Known as the Ramakien in Thai literature, the Ramayana legend is depicted in paintings on temple walls at Wat Phra Kaeo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. There are a total of 178 section mural paintings depicting the entirety of the Ramayana story. The murals were originally painted during the reign of King Rama I (1782-1809) of the Chakri dynasty in the late 18th century and are now repainted once every 50 years.
Around the 5th century BCE, the Indian poet Valmiki wrote the Ramayana epic, which depicts the story of Rama, the prince of Ayudhya and incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, as he gathers the support of a monkey army to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravanna.
The main story of the Ramakien is very similar to Valmiki’s text from India; however, most names in the story differ, probably due to phonetic differences in the languages. For example, the demon king Ravanna is called Tosakanth in the Thai version. Despite its origins, the Ramakien is very Thai in character, as the Thai people have changed the story to suit their tastes. Although the Ramayana is a sacred story among Hindus, the Ramakien is largely stripped of its religious elements, adapting to a predominantly Buddhist Thai culture.
The Ramakien has also been politically associated with the kingdom of Thailand through the centuries. Over the past 200 years, the nine kings of Thailand have been named Rama, and Ayutthaya (Ayudhya), the kingdom of Rama in the epic, was the capital of Thailand until it was moved to Bangkok in 1767. In this way, the kings could relate themselves to Rama, the incarnation of a god, to give their reigns more legitimacy and respectability through association with the Ramakien.
“Ramakien: the Ramayana in Southeast Asia,” Thailand, orias.berkeley.edu.
Photos taken from “The Ramakian: Mural Paintings Along the Galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha,” Printed by Rung Silp Printing Co.,Ltd. http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/literature/ramakian/wallpaper/photoalbum.htm. Online.