The original story of the Thai boxer was found in the ancient annals of Burma. It only says that a Thai captive from the fall of Ayudya fought before the Burmese King of Ava, at the pagoda crowning celebration, and won royal accolade for defeating nine or ten opponents It was nearly a century later that the same story surfaced in a handwritten transcript of the Royal Chronicles of Siam ( Phra Racha Pongsawadan ). The Thai version was in the form of a nine-line synopsis. Nai Khanomtom was named in the brief text. In fact, for a long time folklore and exalted chants in tribute to Nai Khanomtom and his faithful spouse, Chor Makham, had been circulated in the old areas around Bang Ban, Bang-Pahan and Pa Mok districts, near Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. The legend of Ayutthaya had already been born.
The Greatest Fighter
The most accurate account, insofar as one can make it, reads as follows :
In 1774 ( B.E. 2317 ), Burmese King Hsinbyushin ( 1763 - 1776 ) ( a.k.a. Mangra ) of the Konbaung dynasty had just completed renovation work on the golden Shwedagon Pagoda of Yagon, for the grand monument's top had been ruined by the 1768 earthquake. The project, which had taken six years to complete, actually included raising the stupa to its current height - 100 meters.
To celebrate this act of fulfillment, the king ordered a seven-day fair be staged, with all the customary entertainment. Among the attractions were religious rituals, acrobatics, dancing, classical drama, musical performances, and boxing. As a prime show, Thai boxers held captive in Burma were matched against the best of the nation, in freestyle contests.
Nai Khanomtom, a boxer of repute who had been taken prisoner during the fall of Ayudhya, was brought to fight at the fair. The dark - skinned, muscular Thai looked resilient, his mussy hair tied in a classic knot. No one knew anything about his origin, family links or martial background. But once the match began, the Thai fighter, displaying amazing ability, crushed his Burmese opponent before the first round ended. He was then matched again, but he defeated, one after another, the Mon - Burmese foes until no one else dared challenge him. In all, nine Burmese boxers - the best in the land - fell before the incredible warrior.
The monarch was so impressed with his performance as to say in praise : "The Thai is blessed with venom on his whole body, even bare - handed with no weapon, he can singularly outfight nine or ten men. As his lord master was bad, so the country was lost to the enemy. If his lord were any good, there is no way the City of Ayudhya would fall."In the end, the Burmese king granted the Thai captive his freedom to go home, along with a purse for the journey, plus the trophy of two lovely native maidens as consort.
In the 1953 through the initiative of the late General Pichai Kullavanijaya, the date of Nai Khanomtom's brilliant victory, determined to be March 17, was pronounced Boxer's Day by the Boxing Commissioner of Thailand.
The crucial date was determined on the basis that Burmese records indicated King Mangra left Ava in mid-December, and did not arrive in Yangon pagoda for the fair until three months later. That means the date of the event must be sometime in mid-March. On the ancient calendar in use at the time, it is deduced that date should fall wihtin the 4th lunar month in the Year of the Horse.
After thoroughly comparing the probable days and identifying the most auspicious ones for festive events, the date March 17 was singled out for recognition. Since then, the date March 17, 1774 has been officially cited on many occasions as the day of glory for the national fighting art of Thailand, and Nai Khanomtom is revered as the holy spirit of Muay Thai. His shrine or image is often found in the boxing arenas in Thailand, and boxers and camps honour him as their guardian angel.
Nai Khamontom was born in 1750, in Ban Kum, Khwaeng Khunsena ( now Amphoe Bang Ban ), in Ayutthaya province. His name Khanomtom - meaning rice cake - was given to him by the holy monk at Wat Bikka temple ( lastly Wat Racha Makhoe ) on the bank of Chao Phraya River, based on an auspicious dream by his mother, Nang Ea, in which she saw two rice cakes in a consecration platter, and picked one up to eat.
At eight years of age, he began schooling at the temple, and showed an aptitude for fighting arts - boxing and sword fighting. When the Burmese invasion occurred in 1767, Pa Mok district was attacked. Nai Khanomtom and his spouse, Chor Makham, organised the villagers to form an armed resistance. Consequently, the boxer was captured while on his way to alert Ayudhya of the Burmese incursion, and his loyal mate perished during the bitter conflict. The rest was as in Burmese history. Nai Khanomtom returned to Siam in 1776, and nothing more has been heard ever again about the man.
Today, the great fighter's lone statue stands peacefully inside the Nakhon Sri Ayudhya Sports Stadium in the provincial city, his face a stern mask of impassivity, and eyes transfixed at a bleak outlook. But, with one clenched fist, he betrays the bitter humiliation and fierce agony trapped deep in his heart, reminding us of his humble origins Standing in an atmosphere in stark contrast with the extremely hostile, virtually life and death situation of the dramatic challenge that had led to his meteoric rise to eternal fame.
Another memorial, a seven-meter high sculpture, heavy-metal style, of the boxer in air - borne combat posture against foe, guards one of the main passage ways inside the Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre, at Amphoe Bang Sai, Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. The impressive art piece was inaugurated on Aug 12, 1992.
Holy Goddness of Pa Mok
At Amphoe Pa Mok in neighbouring Angthong province, the Wat Pa Mok Woraviharn, a temple of over 250 years old, where standing proudly in a side pavilion is the sacred image of Chao Mae ( Goddess ) Chor Makham, the venerable, brave-hearted beauty of Pa Mok district, and mate of Nai Khanomtom.
The story that goes with the image is that on June 18, 1998, the holy abbot of the temple, Phra Pamok Khamunee(Viwattana Thidhapemoh), had an encounter with the spirit of the legendary woman, bidding him to re-create her image, so as to help the villagers. Awakening from the dream, the Reverend promptly obliged, and the noble task was soon realized through donations totalling 42,000 baht. Ever since the saintly image has been taking prayers and thanksgiving from worshippers daily. The shiny gold leaves offered by villagers masking the deity's face stands out as cogent evidence of their profound faith and trust in her.
Warrior Blood and Spiritual Houses : In 2003, as part of an all-out programme to thoroughly document historical sites and monuments relating to muaythai and its obscure past, the author visited Ayutthaya and its neighboring areas four times, and made a number of significant discoveries. On Aug 22, through interviews I established that the police at Amphoe Sena had no knowledge at allof neither Nai Khanomtom nor Wat Bikka, but it was said that Bang Ban might be pertinent to our project. Roadside enquiry took me to Wat Chulamanee, one of the 69 temples in the district. While the initiative seemed to be getting nowhere ( with the abbot being absent ), we took a break beside a main road junction close to a police station. Suddenly, the entire picture changed.
The original story of the Thai boxer was found in the ancient annals of Burma. It only says that a Thai captive from the fall of Ayudhya fought before the Burmese King of Ava, at the pagoda crowning celebration, and won royal accolade for defeating nine or ten opponents. Two villagers, upon being informed of our purpose, led us to a location in Ban Kum village, near Chao Phraya river. Together we identified the spot, once a pier now defunct, where natives used to board boats to travel up - river to Wat Bikka ( Wat Racha Makhoe ). The temple has long been demolished and any relics left behind are completely covered by dense overgrowth on the entire riverside. Not contented with this finding, an ad-hoc boat trip was quickly arranged, and a guided survey of the terrain on the banks eventually put the team right on the waterfront where Wat Bikka once was.
The temple was completely gone, and all that had existed is now mostly buried in the river. Nevertheless, the expedition managed to recover three stones from the concealed debris, and made a photo record of the discovery. A visit was made to the location in Ban Kum, - around Soi 1 and 2 - where Nai Khenomtom used to live. The area was approximately twelve kilometers from Ayutthaya City District. Just before the party, left, we learnt from local villagers, that the muaythai legend was in fact survived by a great grandson, Anag Ekasorn ( 31 ), who is a policeman. This was absolute miracle! He was the obvious priority for my next trip to Thailand. There he was, in the heart of Ayutthaya, looking rather impressive in physical attributes, was humble and polite. Perhaps due to his known noble blood, or it was the effect of the mystifying aura of Ayutthaya, seeing the man fully attired as the fighter of old, it did give one a subtle, if not too powerful, feeling of an encounter with a legend reincarnate. Anag has never fought muaythai, he said, but only six times in boxing. A special ceremonial ritual - brief yet solemn - actually preceded the photographic session.
By further exploiting the opportunity, two more temples within Bang Ban district were identified as having featured in the life of Nai Khanomtom. Ancient Wat Tah Heuy, and Wat Mai ( 350 years old ), both sitting on the border area of Ayutthaya and Angthong provinces, opposite the modern Wat Thanom temple at Amphoe Pa Mok across the Chao Phraya, are now in complete destitute. The great boxe r used to visit the old temples in his youth.
Old Date on New Calendar
One problem concerning that date, however, has emerged. Historically, 1774 was the year in which Burma's golden pagooda was completely renovated. There is no dispute here. Thai historians, such as Lt. General Ruamsak Chaikomint ( History of War / Art & Culture Extra ?1998? ) , have put forward a case that the event actually occurred near the end of B.E. 2317, based on a time-link with the nineth campaign of Burmese General Thugyi against northern Thailand. The campaign - confirmed dating B.E. 2318 - was preceded by the royal boxing match at the Yangon fair, so the evidence indicates. The ambiguity lies in that the Thai Buddhist calendar, which was in use since ancient times, sets the new year on April 1. The last quarter of B.E. 2317 should therefore fall outside 1774 on the western calendar. All seems to indicate that 1775 was the correct year.
A current debate within Thailand's boxing community is that Nai Khanomtom might not be the supreme fighter he was widely believed to be, since Phaya Pichai Dab Hak ( Lord of the Broken Sword ), the known champion in the last days of Ayudhya, had never tasted defeat. By that fact, Nai Khanomtom could not have been the best, so it was argued.
A proper analysis of the facts attached to this theory should convey a contrary conclusion. Phaya Pichai ( 1741 - 1782 ) was at his peak as a boxer in 1762. That achievement provided the platform enabling him to aspire to senior military ranks. By 1767, when Ayudhya fell, he was a knight with the title Luang Pichai Asa, before being promoted later to royal bodyguard and military commander, Phya Siharaj Dejo. His days as a boxer were realistically over by then.
Nai Khanomtom was only aged 17 at that time, seven years from the epic battle in Yagon before the Burmese King. He was at a mature 24-25 into the fight. The Thai way of things in those days would suggest that Nai Khanomtom was already a famous boxer in Ayudhya between 1767 and 1774, a pre - condition for him to qualify for the challenge in Burma