Cultural Soft Power: Why Millenia Old Tamils Hymns Are Chanted During Thai Coronations
The Thai way of life and the Indian have many similarities.
One of them is their appreciation and value accorded to the Thiruvempavai, a set of hymns sung in praise of Shiva, by a renowned devotee.
Thailand is in a festive mood as Maha Vajiralongkorn will be officially crowned as the king today. His coronation name is going to be Rama X. It must be noted that the present line of Thailand kings is from the Chakri dynasty, which has been ruling the country since the 18th Century CE. The founder of the Chakri Dynasty was Rama I.
Since historical times, Thailand had close relations with India both politically and culturally. Due to their links with the Kalingas, Pallavas and Cholas in particular, many aspects of Indian culture can be seen in the Thai way of life. Hence, it is no wonder that the coronation ceremony is quite similar to the coronation ceremony of ancient Indian kings. This is despite the fact that the monarchs follow Buddhism as their religion.
While there are Buddhist rituals as part of the coronation, most of the rituals follow the traditional Vedic practices. The homas preceeding the coronation date, the abhisheka similar to the Rajyabhisheka ritual of Vedic times and recital of Vedic mantras during the crowning are some examples. In the midst of all this, one notable feature is the reciting of the Thiruvempavai, part of the Thiruvasagam verses sung by Manickavachagar, during the crowning of the new king. What was the link between Thiruvempavai and Thailand? Why is it being recited during the ceremony?
The Saivite saint Manickavachagar, who belonged to the 8th Century CE and lived in the Pandya kingdom of Madurai, composed a set of verses collectively called as Thiruvasagam. Thiruvasagam sings the praise of Lord Shiva in his various forms. Thiruvempavai is one part of the Thiruvasagam and was sung by Manickavachagar in Tiruvannamalai. This consists of 20 verses which were called by Manickavachagar as ‘Sakthiyai Viyanthathu’, meaning “Awestruck by Power of the Lord”. The verses are sung during the month of Margazhi - Margashirsha, when young girls pray to the lord, popularly known as ‘Pavai Nonbu’, a ‘vow’, to fulfil their wishes. The verses can be categorised in to two parts: One, in which a set of girls wakes up a devotee by singing the praise of Shiva and asking her to join them; Second, taking a bath in a temple pond and singing the praise of the Lord while doing that. Each verse ends with the word ‘Em Pavai’, signifying that this is part of the Pavai tradition practised in Tamil Nadu during that time.
It is even practised today, where Saivaites sing these 20 verses, one each day, during the month of Margazhi in Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu.
The Thai Connection
One can easily infer that Thiruvempavai went to Thailand during the Chola era. During their South East expeditions, Takoba in Thailand, named as ‘Thalai Thakkolam’ in Rajendra Chola’s Meikeerthi, was a strategic port from which the Chola army launched lightning attacks on the Sailendra Kingdom. Tamil merchants had many trading bases in Thailand. So, it is easy to surmise that the Tamil Shiva Brahmins could have also gone with them to perform poojas in the temples constructed by the merchants and local kings. They have taken the Thiruvempavai along with them.
There are innumerable evidences about Thiruvempavai recitation in Thailand since the 14th Century CE. Historical evidences point out that the Triyampawai ritual was observed at Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Sawankhalok in Thailand. In the book ‘Tamrab Tao Shri Chulalak’ written by the queen Nang Noppamas of Sukhothai kingdom during 1348 CE, it is mentioned that during the first month of the year, ‘Triyampawai’ festival was celebrated in the family temple of the king. She also writes that ‘a swing’ festival took place during that time and people prayed to Shiva and Narayana during that time.
In 1461 CE, the royal notes of King Param Trilokanath of Ayutthaya city declare that the Triyampawai festival is to be observed as the royal festival, and elaborates on the rituals by which Brahmins enter the palace with flowers, paddy et cetera. Like this, Thiruvembavai, called by Thais as ‘Triyampawai’ slowly got ‘customised’ with festivals like ‘Swing festival’ and became part of the royal life and its 12 ceremonies. In contrast to the Indian way of observing Thiruvempavai as a ‘vow’, the Triyampawai in Thailand is a festival during the first month of the year, post the New Moon period.
It is believed that Shiva comes to earth for 10 days during that time and then his companion Narayana (Narai) comes and stays here for five more days. They were offered rice, fruits and vegetables and Triyampawai was recited during this time.
Like the Tamil version, the Thai Triyampavai has 20 verses of which the first 11 are called as ‘Pothmurai yay’ and the next nine are called ‘Pothmurai clang’. The first 11 are sung before Shiva and the next nine before Narayana. However, unlike the Tamil way, in which the Thiruvempavai is sung in a ‘Pan’ - raga, the Thai Triyampawai is ‘recited’ as a mantra.
For example, the first verse ‘Aadhiyum Andhamum illaa arumperum Chodhiyai yaampaada Keteyum vaal thadangan’ is recited as ‘Aadhiyumandhamumilla varunperunyo thipaiyampaa kadket dayumvaadkadan’.
So, what happens during the coronation ceremony? The king is bathed and after the initial rituals, the coronation is performed on a throne of gilded figwood known as ‘Bhadrapitha throne’, on which the king will be seated. A Shiva Brahmana then recites the first verse of the Triyampavai and will then hand over the crown to the king. The king then puts the crown on his head and the rest of the rituals follow. This is one Tamil influence in Thailand which has continued, and proudly so.
This article was originally published here and has been republished with permission.
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