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Sunthorn Phu Museum  
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Sunthorn Phu Museum
By: (1127) | Date: October 19, 2017

          Sunthorn Phu is the best-known Thai poet.  The charm of his poetic works appeals to all age groups. The highest esteem was recognized when UNESCO in 1986 honored him “Great Personality of the World” for his contributions to mankind as a great poet. His works have remained until today a literary legacy. But this is not the case with his “house”.  Nothing about it remains to be seen except his chamber at Wat Thepthidaram Worawihan in Bangkok, where he had spent his last years in monkhood.
          It is known that during his 1839-1842 monkhood Sunthorn Phu stayed at Wat Thepthidaram because it was mentioned in his work Ramphan Philap.  But what is not known is which chamber exactly was his living quarters. It was the Fine Arts Department director Mr. Thanit Yu-pho who made the assumption in 1957 that the poet could have lived there.
          Since then, the chamber has been an important spot of Wat Thepthidaram – a “literary club” in remembrance of the great bourgeois poet of the Rattanakosin era. At one time his living quarters were used as the Office of the Thai Poets Club. Recently it has welcomed the public as “Sunthorn Phu Museum,” where one can learn about his biography and literary works via an exhibition and modern AR (Augmented Reality) technology.
          Unfortunately, although Sunthorn Phu has always been very famous and his genius well recognized, there are still many things not yet known about him. His birthplace, for one thing, is until now an unanswered query. Ban Kram in Amphoe Mueang Klang, Chantaburi, once was believed to be his hometown. The claim later was disputed by Ajarn Lom Pengkaeo.  A Thai language authority, he proposed this theory that in Sunthorn Phu’s Nirat Suphanburi it was stated clearly that he had spent his teen years in the palace of the Second Crown Prince. He was also a disciple of Wat Chipakhao, which was a very popular place where noble children were sent to be educated. There was also evidence that his forefathers were Brahmin and very familiar with the court members and officers. Also his mother was a nanny of the Second Crown Prince’s sons.  It is then quite probable that Sunthorn Phu was born and grew up in this Wang Lang/Back Palace (royal residence of the Prince). (Lom Pengkaeo 2004, 43-49).  So in other words, he was not just a commoner as a lot of people understood him to be. He was somebody of noble blood who was born, raised and educated in a royal court.
          Ajarn Lom asserted that Sunthorn Phu made a sudden decision to enter monkhood in the same year that King Rama II passed away because he believed his life was being threatened due to the on-going court intrigues. It was well known that he was very close to Prince Mongkut. How he quickly took refuge in monkhood was mentioned in his Ramphan Philap.  So another previous assumption that he did so because his life was going downhill as he did not have any more patron, a really powerful person who would support and protect him and who also had the new king’s favor.  This assumption, according to Ajarn Lom, was not supported by any evidence available.  On the contrary, the fact was that some royalty openly came to help and patronize him including Prince Lakkhananukhun and Princess Absornsudathep, both King Rama III’s offsprings.  The Princess actually was the one who asked Sunthorn Phu to live at Wat Thepthidaram, where he did stay for 3 years until he left monkhood.
          Wat Thepthidaram was established in 1836 in honor of King Rama III’s oldest daughter Princess Wilat (Krommuen Absornsudathep). She was Sunthorn Phu’s patroness all the time he was a monk at this temple.  During his monkhood, the great poet wrote a number of literary works. The one directly about the temple was Ramphan Philap.  His most important work Phra Aphai Mani is believed to have been written during this time too.  Apparently this latter masterpiece was a homage to the benevolent princess.
          The name “Sunthorn Phu’s Chamber” was mentioned for the first time around 1962.  Mr. Thanit Yu-poh was the then director of the Fine Arts Department. One chamber in the living quarters of the Wat Thepthidaram monks was proclaimed as having been Sunthorn Phu’s house.  A grand public event “Kawiwanna” was organized at Wat Thepthidaram on 26 June 1961 by the Fine Arts Department, to mark the 175th birthday anniversary of Sunthorn Phu. On this occasion too, there was a publication of Ramphan Philap as the work was about the temple. Sunthorn Phu was supposed to have had a dream in 1842, after which he started writing this literary work. It described how the poet pondered about the things that happened and the various spots in the temple.  Another interesting public activity was the guided tours focusing on the temple’s ancient and art objects as well as Sunthorn Phu’s chamber.
          The monks’ living quarters consist of 3 groups of chambers or small houses, forming a u-shape.  In the middle is an open space and an open sala/pavilion. The chambers are 1-story brick houses. Sunthorn Phu’s is the one to the left of the north arched entrance. The house has 2 small connecting rooms.
          After being established as Sunthorn Phu’s house, the house itself together with all the living quarters have been preserved. Now they function as an informal medium-size museum, and once in 1974 as the Office of the Thai Poets Club. 
          In 2016, Sunthorn Phu’s chamber underwent a major renovation, sponsored partly by the Crown Property Bureau, for the purpose of transforming it into a proper museum. The Fine Arts Department was responsible for the job because the temple had been registered as a national historical site since 1949.  A private company was commissioned to do the display and install modern technological devices.
          The 3 house groups and the one sala then became a learning place named Sunthorn Phu Museum. There are 4 display rooms:
          “The Great Commoner Poet” is in the open sala. A video presentation welcomes visitors with a cartoon animation which features Sunthorn Phu’s biography.
          “In Monkhood” is the second display, with the main focus on Sunthorn Phu’s living quarters. Display boards emphasize the concept that the monkhood period was a harsh time for the poet. The time of hardship, ironically turned out to be a most prolific time because apparently it motivated him produce some masterpieces. There are 2 small rooms here.  One was his bedroom, with thing like a wooden bed, rank fans, sets of stacked up food containers, spittoons, alms bowls, etc.  Visitors are not allowed in here as the room is very small and narrow. In the other room there are 2 dharma cabinets and a small set of altar tables.  At one side one can see a charcoal stove and a tea kettle. Nearby there is a small wooden couch.  On the couch there are some small teacups, a medicine grinder, and an old slate board on which were written a few verses from another masterpiece Phra Aphai Mani.  No explanation boards are seen in here. Some visitors unaccompanied by a museum guide quite possibly may assume that the displayed items were Sunthorn Phu’s personal belongings.
          An AR device is installed here to create a more realistic atmosphere.  Visitors will feel that they themselves were present in the old chamber back in the great poet’s time, the concept of the presentation being “the time will come when technology will make the imaginary world become one with the world of reality, then Sunthorn Phu the monk who created great works in this room would come back to life once again.”  This AR device is made use of in a few other displays of the museum as well.
          The third display entitled “Mani Panya” (Intellect Jewel) emphasizes the great broad vision of the great poet.  It was his exceptional intellect, like precious jewelry, that had produced the great classic works of highest acclaim of all times.
          The last display “Never-ending Inspiration” illustrates how the name Sunthorn Phu and his literary works have always been the inspiration for the new generations. His classic works have been studied thoroughly and have led to more worthy contemporary works, including a pop song “Kham Mun Sanya” (The Promise) by pop singer Charin Nanthanakhon (the lyrics are from Phra Aphai Mani), Sudsakhon the first Thai animation, and the Aphai Mani Saga cartoons. A bronze bust of Sunthorn Phu at Wat Thepthidaram is displayed here too. A timeline board tells about the major happenings in the poet’s life corresponding to the major events in Siam and in the world. A very interesting display is an old samud thai dam (folded palm leaf manuscript) in which there is this written statement – “Sunthorn Phu’s masterpiece Phra Aphai Mani, the episode of ‘Nang Suwannali about to Commit Suicide,’ was discovered in a nun’s chamber in Wat Thepthidaram, 30 years ago.”

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  Sunthorn Phu Museum  
: Wat Thep Thida Ram , Maha Chai Rd, Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok
: 02-222-6921
: -
: daily
: free admission
: http://www.watthepthidaram.info
: -
: -
: -
Management : monastery
Story : heritage house
life history
Status : Open
Update Oct 11, 2018
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Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre 20 Baromaratchachonnani Rd, Taling Chan, Bangkok 10170
Tel. +66 2 8809429 | Fax. +66 2 8809332 | E-mail. webmaster@sac.or.th 
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