Pattaya students honor ancient rags-to-riches poet who became father of Thai Language Day

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Each June, an 18th century commoner who became Thailand’s most-heralded poet is remembered as Thais celebrate National Thai Language Day. In Pattaya, students across the area marked the annual holiday with a broad celebration of Thai culture.

Sunthorn Phu Day marks the June 26, 1786 birthday of the author of the epic “Phra Aphai Mani” in Bangkok. At area schools, the day was commemorated with poetry readings, stage plays and music. The events were matched in many schools by anti-drug rallies.

Sunthorn Phu, Thailand’s most-heralded poet.Sunthorn Phu, Thailand’s most-heralded poet.

Activities include recitations of the poet’s biography, reading of his various works, illustrated exhibitions, writing competitions and art contests. Other schools hosted competitions on recitation of famous works songs and stanzas.

For the anti-drug rallies, teachers spelled out legal and social penalties for drug addiction and highlighted programs such as the royally sponsored “To Be No. 1” clubs.

Students said they came to know the poet different ways. Younger students said they were introduced to his works through coloring and movies. Older kids said they were interested in his poems and songs, which are studied extensively in high school.

Like his poems, Sunthorn’s life was a tale of sorrow and success. A child of divorced parents, he first lived with his father in Bangrum Temple, where his father was a monk and his mother a wet nurse to a princess. But the young man fell in love with Jun, a family member of King Rama I and he was arrested and jailed for the improper relationship.

When the king died, he was pardoned and went to live with his father in Rayong where he wrote “Nirat Muang Grang,” one of his most famous poems, which was about his love for Jun. He then returned to the palace and married her, had a son and was named court poet. Success, however, turned soured when Suthorn became an alcoholic, had an affair, got divorced, and was jailed after getting in a fight.

However, he remained court poet even after Rama II’s death. But, during a poem reading by Rama III, the poet publically corrected the monarch and was stripped of his title and banished from the palace. He briefly became a monk, then a merchant, but, after Rama IV’s daughter read the first parts of his unfinished serialized poem “Phra Aphai Mani,” he was invited to return to the palace to complete the poem, which was written in installments over 20 years and describes the romantic adventures of the title character throughout ancient Thailand. He died in 1855.