King Ramkhamhaeng Inscription

Dated to the end of the 13th century, the King Ramkhamhaeng Inscription is perhaps the oldest surviving Thai language inscription. The text describes the life of King Ramkhamhaeng, details the systems of law and government of the Sukothai Kingdom, and attests to Ramkhamhaeng’s creation of the prototype of the modern Thai alphabet in the year 1283 AD. The inscription was discovered at the ancient city of Sukhothai in 1833 by Prince Mongkut, the future King Rama IV, while he was a monk. The first transliteration of the inscription was undertaken by King Rama IV and his colleagues, but it was not published until 1897, when it appeared in the journal “Vajirayan.” An English translation was completed by A. Bastian in 1864, and Père Schmitt finished a Latinized transliteration and a French translation in 1884. In 1909, the first critical analysis of the inscription in English was produced by Dr. C. B. Bradley. Later, Prince Damrong Rajanubhaph and Gorge Coedès cooperated on a Thai and French transliteration and translation, and a revised Thai edition was published in 1924. Thai transliterations and English translations were largely revised by Dr. A.B. Griswold and Dr. P. Na Nagara in 1971. The following year, the Thai National Library initiated a full revision of the inscription in the Thai language, and the results were published in 1977. The most recent Thai transliteration and translation were undertaken by Dr. W. Pongsripian in 2009.     

Although the inscription has been revised many times since the early 20th century, most versions are not comparative in nature, focusing primarily on transliteration and translation with notes on how to translate ancient Thai words. Controversy also exists about the perceived authenticity of the inscription, with some scholars claiming the entire stele is a 19th-century fabrication and others contending that only the first 17 lines are genuine. It could be said that a complete critical, comparative analysis of the inscription has not yet been attempted since the inscription was found in 1833. Therefore, the aim of this project is to collect and contrast findings from previous studies, and then critically analyze and interpret the results in order to generate a more nuanced, comprehensive body of knowledge that also encompasses an examination of the inscription’s contested authenticity. The project will involve two years of research centered on the following seven topics:

1. Origin and Evolution of the King Ramkhamhaeng Alphabet;
2. Orthography of the King Ramkhamhaeng Alphabet;
3. New Methods on Transliterating the King Ramkhamhaeng Script;
4. Etymology of Words in the King Ramkhamhaeng Inscription;
5. Ancient Thai Grammar in the King Ramkhamhaeng Inscription;
6. Discovery Date of the King Ramkhamhaeng Inscription;
7. Historical Analysis of the King Ramkhamhaeng Inscription.

For further information about this project, please contact Dr. Trongjai Hutangkura (trongjai.h@sac.or.th).
 

RESEARCHERS