai Roi, Nit, Chaichana Khong Luang Naruban, etc. Many of her works have been assigned as books for external reading for students at the secondary and tertiary levels of education today.
Malai Choopinit, in his pen name Mae Anong and Noi Intanon, was an expert in his own right in both full length and short stories. Thung Maharat, a novel based on rural life, and Long Phrai, which is about the adventure in the forest, are some of his best-known literary works.
Mai Muang Doem the pen name of Kan Phungbun Na Ayudhya, whose novel Khun Suk, won much admiration during his time and was on several occasions adapted for television drama.
Yakhop, a pen name of Chot Praephan, whose most popular work is Phu Chana Sip Thit, a legend of Burmese royal court, which has been adapted by many script writers for television drama as well as stage drama enjoyed by nationwide audiences.
Sri Burapha, a popular novelist, whose real name was Kularb Sai Pradit. His most famous work is a love story entitled Khang Lang Phap, or literally Behind the Portrait.
Another leading literary figure is former Prime Minister M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, whose works have been prolific. They appeared in various forms including short story author. His collection of short stories, the so-called Lai Chiwit, is considered an exemplary work embodying the finest Thai prose, an appreciation of which is essential for the appraisal of Thai contemporary literature. His most outstanding novel, Si Phandin, or Four Reigns, revolves around the court life from the reign of King Rama V to Rama VIII offering a vivid portrait of Thai society in those long years of the four interesting reigns.
Krisna Asokesin, or Sukanya Cholasuk, is another very successful and famous novelist. She has written a collection of over one hundred novels on love and complexities of family life. She has won both domestic and international awards. Her well-known novels, Rua Manut and Tawan Tok Din, won the SEATO literary Awards. She was also awarded the National Artist status.
Seni Saowaphong or Sakdichai Bamrungphong is the doyen of modern writers. His novels and short stories deal with class conflicts, exploitation, and urban society. Pisat, Evil Spirits, his most popular novel, is about the conflict between new and old generations. He also won the National Artist status.
The late Suwanee Sukhontha, a former painter, was a highly successful woman writer. Her best novel, Khao Chu Kan, His Name is Kan, won a SEATO literary Award. It is about a young doctor who sacrifices a brilliant career in one of the nation’s leading hospitals to work in a rural area where peasants have no access to modern medicines.
Suwat Woradilok, a novelist under the pen name Rapeeporn, whose work under the title of Phandin Mai is well-know among novel readers. Kamsing Srinok, who is also known under the pen name of Lao Kam Hom, is a low-profiled but powerful writer, whose short stories recreate northeastern village life. His most acclaimed short story, Fa Bo Kan is about the hardship the Northeasterners must face during a cruel drought. Both Suwat Woradilok and Kamsing Srinok won the National Artist status.
Kampoon Boonthavi, who wrote Luk Isan; Chart Korbjitti, whose works are Kham Phiphaksa, The Judgement, and Wela; Vanich Charungkichanand, with his collection of short stories entitled Soi Dieo Kan, are all awardees of the Southeast Asian Writers Award (SEAWRITE).
Other well-known contemporary female novelists whose names are worth mentioning here are : the late Supa Devakul, who was not only a popular known novelist but also a stage and television playwright; Wimol Siripaibul, with her well-known pen names Thomayanti and Rose-la-rain, Penkae Wong Sa-Nga or her real name Penkae Vajanasuntorn, Nopakun Jittayasotorn, under her pen name Man Supiti, and Winita Dithiyon, under her pen name Wor Win
Angkarn Kalayanapong is a leading Thai contemporary poet whose language is most eloquent and impressive. One of his distinguished works, Lamnam Phu Kradung draws great admiration as its literary work paints the beauty and vitality of nature and campaigns against environmental degradations. He has won both the SEAWRITE Award and the National Artist status.
Another popular Thai contemporary poet, Naowarat Phongpaiboon, writes in a traditional style although his topics are current. His odes to such emotions as love, despair, and hope are laced with beautiful lyric. He has won both the SEAWRITE Award and the National Artist status. His most famous work, entitled Khian Phaendin, is the fruit of his journey to all corners of Thailand from where he recorded the beauty and admiration of local landscapes in words and wins utmost popularity among the Thais.
The transformation of the world by science and technology is one of the things that separates present day literary works from those of the past. Writers depend not only upon a general public perception of reality, as in the past, but also upon their own instincts and insights which they express as a kind to personal vision, sometimes to make their readers see and think in a new way.
It was inevitable that Thai artists in the age of technology would find new subjects and forms expression in addition to more foreign influences, the arts have begun to move in different directions which modern Thais can relate to. yet the beauty of the old has not lost its ability to inspire, and despite the inroads made by modern culture, it continues to hold its own and even to show signs of revival in many areas.