Monday, October 6, 2014

Naresuan: The Rebirth of Ayudhya

Naresuan behind 50-Baht bill
From the works of the legendary Ramathibodi, the Kingdom of Ayudhya rose in prominence in region. It was able to expand its territories and set up itself into an organized kingdom. But after the death of King Ramathibodi, infighting among relatives caused disruptions on its prosperity. And after two centuries, it succumb to its enemies. From its defeat and fall in the hands of its adversaries, Ayudhya would once again be reborn under a new ruler, one whose life was equally honored and remembered. His name was Naresuan.

Naresuan was born in 1555 during a period of war. The Burmese Taungoo Kingdom in the west had been attempting to invade Ayudhya for several years in vain. However, in the 1564, the Burmese had successfully captured Ayudhya. Naresuan’s father, Maha Thamaraja, was appointed as the vassal lord of Ayudhya. In order to ensure the loyalty of the vassal, the Burmese insisted that he send his sons to the Burmese capital of Pegu. Powerless, Maha Thamaraja sent his son, the nine year old Naresuan, to Pegu as a political hostage. In Pegu, Naresuan got the chance to know more of their invaders. He learned more about the Burmese military, from their tactics to weapons.

After more than a decade in captivity, in 1576, Naresuan was allowed to return to his father in Ayuudhya. As he returned, he was given the task of administering the critical city of Phitsahulok. There he would be given a chance to display his military prowess. When Naresuan arrived, the Khmers had already wreaking havoc in the region for almost a year. With his skills, he was able to repel Khmer attacks which eventually ceased in 1578. With his victory, he gained popularity and loyalty of his men.

With his exploits against the Khmer known, Naresuan gained the attention of the new Burmese King Nandabayin. Nandabayin had just sat to throne and already faced a rebellion. The Shan states was in full scale revolt. King Nandabayin then requested the help of Naresuan to quell the revolt. Naresuan agreed to help. In the process of putting down the revolt, Naresuan gained more popularity as a military general.

His popularity, however, alarmed the man who requested his aid, King Nandabayin. After the rebellion, he saw Naresuan as a threat to his power. And so for years, he plotter how to get rid of Naresuan. He was the opportunity in form of a rebellion led by the Prince of Ava. Once again, Nandabayin requested the support of Naresuan. Naresuan agreed to help once more. However, during the rebellion, Nandabayin ordered the assassination of Naresuan. Naresuan luckily escaped the assassination and returned home.

Anger by the attempted assassination orchestrated by Nandabayin, his fury resulted to a fiery revolution. He, alongside his father, decided to fight the Burmese invaders and liberate Ayudhya from them. For years, the battle raged between the Siamese Ayudhya forces and the Burmese. By 1590, he successfully driven out the Burmese from the core lands of Ayuddhya. In a ceremony, Naresuan became King of Ayudhya and was given the title of Somdet Phra Naresuan Maharaj.

His reign would oversee the revival of the past glories of Ramkhamhaeng and Ramathibodi. He would lead the Siamese people to glorious battles that would expand their territories. But in all his exploit, Naresuan was made famous by a battle in in 1593. On that year, the Burmese once again launched an invasion of Ayudhya. It was led by Nandabayin’s son, Prince Min Kyawsaw. The Burmese forces and the Naresuan’s forces faced each other in Nong Sarai.

The battle of Nong Sarai would make Naresuan a legend. Naresuan forces was on the brink of total defeat in the hands of the Burmese Prince. In an act of total bravery, Naresuan, ridding his war horse, went forward and face the Burmese forces. He then faced his adversary, Prince Min Kyawsaw, personally. The two dueled each other. At stake was the future of their own respective Kingdoms. Experienced and with his bravery, Naresuan triumph against his opponent. As the Prince fell, the Burmese forces withdrew from the battle and returned to Burma. To commemorate his victory, Naresuan erected a pagoda in Don Chedi in Suphanburi. This duel between Naresuan and Prince Min Kyawsaw would forever be immortalized by the arts, media, and the military today.

After the battle in Nong Sarai, Ayudhya changed its stand and began an aggressive offensive against the Burmese, as well as their hostile neighbors. After the battle, Naresuan ordered his generals to invade and occupy some Burmese territories. General Chao Chakri led the invasion of Tenesserim. Phata Praklong, meanwhile, led the invasion of Tavoy. Martaban also fell in the hands of Naresuan.

Moreover, in the east, the Khmer attacks had been relentless and Naresuan wanted to end it. With his forces, they invaded what was left of the Khmers and captured their capital in Lovek. The Khmer King Raemea Chung Prei fled the capital in fear of his life.

In 1595, Naresuan made further advances against the Burmese. In 1595, the vassal ruler of the Burmese controlled Lanna requested Naresuan to liberate them. Naresuan complied and sent his forces to Chiang Mai and drove out the Burmese from Lanna. Also, with his recent military accomplishments against the Burmese, in the same year, Naresuan launched a bold attack to the heart of the Burmese Taungoo capital of Pegu. However, the campaign proved to be a failure as the capital resisted strongly against the Siamese invaders. Nevertheless, Naresuan continued to fight the Burmese till his death and caused its sudden decline.

In other fields, Naresuan also made great advances in the field of diplomacy. He continued to have good relations with China as well as contacts with Japan. Also, during the last decade of the 16th century, Europeans were becoming more prominent in the Southeast Asian region. During the reign of King Naresuan, Spaniards, Portuguese, and the Dutch had contact with Ayudhya. Trade began between the Siamese and the Europeans. And as a hallmark of Naresuan’s relations with the Europeans, in 1598, he concluded a treaty of friendship with Spaniards, who were based in the Philippines. Later, his successors would further enhanced this ties with the westerners.

In 1605, Naresuan unexpectedly met his demise. On the way to a campaign against the Burmese, he was hit by an illness that proved to be deadly. He passed away eventually. He was succeeded by his brother Ekathotsarot.

Naresuan’s legacy was equal to previous great Thai kings. From a subjugated vassal state, Naresuan revived the Siamese Kingdom of Ayudhya and made it into a power house in mainland Southeast Asia. His military exploits allowed him to expand Ayudhya’s territories, reaching the Andaman Sea in the west and capturing the remaining lands of the Khmers in the east. It was also under his reign that the Siamese had begun to establish relations with men from the Old World which would later develop as year went by. King Naresuan truly deserved to be lined up with other great kings of the Thai people. 

See also:

Ellen, L. Thailand Condensed: 2,000 Years of History and Culture. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2008.

Fry, G. et. al. Historical Dictionary of Thailand. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2013.

Mishra, P. The History of Thailand. California: ABC-CLIO, 2010.

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