KING U-THONG MONUMENT
Text & photographs by Ken May - January 2010
The King U-Thong Monument is situated inside of the Ayutthaya Historical Park on
the eastern side of the former Royal Palace.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet can be seen nearby,
and a paved road curves beside this monument (connecting
Wat Phra Ram to Wat
Thammikarat). A small sala is in situ with some historical markers. In the peak tourist
season, there are also horse carts next to this monument as well.

The location of this monument has symbolic relevance. This lake around this area is
known as
Bueng Phra Ram (or sometimes as Bueng Chi Khan). Royal Chronicles
mention this patch of land as Nong Sano. It is believed that this is the spot where King
intention for building his Royal Palace in 1350.

Dutch merchant Jeremias Van Vliet recorded one version of how Ayutthaya was
founded by King U-Thong. U-Thong was the son of a Chinese ruler who had to flee
the country after violating the wives of important Mandarins. He wandered around for
awhile, founding new cities, until he stumbled across an unknown island. King U-Thong
supposedly met an old hermit on the island, who told them that it was the location of a
former city called “Ayodhya”. The hermit told the king that a dragon, called Nagaraja,
lived in a marsh on the island. This dragon could blow enough poisonous saliva to
cause epidemics, killing everyone within sight. The king needed to slay this dragon to
make the island inhabitable. The hermit instructed him to do the following acts in order
to kill the dragon: shoot an arrow into the air and catch it by the quiver, blow on a horn
everyday like a Brahmin priest, and smear his body daily with cow dung. After
successfully completing these acts (though some say rice meal was substituted for cow
dung) King U-Thong then sent for the hermit. Without warning, King U-Thong
promptly threw the hermit into the marsh and had it filled in. Since then the dragon has
never returned and the land remained epidemic free.

Another mythological version of the city’s foundation is that the Lord Buddha flew from
India to the Chao Phraya Basin, where he left a footprint to indicate the site of a future
kingdom. Ayutthaya Island has a shape similar to a Buddha’s footprint, and past kings
have used this geographic coincidence to draw a connection between their own divine
rule and Gautama Buddha. One legend, recorded in a religious script known as a
tamnan, links Gautama Buddha to both a Thai king named Phraya Kraek of
“Ayodhya” and to King U-Thong (Ramathibodhi) of “Ayutthaya”. The name
Ayutthaya, itself, refers to an Indian city ruled by Rama during the Hindi epic
Ramayana. Building an empire on the location of Buddha’s own footprint was seen by
some rulers as an act of merit and divinity.

King U-Thong’s personal background is described in Royal Chronicles. He was born
in 1314 to a powerful Chinese merchant named Choduksethi, whose family is strongly
connected to Phetburi, a southern city of trade. After a king in Kamphucha died
without leaving a male heir, U-Thong was raised as his replacement. A severe outbreak
of small pox broke out across Thailand, so King U-Thong marched his troops for days
to escape pestilence. Eventually, they came to a circular river and established
themselves. They referred to this new location as Nong Sano Island.

Regardless of this speculation about how Ayutthaya was established as a city. King U-
Thong’s is widely credited with the foundation of Ayutthaya because he cemented his
political base by marrying the daughter of a Suphanburi ruler, and he might have also
married a woman with ties to a ruling Lopburi family. He later appointed his brother-in-
law to govern Suphanburi and his eldest son to govern Lopburi. Through these
marriages and familial appointments, King U-Thong temporarily uniting the two major
power centers in the region and acquired the political clout to start a new kingdom. It
would last five dynasties and 417 years.

In more recent times, during his second reign (1948-1957), Field Marshall
Phibunsongkhram made restoration in this area and turned it into a park. In the
process, a new road was built along the edge of Bueng Phra Ram, the swamp was
deepened, and the premises cleared (Amatyakul 38). Attempts were also made to
pressure a small population of squatters into leaving the area so that it could develop as
a heritage site. Phibun was a nationalistic military leader who participated in the coup
that led to the country’s first constitutional monarchy. As an authoritarian leader, he
sought to promote national identity and sense of patriotism. The establishment of this
public park was one way to build support and install a sense of pride in the country’s
heritage. One of the artists recognized by the Phibun elite was Sanan Silakorn, a
student of the highly esteemed sculptor Silpa Bhirasri. As a student protégée, Sanan
Silakorn helped his teacher with major public works such as the Democracy
Monument and the Victory Monument in Bangkok.

In respect of King U-Thong’s role in the creation of Ayutthaya, a statue was eventually
commissioned for the public park inside Bueng Phra Ram. This monument was built by
Sana Silakorn and finally revealed in 1970. It was one of the first public monuments on
permanent display in the city. The King U-Thong Monument was completed during the
second reign of Thanom Kittikachorn (1963-1973), who was also a military leader that
emphasized nationalistic images. In order to propagate images of Thai identity,
monuments to Royal heroes were erected in provincial areas. The list includes
remarkable works by Sanan Silakorn such as the King Narai Monument in Lopburi,
the King Ramkhamhaeng Monument in Sukhothai, and the King U-Thong Monument
in Ayutthaya (Wong 97-98).

As an interesting side note, it is sometimes believed that spirit of a king may rest inside
an image that commemorates them, much in the same way that magical deities or the
spirit of Lord Buddha might dwell inside a figure devoted to them (Wong 13). By
extension, there are some locals that feel some of King U-Thong’s spirit may be
present inside this statue of him. However, a more overriding local legend is that King
U-thong’s spirit thrives inside a shrine at
Wat Phutthai Sawan. Local legend explains
that King U-Thong’s spirit wandered around the city causing mischief. Things were
blamed on King U-Thong’s ghost ranging from out-of-wedlock pregnancies to milk
going sour. As a consequence, a small shrine was built to lure the King’s restless spirit
into it. In this way, the mischievous apparition could be trapped and the community
rendered safe once again.