The original source of the story of Prince Rama was India, where it is known as the
Ramayana. It is still performed there in various dramatic styles. Here a young boy in a traveling dance troupe prepares for his role as a monkey warrior.
Although clearly based on other versions of the tale, the Thai Ramakien is unique in that it draws upon other Thai artistic traditions, including styles of royal garments such as the peaked epaulettes and the spired crown worn by this khan performer.
It was, however, the current Chakri Dynasty that truly elevated the Ramakien to a Thai national epic and art form. Soon after the Burmese sack of Ayuthaya in 1767, a military counselor, Phra Phuttayotfa, took power. He established a new capital in the then village of Bangkok, but giving it a new name, Krung Thep in shortened form. The full name, which is the longest place name in the world, included references to the city of Ayuthaya, and the Hindu god Vishnu, Rama's divine incarnation. The new dynasty was named Chakri, after the chakra or discus, one of the four attributes of the god Vishnu. A link between the Ramayana and the Thai dynasty was firmly established. Thailand was barely recovering from its disastrous defeat at the hands of the Burmese and was in dire need of social and political unification. Among Phra Phuttayotfa's many acts in achieving this goal was the creation of a uniquely Thai version of the Ramayana epic, called Ramakien (literally, the worship of Rama) in Thai. The work in verse commissioned and supervised by the new king, now known as Rama I (reigned 1782-1809) was completed in 1798. It was twice the length of the Ramayana of Valmiki, and included references to the flora, fauna, geography and social customs of Thailand. This literary endeavor marks the transition from an Indian art form used in Thailand to a truly local creation. To enhance its popularity among the general population even further, the tale emphasized humorous and amorous behavior on the part of Hanuman, Rama's monkey warrior. The tragic ending of the original story was changed to allow Rama and his faithful wife to live, after many trials and tribulations, happily ever after.