Nai Khanom D'tom

  Historical Background
April 8, 1767 - Siam's old capital Ayudhya (former spelling), the glorious metropolis reputed to be unconquerable, finally fell to the Burmese invading army after a bloody seige of 14 months. The city was burnt down to the ground. In the awesome drama of destruction and annihilation, people were killed indiscriminately, soldiers, monks, women and all. Then followed a 15 - day long plunder, during which all the treasure and valuables were looted. When the dust settled, and over 200,000 lives were lost and 30,000 prisoners had been taken away - members of the royal household, officials, brahmins, craftsmen, entertainers, musicians and dancers included. The once enviable kingdom that had represented a united Thai people for 417 years came to a tragic end.
The Burmese message was unmistakable. The destruction was so thorough as to leave nothing standing, so that the Thais would never rise up again.

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.

Boxer's Day
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.

Burmese Source
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

The Tao Sisters (Tao Thep Satri & Tao Sri Sunthorn)

    Battling with swords the sisters Tao Thep Satri and Tao Sri Sunthorn (Chan and Mook) helped to save the Island of Phuket when it too was captured by the Burmese. The sisters organized a very effective defense against the Burmese troops fighting for more than a month using the system Krabi-Krabong eventually forcing the Burmese from the Island. 

 These two great heroines are immortalized in a monument which shows the two brave sister wielding their Song Maa Daab (double swords). In 1785 when they persuaded the islands women to dress up as men fooling the invading Burmese army into thinking that the Island was too well defended. In fact, the islands governor had just died and the Thai's were leaderless. The monument to their bravery and ingenuity stands on a roundabout just outside of Thalang, They are revered by all Thai's on Phuket as well as being accepted as National Heroines.



Queen Suriyotai

Queen Suriyotai, wife to King Mahachakrapat accompanied her husband and their daughter dressed in full warrior's garb and seated on armoured war elephants, when the king made a sortie against the Burmese holding the three Pagodas Pass. During single combat with the Prince of Prome King Mahachakrapat was left dangerously exposed to the enemy. Queen Suriyotai rode her elephant between the King and the Burmese and bravely saved her husband but was cut down by the Burmese soldiers. She is remembered as a great heroine in Thailand.


King Narai

   King Narai dethroned his villainous uncle, to free Siam from his evil rule. The new King Narai was aged twenty five at the time. He had not been on the throne long when his two younger brothers plotted against him. Narai had them both executed. he could not trust anybody, so employed Japanese Samurai as body-guards and one thousand Portuguese soldiers.

   With the Japanese, Portuguese and Siamese soldiers he massed a considerable army. Siam under King Narai was too strong and powerful for any country to attack. The King had new forts constructed at Bangkok and moved his residence to Lopburi, thinking that Ayutthaya was too easily accessible from the sea.

   He signed treaties with the Dutch, French, British and Portuguese. He cultivated friendships with Alexander VII, Louis XIV of France, Charles II of England and the Pope of Rome. Siam was now at peace. The King promoted foreign trade. He appointed Greek-born Phaulkon (Falcon) as superintendent of foreign trade. By his sagacity, wisdom and diligence in management, Phaulkon soon rose to the highest post of honor in the state, being made Premier of Siam.

   King Narai, with consummate acumen, more European than Asiatic in his ideas was careful to keep his people employed and applied himself with vigor to improving the agriculture of his country. He promoted security and happiness in the Kingdom of Siam. The laws he framed were so sound and stable and at the same time so wisely conformable to both King and his subjects alike that to this day they constitute the fundamental law of the land.

   At the age of fifty-two King Narai fell seriously ill at the palace in Lopburi. He was betrayed by his own son and two princes of the Macassar, they forced their way into the palace to slay the king but the brave old and very sick man divined their purpose at a glance. he leapt out from his bed and seizing his sword (daab), threw himself upon it, dying as the assassins entered. Shortly after Phaulkon, the king’s closest ally, was arrested and charged with treason by jealous noblemen and later executed.

   He died bravely saying " I die for the glory of god, the service of the King and the interests of the state". So died a great man and warrior, servant to king Narai. In this picturesque drama of Siamese history, no figure appears so truly noble and brilliant as this King.

Prince Naresuan (The Black Prince)

   Prince Naresuan was bold, dynamic, and brilliant as a boy. Burmese King Bayinnaung  was so impressed by his exceptional qualities that he treated the Thai Prince as his own son and summoned the best martial artists to teach the boy various combative arts from Burmese boxing, archery and sword - stick fighting to elephant and horsemanship. The boy matured to become one of the greatest military generals in the annals of Burmese history.

   King Bayinnaung trusted his armies, under the leadership of the Thai Prince, and made him a General to subdue the attacks of the Cambodians and the rebellious Shans, Mons and others. The victorious expeditions against the hostile forces indicated the military genius of young General Naresuan. After the death of King Bayinnaung, Naresuan organized an army and renounced Siam's independence from Burma.

   The Crown Prince of Burma Phra Maha Uparaja, and Prince Naresuan, who had known each other and trained together since boyhood in Ghaza Ko Kyaung, finally engaged in combat astride the backs of armoured war elephants to determine the independence of Siam. The Burmese won the initial skirmishes and pressed hard on Naresuan's main force. Rather than reinforce his vanguard Naresuan stood his ground while the Burmese rushed forward, breaking ranks in pursuit of the crumbling vanguard. Naresuan and his brother, Ekathotsarot, then plunged into the fray mounted atop war elephants and on seeing the elephant of  Prince Maha Uparaja, advanced toward it.

To his step brother, Prince Maha Uparaja, Naresuan shouted out " Come forth and let us fight an elephant duel for the honor of our kingdoms." After a ferocious clash of  sword and scythe  between the two-stepbrothers, Prince Naresuan cut the Prince Maha Uparaja in half from shoulder to the waist. The Burmese army fell into disarray and retreated toward Kanchanaburi. The Ayutthayian army followed, inflicting heavy casualties upon them, giving independence to Siam. For the next generation, the Burmese Kings would be on the defensive against Ayutthaya, the table of war thus turning for the first time in thirty years. Later, Naresuan became king of Siam and honored the bravery of his Burmese step-brother Prince Maha Uparaja, by erecting a shrine at the battle site.

   King Naresuan came to be known as the "Black Prince" by the Burmese. He made boxing a part of military training as a supplement to the sword, spear and spike used in close combat fighting. In 1587 King Naresuan who during a siege climbed down a Burmese stockade with his word in his mouth. Halfway down on the Burmese side of the barrier, he was stabbed and fell to the ground. The Burmese tried their best to capture Naresuan but he drove them back using his sword to cut his way out of the stockade. King Naresuan later died of his wounds.  

Ya MO 

 (Ya Mo or Grandmother)

 Yo Mo's husband  was govenor of Khon Kaen, capital of Khon Kaen Province, 449km (281mi) from Bangkok. While he and his army were off fighting  against the Burmese an army from Lao came in and took over Khon Kaen , Grandmother Ya Mo, with the help of all the  women, told the Laotian commander that they were now their masters and that the people (who consisted mainly of old men, women, and young children, and single women were now their servants and slaves.)  They took care of the Laotian troops, bringing them food and drink, and taking care of all their needs. When they soldiers slept  or relaxed, Grandmother Mo brought the people together where they  raised up, fought  and killed  all  Laotian troops, thus retaking the area.

There is a statue in Khon Kaen  of Grandmother Mo, where She is regarded as a symbol of courage to the Northern Thais. 


Copyright 1998 USMTA Inc. All rights reserved. Revised: April 13, 2005.