King Taksin Memorial Day / วันสมเด็จพระเจ้าตากสินมหาราช

Thailand #314 (1955)

Thailand #314 (1955)

December 28 is observed in Thailand as King Taksin Memorial Day (Wan Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Maharat — วันสมเด็จพระเจ้าตากสินมหาราช), commemorating the day in 1767 that the only king of the Thonburi Dynasty was crowned at Wang Derm Palace in Thonburi, the new capital of Siam. Taksin the Great (Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Maharat — สมเด็จพระเจ้าตากสินมหาราช), or the King of Thonburi (Somdet Phra Chao Krung Thon Buri — สมเด็จพระเจ้ากรุงธนบุรี) was a leader in the liberation of Siam from Burmese occupation after the Second Fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, and the subsequent unification of Siam after it fell under various warlords. He established the city Thonburi as the new capital, as the city Ayutthaya had been almost completely destroyed by the invaders.

Taksin’s reign was characterized by numerous wars, fought to repel new Burmese invasions and to subjugate the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna, the Laotian principalities, and a threatening Cambodia. He was executed and succeeded by his long-time friend Maha Ksatriyaseuk who then assumed the throne, founding the Rattanakosin Kingdom and the Chakri dynasty, which rules Thailand to this day.

Although warfare took up most of King Taksin’s time, he paid a great deal of attention to politics, administration, economy, and the welfare of the country. He promoted trade and fostered relations with foreign countries including China, Britain, and the Netherlands. He had roads built and canals dug. Apart from restoring and renovating temples, the king attempted to revive literature, and various branches of the arts such as drama, painting, architecture and handicrafts. He also issued regulations for the collection and arrangement of various texts to promote education and religious studies. In recognition for what he did for the Siamese people, he was later awarded the title of Maharaj (The Great).

Taksin was born on April 17, 1734, in Ayutthaya. His father, Yong Saetae, who worked as a tax-collector, was of Teochew Chinese descent from Chenghai County, Shantou, Guangdong Province, China. His mother, Lady Nok-iang, was Thai (and was later awarded the feudal title of Somdet Krom Phra Phithak Thephamat). Impressed by the boy, Chao Phraya Chakri (Mhud), who was the prime minister (Samuhanayok — สมุหนายก) in King Boromakot’s reign, adopted him and gave him the Thai name Sin (สิน) meaning money or treasure. When he was seven years old, Sin was assigned to a monk named Thongdee to begin his education in a Buddhist monastery called Wat Kosawat (วัดโกษาวา, later Wat Choeng Tha — วัดเชิงท่า). After seven years, he was sent by his stepfather to serve as a royal page. He studied Min Nan, Annamese, and several Indian languages, and became fluent in them. When Sin and his friend Thong-Duang were Buddhist novices, they reportedly met a Chinese fortune-teller who told them that both had lucky lines in their hands and would both become kings. Neither took it seriously, but Thong-Duang would become the successor of King Taksin, Rama I.

After taking the vows of a Buddhist monk for about three years, Sin joined the service of King Ekatat and was first deputy governor and later governor of the Tak, which gained him his name Phraya Tak, the governor of Tak. In 1764, the Burmese army attacked the southern region of Thailand. Led by Muang Maha Noratha, the Burmese army was victorious and marched on to Phetchaburi. Here, the Burmese were confronted by Thai soldiers led by two generals, Kosadhibodhi and Phraya Tak. The Thai army beat the Burmese back to Singkhon Pass.

In 1765, when the Burmese attacked Ayutthaya, Phraya Tak defended the capital, for which he was given the title Phraya Vajiraprakarn (พระยาวชิรปราการ) of Kamphaeng Phet, but he was popularly referred as Phraya. He did not have a chance to govern Kamphaeng Phet because war broke out again. He was immediately called back to Ayutthaya to protect the city. For more than a year, Thai and Burmese soldiers fought fierce battles during the siege of Ayutthaya. It was during this time that Phraya Vajiraprakarn experienced many setbacks which led him to doubt the value of his endeavors.

On April 7, 1767, Ayutthaya was facing the full blast of the Burmese siege. After the destruction of Ayutthaya and the death of the Thai king, the country was split into six parts, with Sin controlling the east coast. Together with Tong-Duang, now Chao Phraya Chakri, he eventually managed to drive back the Burmese, defeat his rivals and reunify the country.

With his soldiers, Prince Tak moved to Chantaburi, and being rebuffed by the governor of the town for his friendly overtures, he made a surprise night attack and captured it on June 15, 1767, only two months of after the sack of Ayutthaya. His army was rapidly increasing in numbers, as men of Chantaburi and Trat, which had not been plundered and depopulated by the Burmese, naturally constituted a suitable base for him to make preparations for the liberation of his motherland.

Having thoroughly looted Ayutthaya, the Burmese did not seem to show serious interest in holding down the capital of Siam, since they left only a handful of troops under General Suki to control the shattered city. They turned their attention to the north of their own country which was soon threatened with Chinese invasion. On November 6, 1767, having mastered 5,000 troops and all in fine spirits, Taksin sailed up the Chao Phraya River and seized Thonburi opposite present day Bangkok, executing the Thai governor, Thong-in, whom the Burmese had placed over it. He followed up his victory quickly by boldly attacking the main Burmese camp at Phosamton near Ayutthya. The Burmese were defeated, and Taksin won back Ayutthaya from the enemy within seven months of its destruction.

Taksin took important steps to show that he was a worthy successor to the throne. He was said to take an appropriate treatment to the remnants of the former royal family, arranged a grand cremation of the remains of Ekatat, and tackled the problem of locating the capital. Possibly, Taksin realized that Ayutthaya city had suffered such vast destruction that to restore it to its former state would undoubtedly have strained his resources. The Burmese were quite familiar with the various routes leading to Ayutthaya, and in the event of renewal of a Burmese attack on it, the troops under the liberator would be inadequate for the effective defense of the city. With these considerations in mind, he established his capital at Thonburi, nearer to the sea than Ayutthaya.

Not only would Thonburi be difficult to invade by land, it would also prevent an acquisition of weapons and military supplies by anyone ambitious enough to establish himself as an independent prince further up the Chao Phraya River. As Thonburi was a small town, Prince Tak’s available forces, both soldiers and sailors, could man its fortifications, and if he found it impossible to hold it against an enemy’s attack, he could embark the troops and beat a retreat to Chantaburi.

On December 28, 1767, Taksin was crowned king of Siam at Wang Derm Palace in Thonburi. He assumed the official name of Boromraja IV and Phra Sri Sanphet, but is known in Thai history as King Taksin, being a combination of his popular name, Phraya Tak, and his first name, Sin, or the King of Thonburi, being the only ruler of that capital. At the time of his coronation, he was only 34 years old.

Having firmly established his power at Thonburi, King Taksin set out what can be called ‘the reunification’ of the good old day kingdom, crushing the regional rivals. After a temporary repulse by the Governor of Phitsanulok, he concentrated on the defeat of the weakest one first. Prince Teppipit of Phimai was quelled and executed in 1768. Chao Narasuriyawongse, one of Taksin’s nephews, was substituted for him as Governor. King Taksin himself led an expedition against him and took it, but the prince disappeared and could not be found again.

In 1769, Phraya Chakri attacked Nakhon Sri Thammarat but got stuck at Chaiya. Once King Taksin noticed it, he sent his army to help capturing Nakhon Si Thammarat and finally won. In dealing with the Prince of Nakhon Si Thammarat, who was taken prisoner by the loyal Governor of Pattani, the King not only pardoned him but also favored him with a residence at Thonburi. In 1770, King Taksin attacked Chao Phra Fang’s group (Ruan) which took control of Phitsanulok and Uttaradit at that time and successfully won. He finally reunified Siam as one kingdom.

Needless to say, Hsinbyushin of Burma never abandoned his plan to force Siam to its knees, and as soon as he had been informed of the foundation of Thonburi as King Taksin’s capital, he commanded the Governor of Tavoy to subjugate him in 1767. The Burmese army advanced to the district of Bangkung in the province of Samut Songkram to the west of the new capital, but was routed by the Thai king himself. However, when the Chinese troops invaded, Hsinbyushin decided to call most of his troops back to resist the Chinese.

After the peace concluded with China, the Burmese king sent another small army of 5,000 to attack Siam in 1774. But it was completely surrounded by the Thais at Bangkeo in Ratchaburi, and eventually starvation compelled the Burmese to capitulate to King Taksin. It would be no exaggeration to say that he could have massacred all of them if he wished to do so, but the fact that he took them alive was to promote the morale of the Thai people. The Burmese reinforcements who had encamped themselves in the province of Kanchanaburi were then mopped up. Undaunted by this defeat, King Hsinbyushin tried again to conquer Siam, and in October 1775 the greatest Burmese invasion in the Thonburi period began under Maha Thiha Thura, known in Thai history as Azaewunky. He had distinguished himself as a first rate general in the wars with China and in the suppression of a recent Peguan rising.

After crossing the Thai frontier at Melamao Pass, the Burmese marched towards Phitsanulok, capturing Phichai and Sukhothai on the way. In his interrogation of two Phichai officials, Azaewunky referred to Chao Phraya Surasih who was the Governor of Phitsanulok as Phraya Sua or “The Tiger”, thus testifying to his boldness and decisiveness. The Burmese then besieged Phitsanulok which was defended by the brother generals, Chao Phraya Chakri and Chao Phya Surasih, and as the result of the stubborn resistance on the part of Thai soldiers, they were checked outside the city ramparts for about four months.

Hearing about Chao Phraya Chakri’s successful assaults which drove back the Burmese to their well fortified camp, Azaewunky arranged a meeting with him, in the course of which he extolled his generalship and advised him to take good care on himself. He prophesied that General Chakri would certainly become king.

In spite of King Taksin’s endeavor to attack the Burmese from the rear, Chao Phraya Chakri and Chao Phraya Surasih could not hold Phitsanulok any longer, due to lack of provisions. Having collected most of the inhabitants, they successfully fought their way through enemy lines and made Phetchabun their headquarters. Azaewunky led his army into the deserted city at the end of March 1776, but was soon confronted with the same problem of the shortage of food. At this juncture he was instructed by the new Burmese King, Singu Min or Chingkucha (1776–1782) to evacuate Thai territory. So Azaewunky’s army left Siam, but the remnants of the Burmese forces continued the war until they were pushed out of the country in September of that year.

In the King’s opinion, so long as Chiang Mai was ruled by the Burmese, the north of Siam would be constantly subjected to their incursions. The prerequisite for the maintenance of peace in that region would therefore be the complete expulsion of the Burmese from Chiang Mai. In 1771, the Burmese Governor of that city moved his army southwards and laid siege to Phichai, but he was driven out. Taksin followed the Burmese with a view to studying their strength, and his army was thus not prepared for a direct assault on their city fortress. After meeting with stubborn resistance, he retired, presumably believing in an ancient prophesy to the effect that two attempts were required for the capture of Chiang Mai. King Narairaja had tried twice to seize it before it fell into his hands.

The Burmese failure to take Phichai formed a prelude to Taksin’s second-expedition to Chiang Mai. In 1773, a Burmese army which threatened Phichai was drawn into an ambush and was heavily routed. Phraya Phichai, the Phichai Governor, engaged the Burmese in a hand-to-hand fight until his two long swords were broken, and thus won the name of “Broken Sword.” When a Thai army under the command of Chao Phraya Chakri and Chao Phraya Surasih reached Lampang, Phraya Chaban and Phraya Kawila, the two leading officials who had deserted the Burmese joined him in laying siege to Chaing Mai and soon King Taksin arrived on the spot. The city fell to the Thai armies in January 1775, but the Burmese Governor and the commander managed to escape with their families.

Before his departure for Thonburi, the King conferred honors and distinction on those who had contributed to success of his campaign. Phraya Chaban was made Governor of Chiang Mai with the title of Phraya Wichienprakarn, while Phraya Kawila and Phraya Waiwongsa governed Lampang and Lamphun respectively. Chao Phraya Chakri was directed to prolong his stay in order to assist them in the pacification of the north, which included the Laotian states. However, the Burmese King considered that as the Laotian states constituted his base for the maintenance of Burmese power in the territory further east, namely, Luang Prabang and Vientiane,

Chiang Mai must be taken back, and so a Burmese army of 6,000 men was sent there to carry out its mission in 1776. The Burmese entered the city, but were forced out by a Thai army under Chao Phraya Surasih which had marched to its relief. Chaing Mai had suffered from the recent campaigns so badly that its population was greatly reduced and impoverished, and in the event of a new Burmese attack, it could not defend itself. For these reasons, King Taksin abandoned the city and its remaining inhabitants were transplanted to Lampang. Chiang Mai thus became a deserted city and remained so for fifteen years. Over the next few years, Taksin managed to gain control over Chiang Mai, and put Cambodia under the vassalage of Siam by 1779 after repeated military campaigns.

In 1770, King Taksin launched a war against the Nguyễn Lords over their control of Cambodia. After some initial defeats, the joint Siamese-Cambodian army defeated the Nguyễn army in 1771 and 1772. These defeats helped provoke an internal rebellion (the Tây Sơn rebellion) which would soon sweep the Nguyễn out of power. In 1773, the Nguyễn made peace with King Taksin, giving back some land they controlled in Cambodia.

In 1771, however, the Thai forces won back the Cambodia throne for him, but Narairaja retreated to the east of the country. In the end, Ramraja and Narairaja came to a compromise, whereby the former became the first King and the latter was the second King or Maha Uparayoj, and Prince Tam was Maha Uparat or Deputy to the first and the second King. This arrangement proved to be unsatisfactory. Prince Tam was murdered, while the second King died suddenly. Believing that King Ramraja was responsible for their deaths, many prominent officials under the leadership of Prince Talaha (Mu) revolted, caught him and drowned him in the river in 1780.

Prince Talaha put Prince Ang Eng, the four-year-old son of the ex-King Narairaja, on the throne with himself acting as Regent. A Thai army of 20,000 under Somdej Chao Phraya Mahakasatsuek moved into Cambodia, and in the event of his success in subduing the country, he was to assist in crowning Taksin’s son, Prince Intarapitak, as King of Cambodia. With the aid of an Annamite army, Prince Talana was prepared to take his stand against the Thai forces at Phnom Penh, but before any fighting started, serious disturbances which had broken out in Siam made Somdej Chao Phraya Mahakasatsuek decide on a hasty return to Thonburi, after handing the command of the army to Chao Phraya Surasih.

In Vientiane, a Minister of State, Pra Woh, had rebelled against the ruling prince and fled to the Champasak territory, where he set himself up at Donmotdang near the present city of Ubon. He made formal submission to Siam, when he annexed Champasak, but after the withdrawal of the Thai army, he was attacked and killed by troops from Vientiane. This action was instantly regarded by King Taksin as a great insult to him, and at his command, Somdej Chao Phya Mahakasatsuek invaded Vientiane with an army of 20,000 men in 1778.

After a siege of Vientiane which took about four months, the Thais took Vientiane and carried off the images of Emerald Buddha and Phra Bang to Thonburi. The Prince of Vientiane managed to escape and went into exile. Thus Luang Prabang and Vientiane became Thai dependencies. Nothing definite is known about the origin of the celebrated Emerald Buddha. It is believed that this image was carved from green jasper by an artist or artists in northern India about two thousand years ago. It was taken to Ceylon and then to Chiang Rai, a town in the north of Siam where it was, in 1434, found intact in a chedi which had been struck by lightning. As an object of great veneration among Thai Buddhists. it had been deposited in monasteries in Lampang, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Thonburi, and eventually in Bangkok.

By 1781, Taksin showed increasing signs of mental trouble. He believed himself to be a future Buddha, expecting to change the color of his blood from red to white. As he started practicing meditation, he gave lectures to the monks. He provoked a schism in Siamese Buddhism by requiring that the monkhood should recognize him as a sotāpanna or “stream-winner” — a person who has embarked on the first of the four stages of enlightenment. Monks who refused to bow to Taksin and worship him as god were demoted in status, and hundreds who refused to worship him as such were flogged and sentenced to menial labor.

Economic tension caused by war was serious. As famine spread, looting and crimes were widespread. Corrupt officials were reportedly abundant. According to some sources, many oppressions and abuses made by officials were reported. King Taksin punished them harshly, torturing and executing high officials. Discontent among officials could be expected.

Several historians have suggested that the tale of his ‘insanity’ may have been reconstructed as an excuse for his overthrow. However, the letters of a French missionary who was in Thonburi at the time support the accounts of the monarch’s peculiar behavior which reported that “He (Taksin) passed all his time in prayer, fasting, and meditation, in order by these means to be able to fly through the air.” Thus, the terms ‘insanity’ or ‘madness’ possibly were the contemporary definition describing the monarch’s actions: according to the following Rattanakosin era accounts, King Taksin was described as ‘insane.’ However, with the Burmese threat still prevalent a strong ruler was needed on the throne.

A faction led by Phraya Sun seized the capital. A coup d’état removing Taksin from the throne consequently took place, although Taksin requested to be allowed to join the monkhood. The disturbance in Thonburi widely spread, with killing and looting prevalent. When the coup occurred, General Chao Phraya Chakri was away fighting in Cambodia, but he quickly returned to the Thai capital following being informed of the coup. Upon having arrived at the capital, the General extinguished the coup through arrests, investigations and punishments. Peace was then restored in Thonburi.

According to the Royal Thai Chronicles, General Chao Phraya Chakri decided to put the deposed Taksin to death. The Chronicles state that, while being taken to the executing venue, Taksin asked for an audience with General Chao Phraya Chakri but was turned down by the General. Taksin was beheaded in front of Wichai Prasit fortress on Wednesday, April 10, 1782, and his body was buried at Wat Bang Yi Ruea Tai. General Chao Phraya Chakri then seized control of the capital and declared himself king together with establishing the House of Chakri.

An alternative account (by the Official Annamese Chronicles) states that Taksin was ordered to be executed in the traditional Siamese way by General Chao Phraya Chakri at Wat Chaeng: by being sealed in a velvet sack and beaten to death with a scented sandalwood club. There was an account claiming that Taksin was secretly sent to a palace located in the remote mountains of Nakhon Si Thammarat where he lived until 1825, and that a substitute was beaten to death in his place. King Taksin’s ashes and those of his wife are located at Wat Intharam in Thonburi. They have been placed in two lotus bud shaped stupas which stand before the old hall.

In 1981, the Thai cabinet passed a resolution to bestow on King Taksin the honorary title of “the Great”.

On May 1, 1955, Thailand released three stamps portraying the King Taksin Statue at Thonburi with the denominations of 5 satang in violet blue (Scott #312), 25 satang in Prussian green (Scott #313) and 1.25 baht in red (Scott #14). The stamps were perforated 12½x12. The statue was unveiled in the middle of Wongwian Yai (the Big Traffic Circle) in Thonburi, at the intersection of Prajadhipok/Inthara Phithak/Lat Ya and Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Roads. Taksin is portrayed with his right hand holding a sword, measuring approximately 9 meters in height from his horse’s feet to the spire of his hat, and rests on a reinforced concrete pedestal of 8.90 × 1.80 × 3.90 meters. There are four frames of stucco relief on the two sides of the pedestal. The statue was created by the Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci, who worked under the Thai name Silpa Bhirasi. The opening ceremony of the monument was held on April 17, 1954 and a royal homage-paying fair takes place annually on December 28, often attended by the late King Bhumibol Aduyladej

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