My father was named Sri Indraditya, my mother was named Nang Suang, and my elder brother was named Ban Muang. There were five of us born from the same womb: three boys and two girls. My eldest brother died when he was still a child.
When I was nineteen years old, Khun Sam Chon, the ruler of Mae Sot, came to raid Tak. My father went to fight Khun Sam Chon on the left; Khun Sam Chon drove forward on the right. Khun Sam Chon charged in; my father’s men fled in confusion. I did not flee. I mounted my elephant, split through the soldiers1Some people consider “bek-phon,” which means “open a way through the soldiers,” to be the elephant’s name rather than a description of the king’s action. and pushed ahead in front of my father. I fought an elephant duel with Khun Sam Chon. I fought Khun Sam Chon’s elephant, Mas Muang by name, and beat him. Khun Sam Chon fled. Then my father named me Phra Ramkhamhaeng2Khamhaeng means “bold” and Ram is used in honor of the Hindu god Rama, an avatar of Vishnu and the hero of the Ramayana legend. because I fought Khun Sam Chon’s elephant.
In my father’s lifetime I served my father and mother. When I caught any game or fish I brought them to my father. When I picked any sour or sweet fruits that were delicious and good to eat I brought them to my father. When I went hunting elephants and caught some, either by lasso or by driving them into a corral, I brought them to my father. When I raided a town or village and captured elephants, men and women of rank,3The phrasing leaves it indeterminable whether these “men and women” were servants/slaves or people of high rank. The latter is more likely. silver, or gold, I turned them over to my father. When my father died, my elder brother was still alive and I served him steadfastly as I had served my father. When my elder brother died, I got the whole kingdom for myself.
In the time of King Ramkhamhaeng this land of Sukhothai is thriving. There are fish in the water and rice in the fields. The lord of the realm does not levy tolls on his subjects for traveling the roads. They are free to lead their cattle or ride their horses to engage in trade. Whoever wants to trade in elephants, does so; whoever wants to trade in horses, does so; whoever wants to trade in silver or gold, does so. When any commoner or man of rank dies, his estate – his elephants, wives, children, granaries, rice, servants, and groves of areca palm and betel vine4Chewing betel involves nuts from the areca palm tree wrapped in betel vine leaves, two unrelated plants. But, since they are eaten together they are often grown together. – is left in its entirety to his son. When commoners or men of rank differ and disagree, the King examines the case to get at the truth and then settles it justly for them. He does not connive with thieves or favor concealers of stolen goods. When he sees someone’s belongings, he does not covet them; when he sees someone’s wealth, he does not get angry. If anyone riding an elephant comes to him to put his own country under his protection, he helps him, treats him generously, and takes care of him. If someone comes to him with no elephants, no horses, no men or women,5Same as note 3. The phrasing leaves it indeterminable whether these “men and women” were servants/slaves or people of high rank. The latter is more likely. no silver or gold, he gives him some, and helps him until he can establish a state of his own. When he captures enemy warriors or their chiefs, he does not kill them or beat them.
There is a bell hanging at the palace gate. If any commoner in the land has a disagreement and wants to make his case known to his ruler and lord, it is easy; he goes and strikes the bell that the King has hung there. King Ramkhamhaeng, the ruler of the kingdom, hears the bell; he calls the man in and questions him, examines the case, and decides it justly for him. So the people of this land of Sukhothai praise him. They plant groves of areca palm and betel vine, coconut,6This is usually translated as “coconut groves and jackfruit groves,” but it seems likely that หมากลาง is another kind of coconut, not a jackfruit. The same goes for the other coconut groves in the inscription. mango, and tamarind in abundance all over this land. Anyone who plants them gets them for himself and keeps them. Inside this city there is a marvelous pond,7It’s unknown if this should be singular or plural. There are several large ponds within Sukhothai’s fortifications at present, but it’s not known when they were dug. the water of which is as clear and good to drink as the water of the Mekong River in the dry season. The triple rampart surrounding this city of Sukhothai measures about seven kilometers.
The people of this city of Sukhothai like to observe the precepts and bestow alms. King Ramkhamhaeng, the ruler of this city of Sukhothai, as well as the princes and princesses, the young men and women of rank,8Same as note 3. The phrasing leaves it indeterminable whether these “men and women” were servants/slaves or people of high rank; although here the context here strongly indicates they are of high rank. and all the nobles without exception, both male and female, all have faith in the religion of the Buddha, and all observe the precepts during the rainy season. At the close of the rainy season they celebrate the Kathin9Kathin is an important annual ceremony where people donate new robes to Buddhist monks. ceremonies, which last a month, with heaps of cowries,10Shells used as currency. areca nuts, and flowers, and with cushions and pillows. The gifts they present to the monks as accessories to the Kathin amount to two million cowries each year. Everyone goes to Wat Saphan Hin11This temple is to the west of the city and was the principal temple of the forest monks (aranyawasi) who focused on meditation more than scripture. This included the patriarch, Mahathera Sangharaja, discussed elsewhere. The name used in the inscription is Aranyik, which just means forest and there were many small forest temples here at that time. A ruined temple near Wat Saphan Hin is presently named Wat Aranyik in reference to these forest monks, though it is not the temple referenced in the inscription. over there for the Kathin ceremonies. When they are ready to return to the city they walk together, forming a line all the way from Wat Saphan Hin to the parade-ground. They repeatedly pay homage together, accompanied by musical instruments and singing. Whoever wants to make merry, does so; whoever wants to laugh, does so, whoever wants to sing does so. This city of Sukhothai has four very big gates, and the people always crowd together to come in and watch the lighting of candles and setting off of fireworks; the city is so noisy it feels like it might burst.
Inside this city of Sukhothai,12This may be intended to describe only Wat Mahathat, the city’s main temple, rather than the city in general. there are wihans, there are golden statues of the Buddha; there are statues nine meters in height, there are big statues of the Buddha and medium-sized ones, there are big wihans and medium-sized ones; there are new monks; monks who have been so for five years, monks who have been so for ten years, and monks who are masters.
West of this city of Sukhothai is Wat Saphan Hin, where King Ramkhamhaeng bestows alms to Mahathera Sangharaja, the sage monk who has studied the Tripitaka from beginning to end, who is wiser than any other monk in the kingdom, and who has come here from Nakhon Si Thammarat. Inside Wat Saphan Hin there is a large rectangular wihan, tall and exceedingly beautiful, and the nine-meter tall Phra Attharos standing Buddha statue.
East of this city of Sukhothai there are wihans and senior monks, there is a large lake, there are groves of areca palm and betel vine, mango, and tamarind; upland and lowland farms; homesteads; and large and small villages. They are as beautiful to look at as if they were made for that purpose.
North of this city of Sukhothai there is a market,13The name indicates that it was a covered market rather than a typical open-air one. Old tiles have been found near the north gate that appears to confirm this. there is the Phra Achana Buddha,14Presumed to be the now famous 15-meter tall Buddha inside the mondop at Wat Si Chum. there are prasats,15The “prasats” are the Khmer-era prang incorporated into the large Wat Phra Phai Luang temple. coconut groves, upland and lowland farms, homesteads, and large and small villages.
South of this city of Sukhothai there are monks’ quarters, wihans, and resident monks; there is a dam;16This was probably in the location of the present-day Saritphong Dam, which is much more west of the city than south. there are groves of coconut, mango, and tamarind; there are mountain streams; and there is Phra Khaphung Mountain. The divine spirit of this mountain is more powerful than any other spirit in the kingdom. Whatever lord may rule this kingdom of Sukhothai, if he makes obeisance to him properly, with the right offerings, this kingdom will endure and thrive. But if obeisance is not made properly, or the offerings are not right, the spirit of the mountain will no longer protect it and the kingdom will be lost.
In 1292 CE, a year of the dragon, King Ramkhamhaeng, lord of this kingdom of Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai, who had planted these sugar palm trees fourteen years before, commanded his craftsmen to carve a slab of stone and place it in their midst. On the day of the new moon, the eighth day of the waxing moon, the day of the full moon, and the eighth day of the waning moon, a monk goes up and sits on the stone slab to preach the dharma to the throng of lay people who observe the precepts. When it is not a day for preaching the dharma, King Ramkhamhaeng, lord of the kingdom of Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai, goes up, sits on the stone slab and lets the officials, lords, and princes discuss affairs of state with him. On the day of the new moon and the day of the full moon, when the white elephant named Rujakri has been decked out with a howdah, tasseled head cloth, and gold on both tusks, King Ramkhamhaeng mounts him, rides away to Wat Saphan Hin to pay homage to the sage monk Mahathera Sangharaja17The text is vague, so the king could be paying homage to the temple’s Phra Attharos standing Buddha statue rather than the monk. and then returns.
There is an inscription in the city of Chaliang, erected beside Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat; there is an inscription in the cave called Phra Ram’s Cave, which is located on the bank of the River Samphai; and there is an inscription in the Ratanatan Cave. In this sugar palm grove there are two pavilions, one named Pavilion of the Golden Image, one named Pavilion of the Buddha Image. This slab of stone is named Manangsilabat. It is installed here so everyone can see it.
All the Ma, Gao, Lao, and Tai people18The Ma are unknown, but may come from the Phrae area. The Gao are from the Upper Nan Valley. The Lao refer to the Lao of Luang Prabang and elsewhere in what was is now the upper half of Laos (and probably also including parts of Isan) while the Tai are other ethnicities living in this same region. of the distant lands, and the Tai who live along the Nam Ou and the Mekong rivers, come to pay homage to King Sri Indraditya’s son King Ramkhamhaeng, who is lord of the kingdom of Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai.
In 1285 CE, a year of the cock,19The inscription says “a year of the boar”, but this is a mistake. he caused the holy relics20The relics were probably buried at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat in the Chaliang section of Si Satchanalai. to be dug up so that everyone could see them. They were worshipped for a month and six days, then they were buried in the middle of Si Satchanalai and a stupa21This is probably the elephant-ringed stupa at Wat Chang Lom in the center of Si Satchanalai. was built on top of them, which was finished in six years. A wall of rock enclosing the stupa was built and finished in three years.
Formerly these Thai letters did not exist. In 1283 CE, a year of the goat, King Ramkhamhaeng set his mind and his heart on devising these Thai letters. So these Thai letters exist because that lord devised them.
King Ramkhamhaeng is sovereign over all the Thai. He is the teacher who teaches all the Thai to understand merit and dharma rightly. Among men who live in the lands of the Thai, no one can equal him in knowledge and wisdom, in bravery and courage, or in strength and energy. He was able to subdue a throng of enemies who possessed broad kingdoms and many elephants. The places22Several of the nearly two dozen places listed in the inscription either no longer exist or their present-day names are unknown. Only places known with some certainty are included here. whose submission23Submission to King Ramkhamhaeng sometimes came from defeat in battle, but was probably often voluntary. he received on the east include Phitsanulok, the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane, which is the farthest place. On the south they include Nakhon Sawan, Phraek Sriracha, Suphanburi, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and the seacoast, which is the farthest place. On the west they include Mae Sot, Mottama (Burma), Bago (Burma), the seas being their limit. On the north they include Phrae, Nan, and, beyond the banks of the Mekong, Luang Prabang, which is the farthest place. All the people who live in these lands have been reared by him in accordance with the dharma, every one of them.
You can read more about the Ramkhamhaeng Inscription here.
Thanks for this great translation!