Scene4 Magazine-inSight

March 2011

Scene4 Magazine: The Arts of Thailand - "Somdej Ya" | Janine Yasovant March 2011

by Janine Yasovant       คลิกเพื่ออ่านบทความนี้ เป็นภาษาไทย

It was not easy for a common Thai woman to marry a Thai prince who studied medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. When she was young, her name was Sangwan Chukramol. She was a student who received a scholarship to study nursing in Boston. The man who fell in love with her was a first year student at Harvard medical school. That man was the son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Later, Thai people regarded him as the father of Thai medicine. During his studies, he once wrote a letter to tell his friend "Ms. Sangwan is so beautiful." His name was also given to a university in the South of Thailand where I received my bachelor's degree, now officially called the Prince of Songkla University.


For many years, I followed news and activities of the princess mother, known as Somdej Prasrinakarintra Bromratchachonnanee (Sangwan Chukramol) and the royal family. Thai people called her "Somdej Ya". She was a remarkable woman who always worked hard for her country and she was a role model for her children. Her eldest daughter was Princess Galyani Vadhana, her second son was King Anantha Mahidol (Rama VIII) and her youngest son is the current King Bhumibhol Adulyadej (Rama IX) .


I had an opportuny to attend French classes at the Alliance Francais Chiang Mai branch where princess Galyani Vadhana was an honorary president. She usually went with her mother to visit Thai villagers in remote areas in every part of Thailand. People always asked Somdej Ya why she always worked so hard although she was very old. On many occasions, she also visited hill tribe people and encouraged them to stop growing opium and marijuana and persuaded them to grow flowers, vegetables and fruits instead. Doi Kham, one of the royal projects, buys those agricultural products from the villagers and hill tribe people. To change the way of life of villagers at that time was not easy. Eventually, this project was well received and the standard of living of people there was changed for the better.

When I attended Prince of Songkla University, the princess Galyani Vadhana was teaching French in the faculty of Humanity and I was a student in her class. The students asked her continuously about Somdej Ya. She always smiled and told us about some important activities that she and her mother did as well as the hardship in working and travelling to the countryside with groups of doctors, nurses, dentists, ophthalmologists and surgeons to help people there. She also noted that Somdej Ya was a very strong and healthy little woman.

I had read "Busy Fingers" (Time is a very precious thing) which was written by Princess Galyani Vadhana. This book told us about Somdej Ya, who was 84 years old in 1984, and her hobbies. The photobook has lovely pictures of the handicraft collections that were made by Somdej Ya to sell at charitable events. Some of them were dried flowers, earthenware, and embroidery. It shows that the princess' mother loved to do artistic works when she had free time, and she revealed that she had no formal training, but she did them simply out of love.

She usually went to Lausanne, Switzerland to rest for brief periods of time. Later, the Thai Army and other organizations constructed the Doi Tung palace in Chiang Rai province. With this news, Thai people were delighted when she came back to rest in Thailand and resided at Doi Tung palace.

In October 1992, the parade of Tung moved to Mae Faluang. Thai people in Chiang Rai and neighboring provinces arranged a Tung procession to welcome Somdej Ya and to celebrate her birthday. At that time she was 95 years old. The parade of Tung walked up to Prathat Doi Tung temple. Generally, this ceremony was very important to Chiang Rai people and it was held every year, but that year was most special for them because Somdej Ya was widely loved by her people.



'Tung' is a handmade traditional flag used in ceremonial events related to Buddhism and official Lanna celebrations. Tung has been integrated with the lifestyle Northern Thai people for some time. The details and kinds of Tung as well as the usage are quite different. Each one has various patterns and colors. Moreover, many people especially women put on traditional Thai-Lanna and hill tribe costumes. Tung is created because of the faith and love for the princess mother. Mae Faluang literally means "the heavenly royal mother". In the evening, there were also some ceremonies and outdoor stage performances. That year was the greatest ceremony they had ever arranged.

Recently at Mahachularatwittayalai College, I saw the latest work of Kriengkrai Muangmool, an art instructor at the Lanna Institue of Technology and an award-winning artist in many top competitions. He was painting the picture of the Tung procession with a portrait of Somdej Ya. One of the three pictures will be sent to Doi Tung palace. The pictures tell us about the Tung procession for Mae Faluang in the year 1992. Lastly, I would like to show you that painting because it is very beautiful and detailed.

You can see the complex and exquisite detail in the video below.

Photos of Tung procession in Chiang Rai
from Kinnaree Magazine, October 1992


Images of the paintings by Kriengkrai Muangmool.


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Click Here for this article in Thai 
คลิกเพื่ออ่านบทความนี้ เป็นภาษาไทย

©2011 Janine Yasovant
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine: Janine Yasovant
Janine Yasovant is a writer in Chiang Mai, Thailand
and a writer for Scene4.

For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

March 2011

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