Friday, June 15, 2012

Historical revisionism?

Before me is a strangely interesting little brochure from the Chiang Rai Municipality: “guide 9 Temple Route”. I don’t know where it came from (and I don’t know where it’s going), but it both intrigues and annoys me. “For more information about these routes and free bicycle rentals, Please contact the Tourist Information Center behind King Mengrai Memorial” it says, sounding quite well-intentioned. “Worship Buddha images” it also says, plus “Worship Phaya Mengrai stupa” and Worship City Pillar”. Now we’ve all encountered interesting mis-translations, or mis-transliterations (“Fried crap” etc). That’s not what really gets me.
Wat Phra Keaw was founded as “Yarukhavanaram” – OK, maybe so. Not what I read on the temple’s own sign, but really, I don’t know. Wat Phra That Doi Jom Thone “was built by Phraya Reun Kaew in 940” (AD, or CE, more appropriately, I suppose). Interesting. We know so little about things that far back around here. “Also, the Ratanakosine 108 city pillars, which are in the pattern of the universe” (sic)… well, again, subject to interpretation, I guess. I was strongly under the impression that there was but the one city pillar, but I could’ve been misinformed. “The interesting thing about the chedi of Wat Jet Yod is that it is in the same Indian style that is found throughout Chiang Mai.” Learn something new every day, almost.
“Wat Ming Mueang is located on Trirat Road, Amphoe Muang, Chiang Rai. The temple is Thai Yai style. It was built in 1262 by Queen Maha Tevee Usa Payaki, King Mengrai’s wife.” Again, maybe so. I don’t know. On 10 August, 2011, I posted: “Yesterday I heard an interesting story: when Good Father Mangrai was settled into ChiangRai, he met Princess Eua Ming Wiang Chai, of ChiangSaen (Yonok, or whatever it was called then) and wanted to marry her. She insisted on a promise that he would then take no other wife. He gladly agreed.
“But when much older, after a successful campaign against the Burmese and tired of fighting them, negotiations for peace included a traditional offering of Princess Pai Koma in marriage; he decided to accept. Queen Eua Ming, distraught, withdrew to a nunnery, in anguish and grief so strong that it infected a great storm, and later died there. It was gossiped about that the broken promise, and her broken heart, produced the lightening that struck Mangrai down and ended his life.” (Well, I just discovered a couple typos, one pretty big, and corrected them).
So, three wife names for Mengrai (I’m told “King Mengrai” is redundant as Meng means king, but as should be apparent by now, I’m told many things). Eua Ming, Rai Koma and Usa Payaki. None are mentioned in the ChiangMai Chronicles. So who knows? I became interested in local history after being asked to teach it, and noticing many contradictions and absurdities in what I was asked to teach. Many of my students noticed these things too: when I did as told and instructed them that Ramkamhaeng’s father was a fisherman, several lost it and fell out of their seats, rolling around the floor in hilarity. I was impressed. Perceptive kids, those 12-year-olds.
Somehow, I think that with that, I’ve said enough.

1 comment:

  1. Very well put and inspirational! I am PhD student studying Thai Buddhism who lived in Chiang Rai from 2006-2007 (before I was a student). I have returned to conduct research here for my dissertation concerning temple construction in Chiang Rai. I would really love to meet you and talk, but I can't find an email address for you through this site. I will be in Chiang Rai for the next two months on and off. Please get in touch with me if you have the time.
    All my best,

    Anthony Irwin