Yesterday I visited the Thao Suranari monument. It was not a planned visit. I was visiting a small temple in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) in Isan, when some of the group expressed a desire to visit a monument close by. I had done no research so was totally unprepared and knew nothing of what we were about to see.
It is a relatively small monument for Thailand (when compared to the “Big Buddhas”) but of great significance to the local people. Like all good legends there are some variations and glorification in the story of Thao Suranari. They don’t make saints here so there is no sainthood like there was for Joan of Arc in France, but none the less the King bestowed on her a great honor.
There are some consistent and inconsistent details so I will cover the consistent parts first and then look at the variations.
In the year 1826, Chao Anou, ruler of Vientiane Laos, marched on Bangkok. On the way he overthrew Khorat which was, at the time, the most important city in the North East of Siam (Thailand). He then proceeded to round up the cities inhabitants and by force remove them to a new location, probably Vientiane.
Everyone appears to agree on that basic piece of history.
Now for the various stories about Thao Suranari, most of which are probably embellished to varying degrees.
Firstly some even question the very existence of Lady Mo herself. The name Thao Suranari was bestowed. A little like the saint status of Joan of Arc. I will resist the temptation to say more on that subject except that millions believe in someone or something that others believe does not exist, and that sometimes “enhancing” some basic facts can be of benefit to the ruling class.
A Wikipedia article on Thao Suranari states that she was born in 1771 and died in 1852 and was the wife of the then deputy governor of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). The wiki article then continues with “The generally accepted version is that, when the Lao invaders ordered the women to cook for them, Lady Mo requested knives so that food might be prepared. That night, when the invaders were asleep, she gave the knives to the imprisoned men. They surprised the Lao troops, who fled, and the prisoners escaped.”
Another source states “Mo rallied villagers to fight against Chao Anuwong’s troop. After the victorious battle, King Rama III promoted her to Thao Suranari. So the statue is built to honor her warrior deed.”
EncyclopediaThai states “The Deputy Governor of Nakhon Ratchasima and his brave wife named Mo, persuaded people to get together and fight with the Loas troops. They could kill thousands of Vientiane soldiers and helped Thai troops to drive Loas back to Vientiane.”
EncyclopediaThai then continues with “History of Lady Mo by the Korat Post. The following translated article excerpt appears in the Korat Post webpages in full.In BE 2369, Prince Anuwongse of Vientiene revolted and led an army to seize Nakhonratchasima. At that time, Phrayasuriyadej was away on business to Khukhan, leaving behind only minor officials of the political affairs department. The Vientiene troops easily entered and seized Nakhonratchasima, overrunning the small number of defenders, including Khun Ying Mo, Ms.Boonluar and herding them together to march back to Vientiene.Khun Ying Mo sagaciously instilled morale and heart in the captive people of Nakhonratchasima . She did everything to make the Lao soldiers sympathetic to their Thai captives. She also found ways to delay the journey, such as claiming that captives were sick or that a cart had broken and needed repair. She was also holding secret talks. She asked [her captors] for axes to repair ‘broken’ carts, or to cut brush for firewood, etc., in order that the captives would have these tools when needed. Khun Ying Mo ordered that wood sticks be gathered and sharpened with axes, and that hoes be used as well in place of weapons [when the time arrived]. Upon reaching Thungsamrit, Khun Ying Mo, with a strategy in mind, asked her captors to allow the marchers to rest so that their sore muscles could recover from the long journey, and the Lao commanders allowed this. After setting up camp at Thunsamrit, Phrayahrom, Phrayapalat and Khun Ying Mo commanded that a group of young women lure the Lao soldiers outside the camp. Cooks remained in camp. At this time, male cooks separated into groups with a number of weapons. Junior political affairs department staff took the left and right flanks. Phrayapalat acted as commander of the main force. Khun Ying Mo acted as head of a group of skilled women in a reserve force. After some time passed, all those who had prepared rushed together at the same time, shouting and cheering, chopping at the Lao soldiers and scattering them in confusion. The Lao soldiers had no idea of the impending attack, and fell and died or scattered away.”
However I have been unable to find the referenced article on the Korat Post web site.
ThailandLife gives this version of the account
“Suddenly to his surprise, during his return journey, he was one day attacked by the residents of these two towns whom he was taking as prisoners. Among these prisoners, there were the Deputy Governor (Phraya Palat) and his brave wife named Mo. Mo arranged her women to use their feminine charm in encouraging the Laotian troops to get drunk. They then slipped away to release the male prisoners who subsequently killed almost all of the drunken foes and set free all the prisoners.”
As you can see there are a few variations of what happened. Nonetheless the Thao Suranari monument exists and many people come from far and near to worship and ask for blessings. If the requests are granted, then there is normally a reciprocal gift given which usually has some relationship to the request. For example a lottery win, a new boyfriend, a new job etc.
Unfortunately due to my unexpected visit I was unaware that there was a nearby museum. Apparently my Thai friends were also unaware so the museum pics will be added at a later time but here are some pics of the Thao Suranari monument and surrounding area.