A tale of truly epic proportions – with recent publications running to nearly 3,000 pages, the only known complete version of the Ramakien was penned by King Rama I in 1804. No one knows when the story first entered Thai culture, but there is evidence of the Ramakien being performed in dances and shadow puppet theatres as far back as the 13th century.
The legend of the Ramakien owes its roots to the Ramayana, an ancient tale from India. Written more than 2,000 years ago by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki, the Ramayana is the story of the Hindu god Vishnu and his 7th incarnation as Rama, the prince and king of Ayodhya.
The main story begins with the births of Rama and his wife Sita (herself a reincarnation of Lakshmi goddess of wealth and prosperity). Rama proves himself to be the perfect son and perfect husband, but before he can become king, he is forced to renounce his title and leave Ayodhya. For 14 years the royal couple live in exile, making a life for themselves in the magical Himapan Forest. During this time, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. With the help of the monkey general Hanuman, Rama rescues Sita, however Sita is forced to prove her purity before Rama will take her back as his wife.
As in the Ramayana, the Ramakien also exemplifies how an honorable man should conduct himself; facing situations with composure and rising to successfully lead his people, despite his own personal tragedies – a lesson that the Thai royal family has clearly identified with. During the past 200 years, nine Kings of Thailand have taken the name Rama.
Some of the best examples of the legend can be found at Wat Phra Kaew. Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is sumptuously decorated throughout with images and scenes taken from the Ramakien. Splendidly attired giants stand guard whilst handsomely adorned demons support the golden chedis - and there, magnificently painted on the surrounding wall are 178 murals that depict the Ramakien. Painted in a kaleidoscopic palate of deep hues and luxurious golds the legend is laid before us in all its glory.