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The holy man in the history of Thailand and Laos.

There have been many ways of approaching the study of the "holy men" rebellions that occurred in Thailand and Laos from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries. They have been examined as a study of millenarian or messianic movements,(1) as political or ethnic protest,(2) or as a stage in the history of production, from a Marxist point of view.(3) Still another approach, an historical one, can also contribute to an understanding of the protests that took place. The holy man, in this essay, is associated with the muang (township) and the early supernaturalism found in Thai and Lao society. As the muang lost autonomy and was incorporated into ever more centralized administrative arrangements, that status of the holy man changed from respected founder of settlements and community advisor to dissident and instigator of rebellions against the centre.

Most historians of Southeast Asia have been concerned with the development of states and their increasing power and authority. Given the importance of the state in the modern world, this is certainly legitimate. But our involvement with states has limited our awareness of the activities of holy men who appear at the beginning of history and then disappear from view. Is this disappearance of holy men real - did it actually occur? Or is it, in part, a construct of the historian revealing a bias towards those aspects of history that anticipate the development of the state and centralized administrative systems?

The role of holy men in the early history of the Tai peoples has been discussed by Donald K. Swearer, Sommai Premchit, and Dhida Saraya for Lanna Thai, Charnvit Kasetsiri for Ayutthaya, David K. Wyatt for Southern Thailand, Paul Le Boulanger for Luang Prabang, Georges Condominas for Central Laos, and Charles Archaimbault and James Pruess for Southern Laos. The work of Donald K. Swearer and Sommai Premchit is an outstanding example of the standard Western approach to the early history of the area. This approach underlies three articles that appeared in the 1970s: Swearer, "Myth, Legend and History in the Northern Thai Chronicles",(4) and Swearer and Sommai Premchit, "The Relation Between the Religious and Political Orders in Northern Thailand (14th-16th Centuries)",(5) and Sommai Premchit and Swearer, "A Translation of Tamnan Mulasasana Wat Pa Daeng: The Chronicle of the Founding of Buddhism of the Wat Pa Daeng Tradition".(6)

In "Myth, Legend and History", Swearer distinguishes three traditions in the Northern Thai chronicles: the Buddhist, the rishi, and that of Queen Camadevi. He feels that the rishi tradition, the settlement of Haripunjaya and other Mon-Lava towns under the leadership of the hermit Vasudeva was the earliest. Then the Camadevi was appended, and later both were overlaid by the Buddhist, all three traditions being eventually incorporated into a single history.(7)

From the standpoint of the narrative's structure as outlined in our description, Lamphun [Haripunjaya] has two foundings, one associated with the Rishi/Camadevi continuum and the other with the Buddha/Adittaraja continuum. The creation of a Muang culture involves the federalization of tribal or communal loyalties by subjugating them to a higher political authority. Camadevi primarily fulfills this function. She symbolizes a new political authority associated with a powerful ruling family of a Muang with a high culture (i.e. Lopburi). Yet, while Camadevi brings with her political power invested with the authority of both Buddhism and Brahmanism, the religious identity of tribal affiliation is not yet decisively transformed. Buddhism as the religion of the Muang is not established until the time of Adittaraja.(8)

In "The Relation Between the Religious and Political Orders in Northern Thailand (14th-16th Centuries)", Swearer and Sommai place the history of Buddhism in Lanna Thai within three traditions: (1) the Mon-Lava tradition discussed above; (2) the Udumbaragiri, transmitted from Sri Lanka through Burma; and, (3) the Mahavihara transmitted directly from Sri Lanka to Ayutthaya and Lanna Thai. The Udumbaragiri Order, the predominant form of Buddhism in Chiang Mai, was supported by King Kuena (1367-88). During this period, the Udumbaragiri Order functioned "as a cultural mediator serving to integrate Haripunjaya religious culture into a distinctive tradition identified with the Thai rather than the Mon-Lava".(9)

The predominant position of the Udumbaragiri Order was challenged early in the fifteenth century. The king, Sam Fang Kaen (1411-42), also a supporter of the Udumbaragiri, was overthrown and replaced by Tilokaraja (1442-87) with the backing of the supporters of a new Buddhist order, the Sihala Nikaya of the Mahavihara tradition. Tilokaraja's policies, maintaining religious tolerance while promoting the Sihala Nikaya, enabled him to undertake the religious and political unification of Lanna. His reign marked the beginning of an era of Buddhist scholarship, the greatest in Lanna history, which continued through the reign of Phra Mu'ang Kaew (1495-1528).

The introduction and spread of the Sihala Nikaya is further examined in the Tamnan Mulasasana Wat Pa Daeng. Much of the chronicle covers the movement of Buddhist monks as they travel from Lanna Thai to Martaban and Sri Lanka and back to Lanna Thai and Chiang Tung. A monk, Nanagambhira, saw errors in the tradition and was granted permission to study in Ayodhya and then in Sri Lanka. When he returned, Nanagambhira began to reordain monks according to the teachings of the Sihala Nikaya he had studied while he was in Sri Lanka. The king supported this new sect, building Wat Pa Daeng as its centre. Thus, with the support of the king, the new sect became dominant in Chiang Mai and Chiang Tung. The tamnan closes with these words:

This tamnan must be placed in every wat so everyone will know the teaching of the Buddha. If monks study this teaching earnestly, they will be gifted with long life and good complexion, respected and worshipped by human beings as well as devata. The monk who is ordained in the sasana of Nanagambhira, a Sinhalarattarama Order, and does not practise seriously, will become indolent and will not prosper. He will deteriorate and will meet with danger at all times. Even if he practises metta-bhavana he will not be able to attain jnanasampatti and sublime concentration. Even if he attains concentration, it will be minimal and momentary. Therefore I who have religious knowledge have spoken these words to the monks of future generations.(10)

These three articles present a very neat, concise, linear view of history: civilization begins as a result of the activities of holy men, but it quickly becomes the responsibility of the Sangha and the state. The holy men are left behind, and they have no place in the new social order. In fact, the situation is much more complex: the holy men may have become less important, but they have not disappeared. The Northern Thai chronicles and the tamnan, local religious histories, contain many more references to the holy men and the supernatural - omens, prophecies, and miracles - then the above discussion indicates. Consider, for example, the Jinakalamali. In its treatment of the spread of Buddhism from Sri Lanka to Lanna Thai, various ascetics and the supernatural have a major role. At one point in the text a naga king swallowed the casket containing a miraculous relic of the Buddha. The casket was restored to the humans who were carrying it across the ocean by an Elder. This Elder possessed "the sixfold higher knowledge" and was travelling through the air when he first saw the relic on the sand. With his devine eye he perceived the naga king who swallowed the casket and persuaded the naga to return it to the humans. He then protected the humans with the relic on their journey to Lanna.(11)

The account of the founding of Haripunjaya by the ascetic, Vasudeva, contains many supernatural events. Vasudeva goes on to serve as an advisor to Cammadevi and her son. It is the king of the crows who informs King Adicca of the presence of the relic whose discovery is marked by many miracles. Another meritorious ascetic possessing "supernormal power of heat, physical strength, speed and valour" founds a city and becomes king. The last of his descendants was King Mangrai. The nagas reappear in the story of the Sihala image (the Phra Sihing) where they protect it on its journey to Thailand. A king seeking an accurate copy of the Tipitaka flies "through the sky mounted on his throughbred horse". The reign of King Tilokaraja (Tilaka) is described in terms of both the Buddhist and the supernatural events that take place. Throughout the Jinakalamali the history of Buddhism is accompanied by supernatural events, miracles, and the protective presence of nagas, ascetics, and monks. It is an integrated text with no separation of spheres; the nagas, ascetics, and the supernatural events help to promote the spread of Buddhism and to proclaim its glories.(12)

The integration of Buddhism with the supernatural in the Jinakalamali is striking, for the work, dated 1517, was written during the great period of Buddhist scholarship referred to by Swearer and Sommai above. According to them the Jinakalamali was one of the major texts of the Pali scholarship at that time. That the Jinakalamali should reveal such an intertwined relationship between Buddhism and the supernatural in the sixteenth century does raise questions about the interpretation of chronicles by scholars. Do we simply ignore the references to the supernatural and concentrate on the "real" and the "rational", thereby creating a history from which the supernatural has been eliminated. In this instance we are clearly looking at history as the ultimate victory of rationality. Or do we consider the presence of both the Buddhist and the supernatural aspects of such texts to be significant, and consider both aspects in our work?

Dhida Saraya is a Thai scholar who writes that historians should be paying more attention to the tamnan tradition because she feels that it offers a better understanding of the relationships among different groups and people in Thai society. She sees the incorporation of myths into the tamnan as an effort of local literati to incorporate oral traditions into their local histories,(13) and this, in turn, "encouraged local integration".(14) The study of myths and legends in the tamnan can be of value.

The core myth is concerned with the occupation and settlement of land under the control of chiefs who were authorized by the power from the Spirit of Muang Bon (the heaven) through the intermediary spirits. They may be the ancestor spirits, local spirits or deities, or Phi ban phi muang (the spirits of the village and the muang). Such myths were widespread among various groups of the Tai in Assam, Lanna and Lanchang. The 'core myth' confirms that tamnan-history is not just the history of Buddhism. In summary, the contents of tamnan-history are various and can be classified into many different types, the 'core myth' being one among that variety.(15)

Ascetics and other holy men were founders of settlements in the central plains.(16) Chamvit Kasetsiri in The Rise of Ayudhya, helps to clarify the differences in the Thai sources and their treatment of holy men in Thai history. Charnvit divides Thai historiography into two types: religious history or tamnan, influential from around the fourteenth through the eighteenth centuries, and dynastic history, phongsawadan, which appeared in the seventeenth century.(17) It is tamnan history, with its emphasis on Buddhism and Buddhist tradition, that contains the most references to holy men. He writes,

It seems that in the early stages of Thai history it was religious men, either monks or people who led a different way of life from ordinary laymen, who were the most important leaders of the society. Besides monks, other types of religious men were known; such as risi (rsi), chipakhao or chiphakhao, and khru-ba-achan. The risi was a kind of hermit who dwelt outside the community and practised mysticism. As for the chipakhao, the literal meaning of the word is 'one who wears a white garment'. The chipakhao was usually a man who at one time embraced a strict religious life but could not endure the religious order, However, when he abandoned the full religious life and came out into the lay world, he still observed some religious regulations, and therefore led a life which was different from that of laymen and also from that of strictly religious men. The khru-ba-achan was simply a teacher to a large number of people. This kind of teacher had gone through a form of religious education; he might at one time have become a monk or have had an intense educational life with monks. These three types of religious men were the most active leaders of the old society. They had the advantage of high education and yet they were free from the strict regulation of Buddhism since they no longer remained within the Sangha.(18)

Charnvit notes that holy men were important in the establishment of Lamphun, Sawankhalok, Phitsanulok, and the reconstruction of Nakhon Sithammarat.(19)

Early kingship was not in any form characterized by rigid dynastic succession which tended to dominate the history of Ayudhya after its foundation in 1351.... The early history, on the other hand, reveals a more flexible institution. A king might come from origins and backgrounds other than membership in the ruling families. He might be selected from among elders, or religious men, or he might be anyone capable of taking over that position. He could be a khahabodi, setthi, or phumibun.(20)

The chronicles of Nakhon Sithammarat(21) are similar in pattern and style to those of Lanna Thai. The opening pages recall the story of the tooth-relic given above from the Jinakalamali. Under attack from another ruler, the local monarch entrusts the tooth-relic to his son and daughter to carry to safety in Sri Lanka. The vessel overturns and the two, making their way to shore, bury the relic in the sand. A mahathera (great teacher) flies through the air to be able to venerate the relic and promises the two his protection, thereby ensuring safe passage to Lanka, where the ruler responds with return relics, texts, and gifts. The mahathera is able to assume the form of a garuda, and again, nagas venerate the relics. The site where the original relic was buried becomes the site of the city of Nagara Sri Dharrmaraja.(22) As in the northern chronicles, the spread of Buddhism is assisted by ascetics, great teachers, and supernatural forces. Again, the relics with the protecting cetiya become the centre of the city and of its religious and cultural life.

As the chronicles of Nakhon Sithammarat move closer to the present, ascetics (pakao) maintain their presence, but references to the supernatural decline. And while there is still some hyperbole in the treatment of Buddhism, miracles apparently cease. The white-robed ascetics have a role in the rediscovery of Nagara Sri Dharrmaraja(23) and, later, the reconstruction of its Great Reliquary. Both ascetics and monks prepare the site, and it is an ascetic who travels to Ayutthaya to report on these activities and to return bearing the king's invitation to reconstruct the reliquary.(24)

The Nan Chronicle, compiled in 1894, handles history in a different manner, and the overall treatment of the text is more secular. The events of the early eighteenth century seem to represent a turning point in the account. Before the eighteenth century, ascetics and the supernatural have an integrated role in Nan's history. At the opening of the English-language edition(25) it is the leader of the hermit monks who decides the borders of the domains (Vientiane and Varanagara - forerunner of Nan) of the two brothers born from eggs.(26) Later a white-robe ascetic comes to the assistance of the future king, Intakaen.(27) While Nan was a dependency of Chiang Mai in the reign of Phraya Tilok, a miracle revealed the existence of Buddhist relics, and an ascetic was asked to open the newly revealed golden urn so that the relics could be properly enshrined.(28)

But when the Burmans come and destroy Nan in 1703, the account of the rebuilding of the city is a secular one. The Burmans appoint a governor, Noi In, whose task is successful because of his cleverness. Likewise, the relocation of Nan to a new site(29) takes place without any supernatural assistance. The few references to the supernatural that remain are isolated incidents, set somewhat apart from the main narrative and even called "strange".(30) None of these happenings is perceived as an omen that foretells the future.

Other late nineteenth-century chronicles, among them, Phraya Wichiankhiri, Phongsawadan Muang Songkhla, and Phraya Maha Ammattayathibodi, Phongsawadan Muang Nakhon Chiang Mai Muang Nakhon Lampang Muang Lamphunchai, do not contain any references to the supernatural. Clearly the late nineteenth-century authors no longer perceive the supernatural as an influence on human life.

The new elites, the royal family, nobility, and the central officials, in a now stratified society, did not need access to the supernatural to justify their position. Their social status, power, and wealth had become self-perpetuating. The peasants and rural chiefs - the original people of the soil - found their status diminished. They had become commoners and had to defer to those of higher rank. The state now supported an extended Sangha organization devoted to textual orthodoxy and discipline, leaving little room at the top for the syncretic forms of popular Buddhism practised by most of the population. Like the peasants and the rural chiefs, the holy men had limited opportunities for upward mobility; their status had changed because the social order had changed. Now, faced with a formalized ruling elite and an orthodox Sangha, the holy men were left with few choices. If they did not want to work within the established religious order, they could become wandering forest monks (thudong kammathan) within Buddhism, or they could become self-proclaimed holy men, maintaining attachments to earlier supernatural beliefs. In this latter instance, if circumstances encouraged such activity, holy men could find a role as leaders of protest movements.

There appears to have been relatively few holy men rebellions in Central and Northern Thailand. Charnvit Kasetsiri has identified just three during the Ayutthaya period: Yan Phichian in 1581; Thammathian in 1694; and Bun Kwang in 1698. All three leaders were holy men who appeared during periods of disorder when royal authority was being challenged by foreign invasions (Burmese, Khmer, or French) and when peasants were being subjected to repeated demands for taxes and military service while they were also faced with inadequate rice crops due either to drought or to flooding.

Yan Phichian had had a Buddhist education and is reported to have been knowledgeable about magic, but little else is known about his background. He appeared in the region between Ayutthaya and Lopburi in the aftermath of the first fall of the capital to the Burmese. The court's initial attempt to crush the revolt failed; Chao Phraya Chakri and many other officials were killed. The victory encouraged the alienated peasants and Yan Phichian's supporters became 3,000 strong. Meanwhile the Thai court strengthened the fortifications at Lopburi enabling the town to withstand Yan's attack. Yan Phichian was killed in battle; his followers fled into the jungle.(31)

Thammathian and Bun Kwang were active in the period following the collapse of Constantine Phaulkon and the French. The monarchy had been through a troubled time. Prasat Thong had usurped the throne in 1630. He died in 1656, his immediate two successors were assassinated. His son, King Narai, held on to the throne from 1658 to 1688. But King Narai had aroused local hostility by his association with, and presumed favoritism toward, the Europeans (Dutch, British, and French) who were eager to trade and to seek converts. In 1688 King Narai died, leaving the throne open for Phra Phetracha and his supporters.

Thammathian had been an attendant of Chao Fa Aphaithot, a brother of King Narai. When Chao Fa Aphaithot was killed at court, Thammathian entered a monastery. Later, Thammathian left the Sangha and presented himself as the royal prince. Thammathian also claimed the powers of a phu mi bun khun. He attracted some 500 to 2,000 supporters from the lower Pasak River Region around Saraburi and Nakhon Nayok, with his more militant followers coming from Lopburi. When Thammathian attacked, he was injured and his troops fled.(32)

The appearance of Bun Kwang as a holy man in 1698 followed an earlier rebellion in 1691 by the governor of Khorat. Initial efforts by Ayutthaya to recapture the town failed; it finally fell when it was set on fire by flying kites carrying hot cinders.(33) The governor escaped, joining rebels at Nakhon Sithammarat in the south. The causes of the revolt are not known, but the failure of the first attempt to retake Khorat suggests popular support for the rebellious governor. The burning of the city would have been a disaster that could have created ideal conditions for a phumibun or a phu wiset such as Bun Kwang to appear. Bun Kwang and his followers were able to seize Khorat. When Bun Kwang, with his army of elephants, armed calvary, and 4,000 peasant troops, marched on Lopburi, they met with the forces of Ayutthaya and were defeated.(34) Bun Kwang is reported to have been Lao, the Ayutthaya troops were most likely Thai.

At the end of the nineteenth century rebellions broke out in Chiang Mai Province in 1889 and in Phrae in 1902. Both were reactions to Bangkok's efforts to bring Lanna Thai under its direct authority and to increase its revenue.(35) While supernatural concepts were a part of the Chiang Mai revolt, that of Phrae appears to have been entirely secular, an ethnic Shan protest against the abuses of the new administrative and economic system.(36)

The revolt in Chiang Mai Province began as a protest against new tax levies, to be paid in cash, on local crops. Local officials took up the protest, and just one, Phraya Phap (Phraya Prapsongkhram), engaged in supernatural practices. He and a relative drank sacred water asking others, officials and peasants, to join them. Two monks gave their support by performing special rites to produce the magical water that would protect people against attack. Both rebel leaders and peasants were from one of the northern minority groups, the Khoen. Phraya Phap provided the resisting peasants with military training and ritual baths in the magical water. Thus encouraged, the peasants prepared to attack the authorities, but the state sent troops in before any attack could take place. This "ritual radicalism"(37) seems rather mild when compared with the supernatural claims of the holy men in the Khorat Plateau and southern Laos.

Three of the main observers of modern Thai Buddhism, Charles Keyes, Thomas Kirsch, and Stanley Tambiah,(38) have based their research in the Northeast, a region populated by people of Lao descent and a part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Sang before its collapse. Although all three are aware of the distant past, their treatment of the Buddhism of the Northeast is entirely within the framework of the modern Thai nation-state. The kind of history found in J.L. Taylor's Forest Monks and the Nation-State, is not part of their analytical model. Yet Taylor's book (albeit unintentionally) provides the missing links between an older Lao religious tradition and the modern synthesis that Keyes, Kirsch, and Tambiah have written about.

Taylor is interested in the forest-monks, the wandering monks of the thudong kammathan tradition, who travel throughout the Khorat Plateau seeking salvation via intuitive understanding and meditation.(39) Many of the wandering monks were Lao, born into farming families in the Northeast.(40) They lived in forests which were often malarial and believed to be the home of dangerous supernatural spirits and ghosts as well as wild animals. Forest monks who could live in such areas unharmed would earn the respect and support of local residents.(41) Forest monks even lived near the capital. A number of monasteries were established outside Bangkok's city walls. Among them was Wat Saket, the early "entrance" to the city. It was located in a heavily forested area where it was also the site of a large crematorium. Many forest monks choose to spend part of their time at Wat Saket.(42)

At the centre of Taylor's book is his discussion of the impact of Mongkut's Buddhist reform movement, the Thammayut, on the forest monks of the Northeast. Mongkut sent Achan Sui to Ubon to establish a Thammayut centre to offer training in formal religious studies and correct Buddhist practices. Later, a second Thammayut centre was set up in Nongbualamphu in Udon province. It was the duty of the Thammayut to teach and promote an orthodox form of Buddhism and to encourage the forest monks of the Northeast to integrate themselves into the national Sangha.(43) This integration and "evolution towards domestication"(44) of forest monks into the national Buddhist order was supported by Thai officials along with local elites, but it was resisted by many villagers.(45)

It appears to me, referring to Taylor as a source, that at least some of the nineteenth-century forest monks in the Northeast could be considered to be located in their religious practices somewhere between the holy men and the more formally educated town-dwelling monks. Taylor writes that Laos was noted for its magical monks with some of the forest specialists in meditation learning "supranormal powers from Lao masters".(46) One of these magical monks was Samretlun, a popular Lao religious leader from Champassak. Some of his pupils became forest monks who later adopted Thammayut practices and sought to persuade local residents to abandon their beliefs in magic and spirits.(47) Many forest monks were reputed to possess "mystical powers" and "supranormal abilities",(48) although they used such skills to promote orthodox Buddhist beliefs.(49) Because this issue is such a sensitive one, Taylor emphasizes the trends toward orthodoxy and national integration advanced by Bangkok from 1851 to the present. Yet it is clear that magical monks did exist in the nineteenth century and that belief in magic was widespread among local peoples in the Khorat Plateau at that time.

Not much is known about the historiography of the Lao. Few volumes of Lao literature have survived the vicissitudes of the Lao past. The chronicle of the That Phanom, the major Buddhist monument in the Khorat Plateau, falls into the category of tamnan history, while the texts of Le Boulanger and Maha Sila Viravong,(50) with their emphasis on both the ruling elite and devotion to Buddhism, suggest that their sources fall somewhere between the tamnan and the phongsawadan.

In his Historie du Laos Francais, Le Boulanger writes that according to the old texts, Muong-Swa, the forerunner of Luang Prabang, was founded by two Buddhist hermits.(51) Like many Western scholars Le Boulanger considers the old texts "fables",(52) and seeks what appears to him to be more realistic historical evidence. Hence, his study contains few references to possible holy men in Lao history. However, as with other specialists who write about Laos, he does note the importance of the hill peoples in Laos and comments on the historical relations between the upland and lowland groups.(53)

The That Phanom Chronicle, especially chapters I-V in the translation by James B. Pruess, is more revealing. The earlier sections, drawn from Lao traditions, describe the tour of the Mekong Region by the Buddha, who miraculously flies through the region meeting nagas (guardians of the earth), deities, and other beings, leaving footprints and relics as reminders of his visit. The Buddha converts the nagas into peaceful beings and brings order to society. The way is open for human settlements to prosper under righteous kings who in turn protect and support Buddhist shrines and monks. The central shrine for the region is the reliquary of That Phanom, built during or before the tenth century A.D.(54) The That Phanom has had a long and uneven history marked by periods of decay, partial collapse, and restoration by holy men and monks. The nagas have continued their role as guardians of the shrine, their influence apparently undiminished over time.

The Lao states were never as elaborate, as powerful, or as centred as the Thai. In the early eighteenth century the Lao state was unable to maintain its unity and split into three, or maybe four, parts (Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Champassak, and, possibly, Xieng Khouang). These principalities led separate lives; there is nothing comparable with the Lanna Thai federation that linked several centres together. During the middle and late eighteenth century the Lao principalities were affected by events originating outside their territories: the Burmese invasions, followed by the Thai conquest with Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Champassak becoming tributary states. In addition Vientiane and Champassak were also expected to contribute labourers for the construction of Bangkok and to pay taxes to the Thai. Resistance to Thai demands culminated in the revolt of Chao Anu in 1826-27. The Thai, retaking the territory, removed the Lao population from Vientiane and the east bank of the Mekong River and resettled them in the Chao Phraya Valley and the Khorat Plateau. This was a very traumatic for the Lao and must have created much stress as the demands for corvee and taxes continued.

In 2444 (1901).... The That Phanom shrine had become a dilapidated ruin.... Since Chao Raja Khru Phon Samek's restoration 209 years previously, warfare had raged in the area causing villages to dissolve and their inhabitants to migrate elsewhere. The leaders, subject to the same dangers, were not inclined to support and keep a sacred Buddhist place such as the That Phanom shrine in a flourishing condition.(55)

There were, therefore, some major differences between the historical experience of the Lao and the Thai. Lao history has been less stable, and the Lao state less developed. The existing Lao principalities have had more in common with Chiang Mai than with either Ayutthaya or Bangkok. The Lao still lived within their muang and continued to express a more localized muang outlook rather than a regional world view. The two Thai invasions, by destroying older muang and creating newer ones, may have had a profound impact on Lao culture.

The new muang in the Khorat Plateau were created by Thai fiat; the move from Laos to the Khorat must have disrupted any hierarchy and inter-muang relationships that had previously existed and made the creation of new Buddhist monasteries more difficult and more discontinuous than in the past. Local residents may have been inclined to give more support to forest monks with their lower demands on local resources then to monks who lived in village monasteries that required continuous support to maintain the buildings and to supply the basic needs of the resident monks. Forest monks lived simply and would move from one place to another to reduce their demands for alms-food from the inhabitants.(56)

One of the few travellers in the region, Aymonier, records both Buddhist and animistic beliefs and practices.(57) Taylor refers to three monastic sects in Ubon in the 1850s representing the Lao, the old tradition of Vientiane, the Central Thai order, and the Mon, the reform order of Mongkut.(58) (Since Taylor is interested in the expansion of the Thammayut, he does not discuss the teachings and practices of the first two groups.) Twentieth-century scholars, for example, Georges Condominas and Charles Archaimbault,(59) see Leo Buddhism and animism as closely intertwined; both refuse to separate these two aspects of the religion into distinct categories. The cult of the phi, local spirits, is more significant in Leo religion than it is in Thai religion and the tradition of the holy man continues for a longer period of time in Lao history.

When we examine the known rebellions that took place in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we find that those occurring in the northern and western areas of the Khorat Plateau had a secular character and were not led by holy men. But those that took place in the southeast, which includes the present territory of southern Leos, were regularly led by self-proclaimed holy men.

In the early 1840s plans for a rebellion were uncovered by officials at Nongkhai. The date of the plot is not clear, but the report of the incident and its resolution was sent to Phraya Phetchabun in 1843. The leaders were Ai Saeng, the son of the Chao Muang of Sangkha, and Ai Sue, the son of the Chao Muang of Phu Khiao. Ai Saeng had attended the ceremony of the royal oath of water at Nakhon Phanom where he had met Chao Phraya Bodindecha, the Minister of the Mahatthal. Ai Saeng was disappointed because Chao Phraya Bodindecha had not given him an appointment as a Chao Muang. Ai Saeng and Ai Sua with their conspirators forged letters giving them the right to collect the money commoners paid to be excused from corvee. Ai Saeng claimed to be the son of Chao Phraya Bodindecha, who, at that point, was in Cambodia. He told local officials in Kaenthao, Dansai and Loei that Chao Phraya Bodindecha was planning to rebel against the king and would lead the army against Bangkok. Ai Saeng had local nai ban (village headmen) and nai amphoe (district heads) take an oath of water similar to the one he had taken in Nakhon Phenom earlier. Even weapons were put into the water as had been done at Nakhon Phanom.

Lower-level officials in Kaenthao, Dansai, and Loei supported Ai Saeng and the conspirators. The Chao Muang of Dansai fled into the forest, while the Chao Muang of Loei fled by boat to Chiang Khan. Elephants, money, weapons and supplies were collected and 500 people were conscripted. But when Ai Saeng and Ai Sua sent letters to other towns in the Northeast, officials at Nongkhai arrested them and their associates and sent them to Bangkok where they were found guilty of plotting rebellion.(60)

During the 1890s the peasants of Ban Sa'at, with the encouragement of three of their local leaders (hence the name of the incident, Sambok), rebelled against the payment of the poll tax - a revised version of the earlier payments made as a substitute for corvee. Ban Sa'at, in effect, declared itself an independent entity, and successfully refused to pay any tax for three years. Finally, a military force arrived and in a brief encounter killed the three local leaders. With their death the revolt collapsed, and Ban Sa'at was again under the authority of the Thai state.(61)

The tensions between the Thai and the Lao were most apparent in the Mekong River Valley where the Lao had been living under Vientiane in the north and Champassak in the south. The south was a persistent trouble spot, in part because of the ethnic complexity of the area. Many of the inhabitants were upland peoples, the largest groups being the Jarai and Rhade.(62) Given the geography of the region, its closeness to the uplands of the Annamite Cordellera, the balance of populations, and the need for forest products for trade, the Lao found it necessary to form an alliance with the upland peoples, an alliance that appears to have been ignored by the Thai overlords. Thus, there were not one but two groups of inhabitants to be upset by the new political arrangements. The upland peoples were to have major roles in many of the activities of holy men either as their main supporters and followers or, later, as holy men themselves.

Our series for the Northeast begins in the distant southeast in 1791. The leader was a phu wiset, Chiang Kaeo, from Sithandone, who gained the support of the Kasseng, Jarai, Rhade, and other groups. When the 81-year-old Governor of Champassak became ill, Chiang Kaeo seized the opportunity, rebelled, and attacked Champassak. The aged Governor fled, leaving Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon, and Yasothon to raise troops to crush the revolt. The two sides met near Phimun, east of Ubon, where the rebels were arrested and killed.(63) The officials in charge of the victorious troops moved in to capture many of the upland peoples for slaves.(64)

In 1817 the upland peoples gave their support to a new phu wiset. Sa was a son of Lao parents, a monk from a village near Saraburi, where many Lao had been resettled by the Thai. He came to Champassak and established himself on Kiatngong Mountain where he constructed a temple complex.(65) There, he spread the word that he was a reincarnation of the culture hero, Thao Cuang.(66) As proof of his supernatural power, Sa used a glass disc to create a flame, boasting that he was able to start a fire that would annihilate everything. The upland peoples flocked to his residence. In early 1820 he led a force of 6,000 down the river to Sithandone, then turned north to Champassak, which was sacked and burnt. Sa then fled to Yapu Mountain in the district of Attopeu. The Governor of Champassak escaped, making his way to Bangkok where he died. After troops from Nakhon Ratchasima and Sithandone failed to capture Sa, the Thai turned to Chao Anu of Vientiane. Chao Anu, being more knowledgeable about the area, was able to solicit information from the local population that enabled him to capture Sa and send him to Bangkok. As a reward Chao Anu wanted his son, Yo, appointed Governor of Champassak.(67) The request was carefully considered in Bangkok because the Thai were fearful of Vietnamese incursions along the Mekong. Krommamun Chetsadabodin (the future Rama III) felt that Yo's appointment would strengthen the Thai in the region.(68) Apparently, Bangkok interpreted the rebellion as a revolt of the minority upland peoples, not of the Lao.(69) After the rebels had been crushed, Bangkok massacred numerous members of the minority tribes.(70)

The appointment of Yo as the Governor of Champassak helped Chao Anu prepare for his own rebellion against the Thai in 1826. In that year, Chao Anu, with the help of Yo, was able to send his troops to Nakhon Ratchasima without being detected by Bangkok. Shocked, the Thai struck fiercely, forcing the Lao troops back toward the Mekong and sacking Vientiane twice. Once their control was restored the Thai moved most of the Lao from the east bank of the Mekong to the west bank, creating new towns for them to live in. From now on, the central authorities kept a close watch for holy men and monks preaching miracles.(71)

The Thai were ever on the alert. In 1860 prompt action stopped the progress of another holy man, Phra Khru Niam. Phra Khru Niam was Lao. His parents were originally from Vientiane, but they had been resettled in Bangkok where he was born. When his parents died, he became a monk, studying at Wat Saket.(72) He later spent several years travelling from monastery to monastery in the Northeast, spending a lenten period in each. After staying in monasteries in Laos, he returned to the Khorat Plateau, then moved to Cambodia, and finally settled near Attopeu. There, he claimed to be a thewada, a benevolent spirit, and a son of Chao Ratchawong of Vientiane.(73) He was able to take advantage of a fierce storm that had killed many people in Attopeu, and his ability to foretell the future brought him many supporters who gave him valuable gifts. Phra Khru Niam, encouraged by his initial success, became very boastful about his supernatural powers, threatening those who refused to follow him with harm. The local people began to turn against him, and they cooperated with local officials in his arrest. Phra Khru Niam was attempting to persuade his supporters to go with him to visit Chao Ratchawong. At the farewell party, he was given too much liquor to drink and was easily captured.(74) If Phra Khru Niam had planned any action against the authorities, it had been successfully terminated.

The largest rebellion of this period was the holy men revolt of the middle Mekong Valley in 1901-1902. The rebellion was led by a holy man, Ong Keo (also known as Bac My) a member of the Alak upland group from the Bolovens Plateau near Saravane. In March 1901 his activities attracted the attention of the French, now in control of the east bank of the Mekong. The rebellion continued to spread up the Mekong in Laos while it also spilled over into Vietnam. Meanwhile, a prophecy, warning of approaching catastrophe and the coming of Thao Thammikarat, a holy man, spread west into the Khorat Plateau. In March 1902, Ong Man, an associate of Ong Keo who claimed to be Thao Thammikarat, appeared on the west bank to recruit peasants for an attack on Khemmarat, which was sacked and burnt. After successfully ambushing the first group of soldiers sent to destroy him, Ong Man decided to prepare for an attack on Ubon. The Thai sent in a larger body of troops, this time killing or capturing most of Ong Man's forces, and bring the unrest in the Khorat to a close. Resistance across the river continued into 1905.(75)

American, French, and Thai scholars have blamed the rebellion on the efforts of both the Thai and the French to bring their respective territories under direct administrative control, in the process, reducing the status and revenues of local officials and imposing a greater tax burden. This interpretation overlooks the larger historical background. There had been a long history of active holy men in the region. Many were Lao who had studied in the Buddhist Sangha, including one who had lived at Wat Saket in Bangkok. What is especially interesting is that the 1901-1902 rebellion originated with a holy man from an upland group, an individual who had not been a student of Buddhism, but who was, nevertheless, able to gain the support of lowland Lao.

Holy men continued to be leaders of rebellions after 1902. Bernard Bourotte refers to numerous outbreaks of unrest in the upland areas of Vietnam adjoining Champassak at the turn of the century.(76) Chatthip has located information about other rebellions in 1924 (Nong Makkaeo), 1936 (Molam Noi Chada), 1941 (Singto), and 1959 (Sila Wongsin).(77) These later twentieth-century revolts show some modifications of nineteenth-century patterns. The earlier holy men rebellions in the region had clustered in the southeastern sector of the Khorat Plateau and Southern Laos. The area covered by the 1901-1902 revolt was very similar to that governed by Champassak before it was conquered by the Thai and its size reduced. The latter rebellions were more widely distributed, occurring in Loei (1924), Mahasarakham (1936), Kalasin (1941), and Ubon (1959). That of Singto in Kalasin most strongly promoted Vientiane as a Lao centre. He died in Vientiane, having earlier persuaded his supporters to follow him there. The leaders of the remaining three twentieth-century rebellions either claimed to be Phra Si Ariya (Sila Wongsin), or preached that Phra Si Ariya (Maitreya Buddha) would appear on earth bring a new order or a new religion with him. None of these rebellions gained widespread support, and those of 1924, 1936, and 1959, quickly ended when police and local officials intervened, and placed the leaders under arrest for later imprisonment or execution.


The intent of this article has been to place holy men in their historical and cultural context and to observe the changes in their position over time. In the early history of both the Thai and the Lao, holy men were legitimate and respected local leaders. They were integrated into muang society and culture where their role was recognized in oral tradition and local literature, particularly the tamnan. However, as more centralized political systems developed, such as those represented by Ayutthaya and Bangkok, holy men began to lose their former legitimacy. The central political structure sought moral support from a more centralized religious structure, the Sangha, which created a climate of religious orthodoxy detrimental to the status of holy men. Contacts with the outside world - China, South and Southwest Asia, and Europe - may also have contributed to a more scientific view of life, reducing involvement with the supernatural. Thus, holy men appear to have lost influence and faded away in Central, Northern, and Southern Thailand. The Lao, isolated, and unable to defend themselves against either the Burmese or the Thai, and, possibly lacking the means to support large monastic communities, looked to holy men for assistance in dealing with their problems.

It appears possible that the millennial elements in the holy men revolts were sustained not only by the millennial aspects of Theravada Buddhism(78) but also by the treatment in local tamnan of past history as a golden age. The very style of the tamnan reinforces millennial concepts. The rulers were noble, wise, strong, and generous. All enemies were defeated. Local guardian spirits, the nagas and others, performed their duties well and without question. Buddhism was strong - and this was the Buddhism of the muang, not a distant centre. Relics were located, often by miraculous means, and chedi and monasteries were built to house them and their attendant monks. Donations, often valuable ones, gold, gems, and other precious goods, were made. The muang prospered, and everyone benefited from the prestige of the muang, its importance and its wealth.

The picture of muang life suggested by the tamnan tradition and what it may represent of older oral traditions is a picture of local autonomy, well-being, and relative equality within a Buddhist setting. Although there was a local ruling class, it was presented as benevolent and responsive to local conditions and local needs. Lanna Thai, in its early history, probably represented an ideal, a confederation of muang, centred on Chiang Mai, while each township retained control over its internal affairs. The Lao principalities, although later divided, also appear to have enjoyed local autonomy accompanied by cultural growth. The advent of Ayutthaya, and then Bangkok, along with a series of Burman invasions, brought the golden age of muang culture and muang history to an end, leaving local villages and their inhabitants with a series of painful adjustments to make and a reduced social status in a much wider and not necessarily comprehensible world.

Is the era of holy men and the appeals to the supernatural or to millennial or messianic concepts over? The Lao population of the Northeast has been successfully integrated into the Thai state. Most residents of the region now identify with Thailand and look to local politicians and non-governmental organizations rather than to holy men to protect their interests in the national Thai political system.(79) The Thai began to criticize the supernatural aspects of Thai Buddhism in the mid-nineteenth century.(80) In competition with Western missionaries, Buddhist scholars and many laypersons rejected supernaturalism in favour of strictly rational interpretations of Buddhism. In the twentieth century, there are new Buddhist leaders who question orthodox Buddhist doctrines and, in many cases, the nature of modern Thai society, but they seek to reform Thai Buddhism without an appeal to the supernatural. Today, Buddhist scholars such as Buddhadasa Bhikku(81) and laypersons such as Sulak Sivaraksa, seek to promote religious reforms that would bring the Sangha and people together in a renewed and revitalized form of Buddhism. New Buddhist movements, like Samnak Santi Asok and Wat Phra Thammakai, draw their support from a recently urbanized Thai social order. The new Buddhist leaders and their activities have created controversy and some have been subject to harassment from the state, but, responding to an urban environment and using the skills of the publicists and the mass media, they have little in common with the holy men of the past.

1 Yoneo Ishii, "A Note on Buddhistic Millenarian Revolts in Northeastern Siam", in Southeast Asia: Nature, Society and Development, ed. Shinichi Ichimura (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, Monographs of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, English Series, No. 9, 1976), pp. 67-75; Charles F. Keyes, "Millennialism, Theravada Buddhism, and Thai Society", Journal of Asian Studies 36,2 (1977): 283-302.

2 Chatthip Nartsupha, "The Ideology of 'Holy Men' Revolts in North East Thailand", in History and Peasant Consciousness in South East Asia, ed. Andrew Turton and Shigeharu Tanabe (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Ethnological Studies, No. 13, 1984), pp. 111-34; John B. Murdoch, "The 1901-1902 'Holy Man's' Rebellion", Journal of the Siam Society 62,1 (1974): 4766; Paitoon Mikusol, "Administrative Reforms and National Integration: The Case of the Northeast", in Regions and National Integration in Thailand 1892-1992, ed. Volker Grabowsky (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995), pp. 145-53; Tej Bunnag, "Khabot Phu Mi Bun Pak Isan R. S. 121 (The 1901-1902 Holy Man's Rebellion in Northeast Thailand)", Sangkhomsat Parithat (Journal of the Social Sciences) 5,1 (1967): 78-86.

3 Shigeharu Tanabe, "Ideological Practice in Peasant Rebellions: Siam at the Turn of the Twentieth Century", in History and Peasant Consciousness in South East Asia, ed. Andrew Turton and Shigeharu Tanabe (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Ethnological Studies, No. 13, 1984), pp. 75-110.

4 Donald K. Swearer, "Myth, Legend and History in the Northern Thai Chronicles", Journal of the Siam Society 62,1 (1974): 67-88.

5 Donald K. Swearer and Sommai Premchit, "The Relation Between the Religious and Political Orders in Northern Thailand (14th-16th Centuries)", in Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos, and Burma, ed. Bardwell L. Smith (Chambersburg, Pa.: ANIMA, 1978), pp. 20-33.

6 Sommai Premchit and Donald K. Swearer, "A Translation of Tamnan Mulasasana Wat Pa Daeng: The Chronicle of the Founding of Buddhism of the Wat Pa Daeng Tradition", Journal of the Siam Society 65,2 (1977): 73-110.

7 Swearer, "Myth, Legend and History", p. 71.

8 Ibid., p. 85.

9 Swearer and Sommai, "Religious and Political Orders in Northern Thailand", p. 21.

10 Sommai and Swearer, Tamnan Mulasasana Wat Pa Daeng, p. 110.

11 Ratanapanna Thera, The Sheaf of Garlands of the Epochs of the Conqueror. A translation of the Jinakalamalipakaranam by N. A. Jayawickrama (London: Pali Text Society, Translation Series, No. 36, 1968), pp. 92-93.

12 Ibid., pp. 96-102, 107-108, 111, 120-22, 133-46.

13 Dhida Saraya, Tamnan & Tamnan History; A Study of Local History (Tamnan lae Tamnan Prawatsat kap Kansuka Prawatsat Thong Thin), ed. Srisakra Vallibhotama, trans. Maneewan Pewnim (Bangkok: Ministry of Education, Office of the National Culture Commission, 1982), pp. 82-83.

14 Ibid., p. 84.

15 Ibid., p. 114.

16 Sukhothai presents special problems in the context of this essay because it did not possess a tamnan tradition. The only primary sources available for the study of Sukhothai are its inscriptions and monuments. The inscriptions are commemorative, they celebrate a ceremony of some kind, the dedication of a monastery, donations to the Buddhist order, the enthronement of a king, or an alliance between local kingdoms. (Piriya Krairiksh, "Towards a Revised History of Sukhothai Art: A Reassessment of the Inscription of King Ram Khamhaeng", in The Ram Khamhaeng Controversy: Collected Papers, ed. James R. Chamberlain [Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1991], p. 62.) Although the inscriptions contain references to spirits, particularly ancestral and guardian spirits, they do not provide any information on the ascetics or holy men who may have been identified with them in Sukhothai culture. The "divine sprite of that mountain", for example, received the offerings of the king, who insists that the "right offerings" must be made. Prasert na Nagara and A. B. Griswold, "The Inscription of King Rama Gamhen of Sukhodaya (1292 A.D.)", p. 276, and "The Pact Between Sukhodaya and Nan", in Epigraphic and Historical Studies (Bangkok: The Historical Society, 1992), pp. 78, 84-85.

The texts of the Sukhothai inscriptions often appear to be a forerunner of the Jinakalamali. There are similar references to guardian spirits (Prasert and Griswold, "King Lodaiya of Sukhodaya and His Contemporaries", Epigraphic and Historical Studies, p. 331, and Idem, "The Epigraphy of Mahadharmaraja I of Sukhodaya [part I]", p. 472) and miraculous relics. (Idem, "The Inscription of Vat Jan Lom [1384 A.D.]", p. 226; "King Lodaiya", pp. 330, 352, 396 and 402; "The Inscription of Wat Pra Yun", pp. 622-23.) The importance of relics in Sukhothai Buddhism is evident (Idem, "Inscription of King Rama Gamhen", p. 257; "King Lodaiya", p. 334; and "Epigraphy of Mahadharmaraja I [Part I]", pp. 437, 449 and 455-56) and, again, appears to be very similar to the early Buddhist history of Lanna Thai. However, references to white-robed ascetics (chiphakhao) are few in number. (Idem, "Inscription 9", p. 588.) Although Prasert na Nagara and A.B. Griswold's description of Sukhothai Buddhism as a blend of "Theravada Buddhism, Saiva Brahminism, and Tai Animism" ("The Pact Between Sukhodaya and Nan", p. 78) is undoubtedly correct, the inscriptions primarily celebrate the activities of devout Buddhists who invite guardian spirits, nagas, devas (Idem, "Epigraphy of Mahadharmaraja I, Part I", pp. 520-21) and others to join in the celebration.

17 Charnvit Kasetsiri, The Rise of Ayudhya: A History of Siam in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, East Asian Historical Monographs, 1976), p. 2.

18 Ibid., p. 5.

19 Ibid., pp. 5-6, 42.

20 Ibid., p. 47. A khahabodi is a head of a household, a setthi is a man of wealth.

21 The Crystal Sands: The Chronicles of Nagara Sri Dharrmaraja, ed. and trans. David K. Wyatt (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, Southeast Asia Program, Data Paper, No. 98, 1975).

22 Ibid., pp. 66-73. A footnote on page 67 calls attention to the antiquity of this story, which recurs in Pali texts throughout the region.

23 Ibid., pp. 88-89.

24 Ibid., pp. 125-28.

25 The Nan Chronicle, ed. and trans. David K. Wyatt (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, Southeast Asia Program, Studies on Southeast Asia No. 16, 1994).

26 Ibid., pp. 40-41.

27 Ibid., p. 51.

28 Ibid., pp. 56-57.

29 Ibid., p. 107.

30 The miracles covered on pages 93-94 and 101-102 deal directly with Buddhism; the strange occurrences on pages 97 and 110-11 are described as such - the appearance of ghosts, the temporary drying up of the water in the Mong River, and the perspiration of images during a violent windstorm.

31 Chamvit Kasetsiri, "Khabot Phrai Samai Ayutthaya kap Naeo Khwamkhit Phumibun, Phra Si An, Phra Malai" (Peasant Revolts during the Ayutthaya Period and the Ideology of Holy Men, Phra Si An, and Phra Malai) in Warasan Thammasat 9,1 (1979): 53-61.

32 Ibid., pp. 65-68. David K. Wyatt, Thailand: A Short History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 117, 125.

33 W.A.R. Wood, A History of Siam (Bangkok: Chalermnit, 1959), p. 220.

34 Wood, A History of Siam, p. 222; Chatthip, "Ideology", pp. 112-13; Charnvit, "Khabot Phrai...", pp. 68-70.

35 Ansil J. Ramsay, "Modernization and Reactionary Rebellions in Northern Siam", Journal of Asian Studies 38,2 (1979): 283-97.

36 An anonymous reader has questioned my description of the Phrae rebellion as "secular", noting the leaders did use holy water. I am not sure how the use of holy water should be interpreted in this context.

The Water of Allegiance was an important part of Thai state ritual. According to H.G. Quaritch Wales, Siamese State Ceremonies (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1931), pp. 193-98, both Buddhist and Brahmanic means were used in the preparation of the water. Buddhist monks chanted and a sacred thread surrounded the containers holding the water. Brahmans dipped royal weapons into the water, and it was a Brahman who read the text of the Oath. The text, in Wales' translation, appeals to both the Buddha and the guardian deities to ensure the kingdom's security and prosperity. However it refers only to the deities for the enforcement of the provisions of the oath. It ends entreating the Buddha to reward the officials, "let us abound with goods, glorious and limitless possessions...."

In some instances, such as those at Phrae and the actions of Ai Saeng and Ai Sua (below), I feel that the ritual was copied for political purposes, not magical ones. It was a way of declaring the political legitimacy of the revolt. In other cases, as in the Chiang Mai case that follows, the water was clearly given magical properties that were expected to protect supporters from physical harm.

For comments on the current controversies over the place of holy water in Buddhism see Grant A. Olson, "Cries over Spilled Holy Water: 'Complex' Responses to a Traditional Thai Religious Practice", in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 22,1 (1991): 75-85.

One of the ideas that I want to convey here is that concepts of the supernatural as well as attitudes towards it change over time. Olson, p. 76, fn. 4, refers to an unpublished paper by Sunait Chutintaranond, "The Political Control of Ayudhya Kings Through Magical Rituals" (International Association of Historians of Asia, 1983) in which Sunait refers to "the terror of magical ritual". Whatever the fear of magic had been during the Ayutthaya period, I doubt that central officials in the late nineteenth century shared that fear. I suspect that by this time they saw the ceremony primarily as an opportunity to see the king and to meet with other officials.

37 Tanabe, "Ideological Practice in Peasant Rebellions", pp. 94-101.

38 Keyes, "Millennialism"; Thomas A. Kirsch, "Complexity in the Thai Religious System: An Interpretation", Journal of Asian Studies 36,2 (1977): 241-66; and S.J. Tambiah, Buddhism and the Spirit Cults of Northeast Thailand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

39 J.L. Taylor, Forest Monks and the Nation-State: An Anthropological and Historical Study in Northeastern Thailand (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1993), pp. 10-13, 95.

40 Kamala Tiyavanich, "The Wandering Forest Monks in Thailand, 1900-1992: Ajan Mun's Lineage" (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1993), p. 53.

41 Taylor, Forest Monks and the Nation-State, p. 18.

42 Ibid., p. 36.

43 Ibid., pp. 45-48.

44 Ibid., p. 13.

45 Ibid., pp. 45-48, 66, 80, 82, 92, 110, 116, 123, 126 and 132-33.

46 Ibid., fn. p. 273.

47 Ibid., pp. 55-56, 111.

48 Ibid., p. 164. The importance of magic in nineteenth-century Lao villages appears to have been even greater than in twentieth-century Thai settlements. By the late twentieth century, magic in most Thai areas had clearly been domesticated as is noted by Terwiel:

The most important activities which are reputed to generate magical power are the uttering of sacred words and meditation. Both monks and laymen can perform these activities. The monk's power is generally considered to be stronger, but he is limited in his application because of his superior ritual position. A monk should not lower himself to supplicate the unseen powers. That is why monks can consecrate a bowl of water at a marriage ceremony, but a lay ritual specialist is needed to present the couple to the ancestors. Lay experts raise their hands when asking a favor from one of the powers around them, but when a monk addresses the power from his exalted position he makes certain not to raise his hands.

B.J. Terwiel, Monks and Magic: An Analysis of Religious Ceremonies in Central Thailand (London: Curzon, Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies Monograph Series, No. 24, 1975), p. 275.

49 Ibid., p. 111. Also see Kamala, "Wandering Forest Monks", pp. 380-85.

50 Paul Le Boulanger, Historie du Laos Francaise: Essai d'une Etude chronologique des principautes Laotiennes (Paris: Librarie Plon, 1934); Maha Sila Viravong, History of Laos (New York: Paragon, 1964).

51 Le Boulanger, Historie du Laos Francaise, pp. 35-36.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid., pp. 13-20, 36-38, 55 and 90.

54 The That Phanom Chronicle: A Shrine History and Its Interpretation, ed. and trans. James B. Proess (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, Southeast Asia Program, Data Paper, No. 104, 1976), p. 2.

55 Ibid., p. 70.

56 Taylor, Forest Monks, p. 80. Kamala, "Wandering Forest Monks", p. 67, notes a preference for remote villages.

57 Etienne Aymonier, Voyage dans Le Leos (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1895, 2 Vols.), vol. 1, pp. 141, 150-51, 173-78.

58 Taylor, Forest Monks, p. 46. Kamala, "Wandering Forest Monks", p. 74, writes that the Thai tradition was based on the custom of Wat Saket in Bangkok.

59 Georges Condominas, "Phiban Cults in Rural Laos", in Change and Persistence in Thai Society, Essays in Honor of Lauriston Sharp, ed. G. William Skinner and A. Thomas Kirsch (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), pp. 252-73; Georges Condominas, "Notes sur le bouddhisme populaire en milieu royal lao", in Aspects du bouddhisme lao, Bulletin des Amis du Royaume Lao 9 (1973): 27-120; Charles Archaimbault, Structures Religieuses Lao (Rites et Mythes) (Vientiane: Editions Vithagna, Collection "Documents pour le Leos", 1973).

60 CMH R. 3 (Chotmaihet Ratchakan, thi Sam Documents of the Third Reign, held by the Thai National Archives), 1206/139.

61 Chatthip Nartsupha and Achan Pranut Sapsam obtained their account of the revolt from a local resident who had heard about it from other people on the area. Chatthip, "Ideology of 'Holy Men' Revolts", pp. 115-16. This report, based on oral history, raises questions about the possibility of other, limited, small-scale rebellions having occurred elsewhere in the Northeast during this period.

62 Bernard Bourotte, History of the Mountain People of Southern Indochina up to 1945 (USAID translation of "Essai d'historie des populations montagnards du Sud Indochinois jusqu'a 1945"), Bulletin de la Societe des etudes indochinoises, n.s., 30 (1955): 1-116, p. 16.

63 Mom 'Amarawong Wichit (M.R.W. Pathorn Khanet) Phongsawadan Huamuang Monthon Isan (The Chronicle of the Townships of Monthon Isan) in Prachum Phongsawadan Chabab Ho Samut Haeng Chat (Collected Chronicles, National Library Edition), pt. 4, v. 2 (Bangkok: Rung Ruang Rat, 1964), pp. 168-69. Toem Wiphakphotchanakit, Prawatsat Isan (History of Isan) (Bangkok: Samakhom Sangkhomsat Haeng Prathet Thai, 1970), vol. 1, pp. 73-74.

64 Chatthip, "Ideology", p. 114.

65 'Amarawong, Isan, pp. 179-80; Toem, Prawatsat Isan, vol. 1, pp. 79-81.

66 Chatthip, "Ideology", p. 114.

67 'Amarawong, Isan, pp. 179-281; Charthip, "Ideology", p. 115; Toem, Prawasat Isan, vol. 1, p. 81.

68 Chao Phraya Thiphakorawong, Phraratchaphongsawadan Krung Rattanakosin Ratchakan thi 1-4 (The Royal Chronicle of the Ratanakosin Era, Reigns 1-4) (Bangkok: Khurusapha, 1961), vol. 2, p. 69.

69 Ibid.

70 Chatthip, "Ideology", p. 115.

71 CMH R. 4. 1227/203, 1228/224.

72 The various references to Wat Saket by Taylor, Kamala, and nineteenth-century documents suggest that it would be worthwhile for someone to undertake a study of this monastery and its role in Thai and Lao religious history.

73 phra Khru Niam's declaration that he was a thewada suggests that he sought unusual, and legitimate, supernatural powers. A thewada is a benign spirit, of higher status than the typical phi. McFarland identifies the thewada with Brahminism, placing them above humans. George Bradley McFarland, M.D. Thai-English Dictionary (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1956), p. 423. A holy man who claims to be a thewada is making a very powerful and unusual statement. Phra Khru Niam's claim to be a son of a former official of Vientiane is also of interest. Chatthip, "Ideology", pp. 111-12, writes that many of the holy men who headed rebellions in the Northeast, particularly those of 1901-1902, 1924, and 1936, sought to reestablish Vientiane as the capital for all of the Lao. The document, CMH R. 4, 1222/238, recording the progress of Phra Khru Niam, is, to my best knowledge, the earliest to reveal the importance of Vientiane to the Lao population in the northeast. This does raise a question of historical consciousness among a peasant population. What was their recollection of their past history? Why was the memory of Vientiane more important than that of Champassak? C. Archaimbault would say that Vientiane was the center; its ruling family was legitimate, while that of Champassak was not ("Religious Structures in Laos", Journal of the Siam Society 52,1 [1964]: 57-74).

However we can note that Vientiane was showing signs of revival by 1845 (CMH R.3, 1209/115). If Vientiane was being resettled during the 1840s, the Lao must have been aware of this. Furthermore, the rulers of Vientiane could have appeared as good monarchs who stood up to the Thai, whereas Champassak - in a peasant's view - was subordinate and unable to protect local peasants from corvee and taxation.

The French developed Vientiane as their administrative center in Laos, in the process restoring some of its earlier prestige. But this raises another question. Why was Vientiane in 1924 and 1946 still perceived as Lao and not as French?

74 CMH R. 4, 1222/238.

75 Tej, "Khabot Phu Mi Bun", Ishii, "Buddhistic Millenarian Revolts", Toem, Prawatsat Isan, pp. 106-107. Murdoch, "The 1901-1902 'Holy Man' Rebellion", pp. 55-60.

76 Bourotte writes that, "The general unrest was effectively prolonged by the spate of messiahs, who included, in this order: In 1880, a French warrant officer who deserted and settled in Kon Hering.

In 1890, Kham and Khun, two Laotians claimed they could fly. Out of admiration for such extraordinary powers, the Moi showered them with gifts of chickens and pigs. When an Annamite challenged Kham to fly onto the verandah of a house on piles, the imposture was unmasked.

In 1901, an Annamite cretin had a temple built in his honor and dedicated to him at Dak Uang. Father Vialleton destroyed his prestige.

In 1908, a tame civet-cat from Robert's post was proclaimed a messiah. That same year, the Bahnar and Jarai paid homage to a self-styled ya who claimed to have instigated the revolt of the shorn hair in the plains of Central Annam." Bourotte, History of the Mountain People, p. 103. He also describes four more incidents.

77 Chatthip, "Ideology", pp. 119-23.

78 Discussed by Charles Keyes in his article, "Millennialism, Theravada Buddhism, and Thai Society".

79 Paitoon, "Administrative Reforms", p. 153; Hans U. Luther, "Regional Identity versus National Integration - Contemporary Patterns of Modernization in Northeastern Thailand", pp. 185, 190, and Charles F. Keyes, "Hegemony and Resistance in Northeastern Thailand", pp. 157-62, 167, in Regions and National Integration in Thailand 1892-1992, ed. Volker Grabowsky (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995).

80 Peter A. Jackson, Buddhadasa: A Buddhist Thinker for the Modern World (Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1988), p. 56.

81 Jackson, Buddhadasa.
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Author:Wilson, Constance M.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Date:Sep 1, 1997
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