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Mon Language in Thailand : The endangered heritage
Paphatsaun Thianpanya

Assumption Commercial College , Bangkok .

This paper will give the picture of Mon language situation in Thailand both spoken and written language from the earliest time to the present day. The written language will include inscriptions, palm leaf manuscripts, and printed books.

The Inscriptions

The Mon language in Thailand has a very long history. The written Mon language first appeared in Thailand during the Dvâravatî, period. They are two fragments of votive inscriptions found at Wat Phô Rang, Nakhon Pathom, dated around the end of the 6th century. Old Mon language appeared in many inscriptions on stone slaps, found in various parts of Thailand , especially the central plain at Nakhon Pathom, Lopburi, Saraburî, Uthaithânî and Nakhon Sawan. They are dated from the 6th to the 8th century. The other sites are the northeastern plateau at Khonkaen, Mahâ Sârakhâm and Kâlasin,
and also at Nakhon Sî Thammarat on the Malay peninsula . They are dated around the 8th century. The late Old Mon or early Middle Mon language inscriptions, dated in the 13th century, were found only in Lamphûn, North of Thailand. After the Mon kingdom of Haribhûnjaya at Lamphûn was lost to the Thai King Mangray from Chiang Saen, no evidence of Mon language was found in Thailand since then until the middle of the Ayutthayâ period.

Mon people was among the first groups of people in Southeast Asia who develop their own scripts along with the Châm, Khmer, and Pyû. The Mon script adapted from the Pallava script from southeast India in the 5th century. [Guillon 1999: 31 ] The Mon script has been adopted by Northern Thai [Lânnâ] in the 14th century and later by Laospeaking groups in northeastern Thailand . [Bauer 1990: 16] Both of them called their scripts
as 'Tham [Pâli: Dhamma] script' because they were used to record religious writings. The Mon script also influenced the formation of the Thai 'Sukhothai' script along with the Khmer script.

From the inscriptions found showed that Mon people were the first group in the area of the present day Thailand to receive Buddhism and build up civilization of urban life. The introduction of Buddhism had been developed into the whole Buddhist culture of the present day Thai culture. The earliest urban civilization of Dvaravati period had been the foundation for modern day the great city of Bangkok .

There are a few Mon inscriptions in Rattanakosin or Bangkok period. The first one may be the stone inscription before the Uposatha of Wat Paramayyikavâsa, at Koh Kret, Nonthaburî. It is the declaration of renovation of the monastery by King Ram V the Great in honor of the King's Grandmother in 1884 (Úakarâj 1246/2427]. The others are the tombstone of Mahâ Phuan Râmanwong, the first president of the ThaiRaman [Mon]
Association, in Lopburi. The last one may be the one at Wat Nong Dû, Lamphûn, dated B.E. 2519. [Bauer 1982: vii]

The Palmleaf Manuscripts

During the reign of King Naresuan the Great of Ayutthayâ period a lot of Mon people migrated to Thailand . Since then there were endless groups of Mon migrating to Thailand up until now. There was a palm leaf manuscript found at Wat Bân Muang, Amphoe Bân Pông, Râtchaburi, written in the middle of the Ayutthayâ period. It is the palm leaf manuscript of 'Expositions on Pali Culavagga' in Mon language written in Cula Úakarâj [Minor Era] 1091 [B.E. 2272, A.D.1729] by Phra Visarada Mahâ Thera. [Siriphan 2536: 199]

The tradition of recording the Mon language in palm leaf manuscripts begins at least in the middle of Ayutthayâ period. Most of the Mon palm leaf manuscripts founded in central plain of Thailand were written during King Râma II period to King Rama VI. Since the coming of the printing technology during King Râma V the Great, the recording of Mon language in palm leaf manuscript became disappearing.

The Mon people belief that the offering of palm leaf manuscript to the monastery will let them have the merit equals to the offering of a Buddha image. The Buddha image is the symbol of the Buddha. The making of Buddha image is to show reverence to the Lord Buddha and to remind in the future that there was Buddhism in the world. The palm leaf manuscript is the symbol and the medium of Dharma. Thus those who offer palm-leaf manuscripts to the monastery is preserving and making available the precious knowledge for mankind. The best of all offerings is dharmadâna, the giving of dharma.  The Mon people respect the palm leaf manuscript the same as a monk, when the palm tree from which the palm leaves were taken died. The people will say the palm tree goes to nirvâna. They will hold a funeral ceremony to the palm tree and make merits dedicate to it. This tradition was heard from both Mons from Nongdû Larnphûn, and Ye, in Burma .

The last great offering of Mon palm leaf manuscripts was done by King Râma V the Great in honor of the King's Grandmother, as part of the renovation of Wat Paramayyikavâsa, in 1884/2427. The two inscriptions in Thai and Mon, a translation of Thai, before the uposatha give the details that the set comprised of 412 palm-leaf manuscripts; 49 for Vinaya Pitaka, 215 for Sutta Pitaka, 90 for Abhidhamma Pitaka, and 62 for special texts, all contained in 180 boxes.

From the surveys of Mon palm leaf manuscripts done at Wat Muang in Râtchaburi (1,209 titles] [Siriphan 2536], and Wat Khongkharam also in Râtchaburi [510 titles] and Wat Sâlâ Daeng in Pathumthâni [370 titles] [Bussaba and associates 2541], we can see a picture of the Mon literature in Thailand . We may divide Mon literature in Thailand into 5 groups:

Religion, Texts, Society, History, and Folklore and Poetry

First, the Religion group;          

This is the largest group, comprising of the Tipitaka, its related commentaries, sub-commentaries, expositions, special texts both in Pâli and Mon, the Buddha's legendary history, the great Jataka [Vessantara], the ten Jatakas, general Jatakas [many are folklore], famous disciples, monastic ceremonies and traditions, religious teachings, and Pali grammar and dictionary.

Second, the Text group;           

The second largest group includes medical texts, astrology, soothsaying, white magic, house building, calculating auspicious date, text for learning Mon script, mathematics, alchemy, etc.

Third, the Society group;          

This includes rites and rituals, customary laws [Dharmsastra], and ethics.

Forth , the History group;          

The group comprises of chronology of the dynasties [Rajavamsa], history of the stupas [Dhatuvamsa], the history of a particular king and religious history.

Five, the Folklore and Poetry group;    

This group includes the story, novel and poetry both of Mon origin and foreign origin [Thai and Indian].

Many Thai literature appeared in Mon, such as Nok Krajap (translated from a Thai Jataka), Pannasajataka, Phra Kaew Morakot [the Emerald Buddha], Krai Thong, Sang Thong, Khun Phaen Khun Chang, Nang Phikun Thong, Chalawan, and Ratchasi kap Ma Pa [Lion and Wolf). Most of them are adaptations. [Bussaba and associates 2541: 25]

The Mon literatures which have influence to Thai literature are Rajadhiraja and Dhamasastra. The Thai translation version of Rajadhiraja leaded by Chao Phraya Phra Kh1ang [Hon] in 1785/2328 is praised to be well written, and part of the story is the text for Thai secondary students in Thai language subject. The Mon Dharmasastra had been mentioned as the source of Thai law in 'Kotmay Tra Sam Duang' [The Three Seals Code], a code of law compiled in 1804/2347 during the reign of King Rama I the Great.
From India , we found until now two works from Sanskrit. They are the 'Dhammasat' from Manu Dharmasastra and 'Meghasan' from Meghaduta. The Dhammasat had been adapted from Sanskrit first to Pali and then to Mon. The Hindu belief had been changed to Buddhist belief. It also includes custom of the Mon people. [Paphatsaun 2539]

The richness and completeness of the Mon palm leaf manuscripts in Thailand may be supported by the word of a Mon monk from Burma who helped the survey at Wat Khongkharam that if Mons in Burma had this rich and complete collection of Buddhist texts, they will have no need to read Burmese texts at all for the study of Buddhism. This may be because the Mon people who migrated to Thailand were the high ranking people, noble men, and capable monks. Thailand provided them the peaceful and supportive environment to preserve and enrich their culture.

There were a few Mon writers in Thailand . The first one and most important was Mor Khlay, a traditional medicine doctor who lived near Wat Chimphli in Koh Kret, Nonthaburl. During the reign of King Rama V the Great, he composed many titles: [I] Nang Kaen Chan, [2] Luk Pla Salit, [3] Luk Pla Mor, [4] Luk Sao Phaya Nak, [5] Nang Muang Thong, [6] Khun Phaen Raja, [7] Phaya Chang Chatthan, [8] Chalawan, [9] Phrommathat, [10] Megha Luk Kwang, [11] Phaya Nok Krathung, [12] Suwanna Hong, and [13] Sawinchayya. Many of his works were adapted from Thai stories. [Sued 2527: 60]

The second one may be Phra Traisaranadhaja whose many works had been printed by the Mon press at Pak Lat in 1908/2451: Upasakanuvattakatha, Upasakovadakatha, AcinteyyaMakatha,Upasakanusasanakatha, and Mahasatipatthana. We still can not identify exactly which Mon monk who held the title of Phra Traisaranadhaja and was the author of those works. The most possible one may be Phra Maha Yen Buddhavamso who was famous for his great knowledge of Pali and held the title of Phra Traisaranadhaja in 1907 as the abbot of Wat Bovorn Mongkhon. He was born in the Mon community of Ban Laem Khru, Samut Sakhon in 1840/2383 and ordained at Wat Bovornnives Vihara. [Phisan 2540: 9899] He was the one who set up the famous Maha Yin Sect among the Mon and Burmese Buddhists in Burma . The sect may said to be the last reformation of the Mon religious tradition in Burma .

The third one was Phra Ajan Bock [Aca Bock] of Wat Siri Mankala, Tambon Ban Koh, Amphoe Muang, Samut Sakhon Province . He was the author of many religious works, such as Pancakadulla Silakatha, Danakatha, Sattaariyadhana, Appamada, Aggatove, etc. [Theera 2541: 24]

The spreading of the Thai school system into the Mon communities together with the end of the Mon monastic education system during King RamVI, can be considered as the main causes of the end of written Mon language in palm leaf manuscripts and also the Mon literary tradition in Thailand .

The Mon monastic education system in Thailand started from the middle Ayutthaya period until the reign of King Rama VI. Before the modern school system, the Mon boys were brought to the monastery to learn the Mon writing and the way of life of a good Buddhist. If they decided to become a monk after the novice years, they will further their study with the monastic education. There were four stages of Mon monastic education or pariyatti [the study of dharma] called Prayoga 14:

Prayoga 1 Adikanda and Pacittiya of the Pali Mahavibbanga.

Prayoga 2 Pali Mahavagga and Culavagga.

Prayoga 3 Pali Mutthakavinayavinicchaya.

Prayoga 4 Pathamasamantapasadikaatthakathavinaya.

All of them were stressed on the Vinaya Pitaka. This was why the Mon monks were famous for their strict discipline. Those who can pass the examination from Prayoga 2 onwards will be called Parian. The Mon Parian 24 can be compared to Thai Parian 35. The reason for the end of the Mon monastic education was that there were a few Mon monks who can manage the examination for them. From the record found during the reign of King Rama V, there were only 2 Mon Parian 4, 25 Mon Parian 3, and 33 Mon Parian 2.

The Thai Sangha had to manage the examination with Mon monk as assisting translator. Thus at the end of the reign of King Rama VI, the Thai Patriarch ordered the Mon monks to have Thai monastic education.

The Printed Books

The Mon printing history in Thailand started in 1902/2445] at Pak Lat, now is Amphoe Phra Pradaeng, Samut Prakan. Phra Ajan Bunkhan Candakanta [B.E. 24092483] the abbot of Wat Khae" had set up Punnakkhandhagara Press, the first Mon press in Thailand , at his monastery. The press had moved twice first to Wat Mokkha also in Phra Pradaeng and in 1924 [B.E. 2467] to Wat Bhimbhavasa in Chacheongsao Province . He had published 24 titles up to l941/2484], mostly religious books especially the Pali Tipitaka in Mon script. The list of books published by the press below compiled by Prof. Dr. Sued Gajaseni, the present president of Thai Raman Association:

1. Tipitaka (Pali in Mon script) from Tipitaka of the Royal Thai edition, 32 volumes, 11,520 pages, B.E. 244583, 1,000 prints.

2. Dvadasaparitta and Suttaparita from old Mon tradition, 112 pages, B.E. 2447, 2,000 prints.

3. Lakkhanapanna by Phra Gunavamsa (Ju), Wat Paramayyikavasa, 38 pages, B.E 2448, 1,000 prints.

4. Lokasiddhi by Ajan Foh [in B.E. 2283], 28 pages, B.E. 2449, 2,000 prints.  

5. Textbook for Monastery Boy [Lik Plai Bha], unknown author, 35 pages, unknown date, unknown prints.

6. Roganidanakatha [Medicine text], unknown author, 81 pages, unknown date, unknown prints.

7. 28 Buddhas by Yiaplai [in B.E. 2379], 31 pages, B.E. 2451, 4,000 prints.

8. Navagovada and Vinayakatha by Maha Khem Jotipala, 74 pages, B.E. 2451, 1,300 prints.

9. Upasakanuvattakatha by Phra Traisaranadhaja, 61 pages, B.E. 245 1, 1,000 prints.

10. Paramikan by Ajan Foh [in B.E. 2319], 75 pages, 2451, 4,000 prints.

11. 10 Bodhisattvas by Phra Bhiksu Pandita [in B.E. 2371], 75 pages, B.E. 2451, 3,000 prints.

12. Samanapatipatti and Gihipatipatti by Phra Khru Uttamoruvamsadhata, 140 pages, B.E. 2451, 2,000 prints.

13. Upasakovadakatha by Phra Traisaranadhaja, 118 pages, B.E. 2451, 1,700 prints.

14. Acinteyyagunakatha by Phra Traisaranadhaja, 80 pages, B.E. 245 1, 1,000 prints.

15. Upasakanusasana-katha by Phra Traisaranadhaja, 201 pages, B.E. 2451, 1,000 prints.

16. Mahasatipatthana by Phra Traisaranadhaja, 78 pages, B.E. 2451, 1,000 prints.

17. Lekhachandadanasilakatha by Phra Nyanaramsi, 33 pages, B.E. 2452, 1,000 prints.

18. Chronicles of Sudhammavati [Thaton] and Hamsavati [Pegu] from old Mon tradition, 444 pages, B.E. 2453, 1,000 prints.

19. Nidanadhannacetiya (The Story of King Dharmacetiya] from old Mon tradition, 264 pages, B.E. 2455, 1,000 prints.

20. Dvadasaparitta [First Edition] from old Mon tradition, 116 pages, B.E. 2455, 1,000 pages.

21. Bhikkhupatimokkha from old Mon tradition, 91 pages, B.E. 2456, 1,000 prints.

22. Ariyasaccadivinicchayakatha by the abbot of Wat Khlong Sip Jet [Tambon Donchimpli, Amphoe Bang Nam Priao, Chachoengsao Province], 12 pages, B.E.2466, 2,000 prints.

23. Dvadasaparitta [Second Edition] from old Mon tradition, 252 pages, B.E.2467, 1,000 prints.

24. Dvadasaparitta [Third Edition] fro m old Mon tradition, 118 pages, B.E. 2480, 1,000 prints. [Bussaba 2532: 8991] [Sujaritlak and others 2538: 103107]

The Mon printing press at Pak Lat was a very special phenomenon because it was run by a monk. Mon was the only minority in Thailand to have its own press. This may be because in Thailand Mon people were considered to be citizen the same as Thai people. A lot of Mons were high ranking officers and they had related to the Royal family by marriage. Mon people also had a very long literary tradition.

The second known Mon press may be the Vindasara Press at Bang Kradi, Khwaeng Samae Dam, Khet Bang Khun Thian, Bangkok . Bang Kradi is known to be the biggest Mon community in Bangkok suburb. The details of this press are still unknown. Some of the books seen were printed during 1980's.

The present Mon press in Bangkok is the Tech Promotion and Advertising Co., Ltd., by Mr. Jamnian Sridaoduean. The modern Mon press uses Mon fonts and sets by computer. Mon fonts are designed by Annop [a Norwegian] and Okpung, a Mon student in Sangkhlaburi, Kanjanaburi. The press sets its main mission as the first one, to print the Tipitaka but now in Mon language.

The pre press activities are prepared in Sangkhlaburi and in Bangkok , mostly by Mon students from Burma . The palm leaf manuscript is typed in Mon fonts in computer. Now the Vinaya Pitaka is ready to print, waiting for only the sponsors. The compilation and edition of the Mon Tipitaka is done by a Mon scholar. The work if printed will be the first printed Mon language Tipitaka, in the world. The other Mon books published are religious books for distributed freely in funerals and health and education promotions for refugees by international organizations.

The compilation and edition of the Mon Tipitaka is done by Ven.Vedhanyana, a Mon scholar from Burma now a visiting abbot in Australia . His materials for Mon Tipitaka are found in Thailand among the Mon monasteries in central plain notably in Pathumthani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, and Samut Sakhon.

His recent important compilation an edition are Puranadhammakatha and Mon Poetry (Kaphya Alanka Man Gamluin) which include Meghasan, Lik Maghadevan, and Guin Dacit [9 Garna]. Both works, appeared in 1997, try to illustrate and explain Mon poetry, the topic that no one knows much about its details now. Another compilation from other editor, also appeared in 1997, is the Rajavamsakatha, an anthology of Mon chronicles and histories. The three books published in 1997 were under the sponsorship of Ven.Uttama, the famous senior Mon monk, the abbot of Wat Wangvivekaram, Sangkhlaburi, Kanjanaburi. Another significant book by Mon in Thailand , Phra Adhikara Bunnak Padumo, is The Mon 12 Parittas with its Atthakatha and Exposition Slapat Paruit Man Cah Ba Khan], appeared in 1998. There are two dictionaries appeared recently, the EnglishMon Dictionary in 1997 and MonEnglish Dictionary in 2001, both by Nai Tun Way . These are the six Mon books published recently in Bangkok , Thailand .

In present situation the written Mon language faces many orthographic problems which needed to be modernized. Since the end of the Hamsavati kingdom more than 200 years ago, the development of Mon orthography had been stopped. The written Mon language and the modern spoken Mon language now vary form each other enormously. The written language preserved a lot of initial clusters where as the spoken language has shortened them down or change to "h". The traditional abbreviations in writing many words set out 

problems in reading, one has to be acquainted with them to know exactly what they stand for. Another problem of the modern Mon language is the difference between the Mon language of the peoples from Burma and Thailand . Both Mon people in Burma and Thailand absorbed the Burmese and Thai words into their Mon languages. The Mons in Thailand also familiar with the old usage recorded in the palm leaf manuscripts. The Mons from Burma need to learn the high literary language used in the literature but there are very few materials for them to study, where as they are abundant in Thailand , but no one to study them.

The Spoken Mon Language

The spoken Mon language situation in Thailand may said to be in the last stage of extinction. There were only a few Mon communities that the children still speak Mon in their daily life as in Sangkhlaburi of Kanjanaburi and the Bang Kradi community at the suburb of Bangkok .

The Wangka village, Amphoe Sangkhlaburi, now is the biggest Mon community in Thailand with around 6,000 Mon speaking population. Most of them are refugees from 50 years ago and their descendants, with Mon students joined them in the past decade. They try to preserve the way of life of Mon people as in Burma . The advancing of tourism to the village and the coming of the Thai citizenship for them, many villagers are felt insecure that they can stand the influx of both Thai and foreign cultural influences. The present situation still in their favor because of lacking the citizenship they can not go outside Sangkhlaburi. Once they are Thais by law, the villagers will disperse, the young for education, the grownup for work. Many Mon villages in Thailand faced the broken village situation that destroyed their culture, no one to be trained to play the traditional games in the Songkran festival because they are working in the town, no one to study Mon script because it can not use in the work.

Bang Kradi is the most fortunate community that they still be, able to hold the villagers together even though the factories and urban area are advancing towards them. This is because their community is on the sea shore, and situated at the end of the road from the main road on the bank of a river. They had sold out their land between the main road and their village for the industrialists to build factories and then work there. So they have no need to go out far from their village like other communities.  Many villagers I met there rarely go out of the village. A young man whom I assisted to set up a folk museum there told me that he never go out of the village until he was twenty. Thus once you step into the village ground you will hear every one from young to old speaks Mon as you are in Monland, in Bangkok .

In most Mon communities the old age people of 60 and over, can speak Mon fluently and a few of them can read and write. The middle age people of 40 to 60, half of them can speak Mon fluently and another half fairly. The grownup age people of 20 to 40, half of them can speak Mon fairly and another half can understand. The young age people of under 20, half of them can understand fairly and another half cannot understand Mon at all. The above description is the situation of Pathumthani, Nonthaburi, Ratchaburi, Samut Prakan, Lopburi, and Lamphun. In Samut Sakhon the situation is quite close to Bang Kradi. Other village communities the situation will be better than the urban communities.

The worst situation is the literacy. There are a few Mon speakers in Thailand who can read and write Mon script. In the above mentioned survey of Mon palm leaf manuscript in Ratchburi and Pathumthani we had depended on Mons from Burma . The hope to revive Mon language among Mon people in Thailand is very dim. There are a few places which teach Mon literacy. Most of the Mon people can not see the usefulness of the knowledge of Mon literacy because they can not use it to support their living like Thai or English. On the other hand, the non Mon people are interested in Mon language to find out the rich cultural and religious heritage of Mon civilization in Thailand .

There are a lot of works to be done to save the Mon most precious heritage, the palm leaf manuscripts. The survey work done in Ratchaburi and Pathumthani is only the first step to study them systematically. We still need a lot of help both financial and academic. The study of Mon literature in palm leaf manuscripts will be the key to understand the Thai and Burmese culture in particular, and the cultural heritage of Southeast Asia in general.

References In Thai

Bussaba Trakulsujjawatr 2532 'Laksana Warmakam Mon : Korani Sueksa Wannakam Phra Ajan Afoh.' [Characteristics of, Mon Literature: A Case Study of Literary Works of the Monk Acwo'] M.A. [Thai Epigraphy] thesis, Silpakorn University , Bangkok .

Bussaba Prapasapong and associates.2541 'Kan Samruat Wannakam Mon nai Phak Klang khong Pratett Thai. ' [A Survey of Mon Literature in Central Thailand .] An unpublished research report under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Education, Bangkok .

Paphatsaun Thianpanya. 2539 'Kan Sueksa Priapthiap Khamphi Phra Manu Thammasat Chabap Phasa Sansakrit lae Chabap Phasa Mon.'[The Comparative Study of Mon and Sanskrit Versions of Manu Dharmasastra.] M.A. [Sanskrit] thesis, Silpakorn University , Bangkok .

Phisan Bunphuk.2540 'Phra Song Raman nai Phra RatchaAnajak Thai [Mon Monks in the Kingdom of Thailand .] In Traisaranadhaja Anusorn, a memorial book in the funeral of Phra Traisaranadhaja [Malay Pupphadamo] at Wat Paramayyikavasa, Nonthaburi 84102.

Siriphan Thirasichot.2536 'Wat Muang: Khlang Witthaya samrap Chaowat lae Chaoban.' [Wat Muang: the source of knowledge for people in the Wat and the village] in Pranee
Wongthes, Ed., The Mae Klong Basin: Sociocultural Development. Bangkok : Silapakorn University : 192200.

Sued Gajaseni.2527 'Watthanatham, Prapheni Mon.'[Mon Culture and Tradition] Muang Boran,10.3: 5063. Sujaritlak Deepadung and others.

2537 Mon Botbat Dan Sangkhom Watthanatham Kham Penma lae Khwam Plianplaeng nai Rop 200 Pi khong Krung Rattanakosin. [Mon: The SocioCultural Roles, Origin and Change in the 200 years of Ratanakosin period.] Nakhon Pathom: Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University .

Theera Songlak.2541 "Khamphi Bailan Pancakadullabha.' [The Palmleaf Manuscript of Pancakadullabha.] In the Memorial book in the occasion of the funeral of LieutenantGeneral Momchao Chidchanok Kridakorn at Wat Debsirindravasa, Bangkok :


In English

Bauer, Christian. 1982 'Morphology and Syntax of Spoken Mon.' Ph.D., thesis, University of London .

1990 Language and Ethnicity: The Mon in Burma and Thailand .' In Gehan Wijeyewardene, ed., Ethnic Groups across National Boundaries in Mainland Southeast Asia . Singapore : Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: 1447.

Guillon, Emmanuel,1999 The Mons , A Civilization of Southeast Asia . Translated and edited by James V. Di Crocco. Bangkok : The Siam Society.


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