Ramayana in Myanmar. A Talk by Piriya Krairiksh



Intercultural and cross-cultural exchanges were responsible for the visual representations of the Rāmayāna in Myanmar. Prior to the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, it is doubtful whether there was any depiction of the Rāmayāna there at all.

It is well known that the portrayal of the Rāmayāna in Myanmar followed the popularity of the Khon masked dance introduced by Siamese prisoners of war to the court of Ava. Hence sculptural representations are inspired by dance postures as performed by court dancers, who in turn were trained by Siamese professionals. By 1846-49, when the 347 stone plaques depicting Myanmar version of the Rāmayāna at the Maha Lawka Marazein pagoda, Paya-Gyi village, Monywa district, Sagaing division, were carved, Myanmar representation of the Rāmayāna has assumed its national characteristic.

As for Siam, theatrical performances of the Rāmayāna resumed soon after the capital was moved to Thonburi. King Taksin composed dramatic composition for the Rāmayāna in 1770 and had the Khon masked dance performed in 1780 to celebrate the arrival of the Emerald Buddha to the capital. The first two kings of Bangkok, Rāma I and Rāma II, composed their own episodes of the Rāmayāna dance drama. On account of the popularity of the story, King Rāma III in 1835 commanded that the Ubosot of Wat Phra Chetuphon be decorated with the Rāmayāna story, 152 stone bas-reliefs for the base and 8 mother-of-pearl inlays for the eight door panels. Unlike Myanmar, Siam has long and continuous representations of the Rāmayāna in a variety of art forms. The bas-reliefs at Wat Phra Chetuphon, therefore, represent the culmination of an established tradition.

After having earned a doctorate in History of Art from Harvard University in 1975, Prof Dr Piriya Krairiksh was employed as Curator of Asian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. On his return to Thailand in 1977, Dr Piriya taught History of Art at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University until 2002. After his retirement, he became Director of the Thai Khadi Research Institute, Thammasat University from 2003 to 2006. Dr Piriya served as President of the Siam Society from 1989 to 1992 and was appointed Senior Research Scholar by the Thailand Research Fund in 1999. He has published many articles and books on Thai art both in Thai and English, and most recently The Roots of Thai Art (River Books, 2012). He is the Chairman of the Piriya Krairiksh Foundation.

Date: Thursday 18 July 2019
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

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The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2018-2019 Lecture Series.