|QUEEN SURIYOTHAI MONUMENT
|Text & photographs by Ken May - January 2010
|The Queen Suriyothai Monument is located north of the city island near the Chao
Phraya River. It can be reached by Highway 347 and also a small paved road paralleling
the river. This national monument is situated in an area known as the Makham Yong
Plain, which is believed to be the actual site where a Siamese queen was killed in a
As the story goes, while perched on the neck of an elephant, King Chakkraphat (1548-
1569) led his army into battle against Burmese troops. Meanwhile, Queen Suriyothai,
fearing for her family’s safety, secretly dressed as a male soldier and rode an elephant
into the ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, King Chakkraphat’s elephant stumbled in battle,
putting him at imminent risk of being struck by his opponent’s blade. However, Queen
Suriyothai suddenly charged in front of the enemy’s weapon sacrificing her own life to
save her royal husband (Cushman 40-41). This heroic deed helped end the battle and
extend the life of the Ayutthaya a bit longer.
The story of Queen Suriyothai remained popular in the public mind, and was further
promoted by Royal family members such as the historian Prince Damrong Rajanubhab.
After the system of absolute monarchy fell in 1932, there was a desire to sustain the
spirit of nationalism in order to keep the country unified. As a result, one of the military
coup leaders, Phibun Songkhram, promoted a number of historic monuments to provoke
a sense of patriotism.
As a consequence, a few Siamese heroines became national symbols in order to
enshrine the idea that defense and sacrifice were needed for the sake of the country. A
number of monuments were erected for females such as Thao Suranari (or Ya Mo), who
defended Siam from Laotian invaders; Thao Thepsatri and Thao Sriunthorn, two sisters
who repelled Burmese forces in Phuket; as well as Princess Suphankalaya who nobly
sacrificed her life to free her brother Prince Naresuan so that Siam could be freed from
Burmese oppression (Wong 106-117). Naturally, Queen Suriyothai also took the
spotlight as nationalistic symbol that Thai women could emulate. In 1943, Phibun's wife
established the Women's Cultural Club using Queen Suriyothai as its national symbol
while expanding into almost every province.
The construction of the Queen Suriyothai monument in Ayutthaya didn't begin until the
reign of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda (1980-1988), after Her Majesty Queen
Sirikit requested that such a monument be built. This memorial was created by Khaimuk
Chuto (also sometimes written as Khaimuk or Khaimook Chouto, Chudoo or Xuto), a
highly-respected female student who studied under Silpa Bhirasri (an Italian sculptor
known as Corrado Feroci before he obtained Thai citizenship in the 1940s). Khaimuk
Chuto was one of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit favorite Thai artists. It took until 1995 for
the monument to be finally unveiled. Chuto died shortly afterward, and it was her last
artistic project to reach completion.
The original monument consisted of Queen Suriyothai heroically charging into battle
while perched on the back of an elephant. Four Siamese soldiers defend her while
walking beside each leg of her elephant. Meanwhile, a group of ten commoners -- old
young, male and female -- emotionally react to her tragic sacrifice in different ways. The
memorial currently stands in the middle of a large public park. There is a lake in situ with
models of wooden fortresses. In addition, the memorial once included four Burmese
opponents in battle on elephant back, however, these four war structures were latter
moved to elephant kraal on the Phaniat Peninsula, and once again to a small park closer
to the Phaniat Palace where they can still be viewed today.
Modern folklore has taken shape in relation to this monument. Over the past decade,
locals have come to believe that Queen Suriyothai's face was cast to resemble the
features of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit - who felt a strong affinity to the popular heroine.
Some locals also think that the soldiers next to each leg of the elephant were designed to
resemble four military leaders behind the 1991 coup (Wong 114-115).
It should be noted that many of the reported dates relating to Queen Suriyothai (as well
as some Royal Chronicles) are in conflict. As a consequence, some scholars debate the
story’s accuracy. For example, Michael Wright believes that the famous elephant duel
was fought instead by a 16-year-old princess named Phra Boromdhilok (Warren 156-
157). Regardless of the story's authenticity, Queen Suriyothai holds a highly esteemed
position in the country's national pride. In 2001, a popular film was made about her by
MC Chatrichalerm Yukol (also known as Prince Than Mun). This movie had the highest
budget available for any Thai film up to that time, and it went on to gross the highest rate
of box office sales.
Extract of the Movie "The Legend of Suriyothai" - Music performance: Tessa Niles
Trailer (Th) of the Movie "The Legend of Suriyothai" - Music performance: Nanthana
See also: Chedi Suriyothai, Suan Luang and Wat Sop Sawan.
|(Click to go to Sony Pictures Classic
for the promotional video)