WITH one shot, King Naresuan kills the Burmese General Surakamm leading the attack across the Sittaung River.
The Burmese army, shocked by the death of its commander, fled, ending the day with a big victory for the Siamese forces.
The day symbolizes the break-away from the Pegu-based Burmese occupiers. That was how history records this change in the balance of power in Southeast Asia 400 years ago.
There are more battles to come. The saga would end with a grand duel on elephants. But we’ll save this part for the end of this story.
So who says history is boring? Not at Phitsanulok’s Naresuan the Great Museum where you can see replicas of the 2.25-meter musket Naresuan fired. It is now part of royal regalia.
Along with other items such as his sword, spears and other weapons used in combat, we see at the museum how soldiers of old dress for war.
A series of six films about King Naresuan (1555-1605), the latest released last year, tells of how he rallied his troops and ousted Pegu (Bago) overlords.
The film also shows how it began, with Naresuan and his brother taken prisoner as boys to live in Pegu under the watchful eyes of King Bayinnaung.
The film portrays Bayinnaung as a good ruler who saw from the start that Naresuan would emerge a formidable figure. The Burmese king is today still regarded as one of three top monarchs who ruled Burma.
To be sure, the films have revived much interest about Naresuan whose full exploits are seldom delved into at schools.
Until the film, it was thought that he fired the fatal shot from an elephant. It is now concluded by the film he fired the heavy mounted gun on the ground.
Now, with the museum, a treasure trove of knowledge about Siam-Hongsawaddy (Hanthawaddy in Burmese) rivalry can be better understood.
With this news understanding, comes respect for all sides of the conflict and why wars of aggression always bring much tragedy.
The museum is located by the Nan River opposite the main town. It is next to the King Naresuan Shrine. Both are in the compound of Phittayakom School.
The Shrine was built in 1961 at the site of the Chan Palace – where Naresuan was born and raised. The Shrine represents utmost respect to the king who liberated the kingdom.
Within the Shrine is a seated image of Naresuan pouring water from a golden urn symbolizing the declaration of Ayutthaya’s independence.
To reach the site from the city, pass through Naresuan Bridge and turn right at the foot of the bridge, walk another 200 meters before turning left on the road that runs by the river for 700 meters.
Phitsanulok is about a four-hour drive by car from Bangkok and less than an hour’s flight from Don Muang domestic airport.
Naresuan’s expulsion of the Burmese revived the Ayutthaya Kingdom, extending it for another 150 years before its second fall and sacking, forcing the Kingdom to be rebuilt in Thon Buri and then Bangkok.
To know more, visit the museum to review the many exploits of one of the most colorful royals of Thailand. Naresuan is the most famous son of Phitsanulok, which forms a key part of Ayutthaya,
Here, we are treated to this action-packed past, filled with enough heroes to match “Lord of the Rings”. In fact, no Asean country has as much gut-wrenching chapters.
It should be with great anticipation that we rummage through the halls of the newly constructed museum for some pieces of the puzzle as to Thai-Burma’s past.
This great adventure also included other lands such as Laos and Cambodia, then powerful players on their own.
King Naresuan has great significance today. January 25th is the memorial day of the warrior king. It is thought that the elephant duel, where he defeated the Burmese crown prince, took place on that day in 1592.
It also memorializes Royal Thai Army Day. People gather at the many shrines and statues to honor King Naresuan on this auspicious day. Every army base has at least one shrine.
And finally, the climactic fight between King Naresuan and Burmese Crown Prince Minchit Sra. Both were armed with a curved blade pike used in elephant duels.
The King and the Crown Prince started the battle cautiously, testing each other’s strength. Minchit Sra’s better-trained elephant gave him an advantage and at one point, he came very close to killing Naresuan. His blade narrowly missed the King’s neck and cut the side of his face.
Naresuan waiting for the right time. The Crown Prince became impatient and lost his guard.
At that moment, Naresuan slashed Minchit Sra to death on the back of his elephant.
As had been agreed between the armies, the Burmese forces surrendered.
The Burmese invasion ended with Minchit Sra’s death: devastated at the loss of his son and heir, and convinced it was a bad omen, Nanda Baying ordered the withdrawal of all forces from Siam.
Naresuan died in 1605. His brother and co-ruler Ekathotsarot succeeded him as King Sanpet III. Sanpet’s reign was short but relatively peaceful. He devoted most of his time and efforts to home affairs and maintaining the large kingdom Naresuan had built.
Top: An illustration of an elephant duel, one which ended with Siamese victory at the end of the struggle to be free of Burma.
First inset: A statue of King Naresuan at the Phitsanulok museum. The figureine is one of the most beautifully sculptures that I have seen.
Second inset: Actor Wanchana Sawatdee (as King Naresuan) fires a single shot across the Sittaung River killing the Burmese general and scuttling his forces.
Below: King Naresuan Shrine is a popular site where local visitors pay homage to a king who freed the kingdom from Hongsawaddy (Hanthawaddy in Burmese).
Report and photos by Cimi Suchontan