A post on this blog deals with the better known Victory Monument in Bangkok and now we shall explore the site of the first Victory Monument in Wat Chakrawat, Chinatown. The temple was built between 1827 and 1829, precisely the time when the strained relations between the Siam of Rama III and the tributary state of Vientiane under it’s Prince, Anuvong, came to a head. Wat Chakrawat became the focus of the final stages of this rivalry – which is still very much alive today.
More than the guide books give
Guide books refer to points of interest in the temple – the captive crocodiles , the tale of the fat monk who gorged himself to avoid the desires of the ladies, the Buddha’s shadow, the Buddha’s footprint.
A temple dedicate to the defeat of the Lao people
However these are very much of secondary importance with regards to the history of the wat. Although founded in the Ayutthaya period, it was rebuilt under Chaophraya Bodindecha and became associated with one thing – victory over the Lao and especially the last prince of Vientiane – Chao Anuvong.
The Thai histories describe Chao Anuvong as a vicious rebel against the pious and stern King Rama III, whereas Lao and Vietnamese histories describe the mounting humiliation brought on him, his family and people by the Siamese by whom they were perceived as second class – not merely subjects of a tributary state – but slaves.
The tragedy of the brothers
From the early 16th century the conflicting Burmese and Siamese had demanded corvée labour, tribute and assistance in war from the Laos states. After the fall of Ayutthaya King Thaksin of Siam ordered the sacking of Vientiane, whose ruler Siribounyasan had been regarded as sympathetic to Burma. The ruler fled, leaving his sons, Nanthasèn, Inthavong and Anouvong to be captured and imprisoned. In 1782 King Rama I ordered Nanthasèn to become the new ruler, and he rebelled against unjust treatment of the Lao people, but he was captured and died in prison. Inthavong became the new prince and on his death Anuvong ruled Vientiane.
Anuvong – rebel or victim?
Prince Anouvong recognized the suzerainty of the Siamese, assisted the Thai armies in their campaigns against the Burmese and in 1819 he suppressed a revolt in Champassak. The future King Rama III asked his father Rama II to appoint Anuvong’s son Prince Ratxabout as ruler of Champassak. This was the highlight of the Thai-Laos relations – during the reign of Rama III the demands on the Laos people to assist in war, provide labour and suffer insults proved too much and Anuvong who rebelled in 1826, but after an initially successful campaign he was defeated and captured in 1828.
Capture and humiliated
Anuvong and most of his family were transported by land and eventually river to Bangkok, the convoy stopping at every large habitation on the banks so the captives could be abused.
A British missionary resident in Bangkok describes their fate: “The king of Viengchan and his family, when taken prisoners, were brought here in chains and exposed (naked) to public view for a fortnight in a great large iron cage. The news of their arrival caused great joy; the Phrah Klang and other high personages were long busied in devising the best mode of torturing and putting them to death. Close by are the various instruments of torture in terrific array. A large iron boiler for heating oil, to be poured on the body of the king after being cut and mangled with knives! On the right of the cage a large gallows is erected, having a chain suspended from the top beam, with a large hook at the end of it. The king, after being tortured, will be hung upon this hook. In the front there is a long row of triangular gibbets, formed by three poles joined at the top, and extended at the bottom
The Prince dies
Shortly afterwards, the old Lao king expired, and thus escaped the hands of his tormentors. He is said to have gradually pined away, and died broken-hearted. His corpse was removed to the place of execution, decapitated, and hung on a gibbet by the river side, a little below the city (Bangkok), exposed to the gaze of everyone passing by, but left a prey to the birds. His son afterwards escaped, but on being pursued, put an end to his existence. On the fate of the others we have not heard.”.
During his torture, Chao Anuvong and his family were brought to the charnel ground of the temple during the evenings of the their exposure at the Sanam Luang. This ground (now a car park and monks quarters) was established during the first of many cholera outbreaks in 1820. Chaophraya Bodindecha died in another cholera outbreak in 1849.
Chao Anuvong was not accorded a graceful death, nor in the location where royal executions usually took place. In this post we shall explore where this occurred, at the other side of China Town.
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