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Cover story: 10 Jan 07 / Vol. 23 No.19
  By Rachawadi

Every modern country has her national anthem. The United Kingdom was the first country to get one by adopting God Save the King/Queen as early as 1745. But the United States did not have hers until 1931, when The Star-Spangled Banner officially became her national anthem, more than a century and a half after her independence.

Thailand is different from the other countries in this respect, in that while every country has one national anthem, Thailand has two, one for the nation and the other, named Sansoen Phra Barami in Thai, for the King. Both are of equal importance and sacredness. Here is a story about their origins:

Thailand got her first national hymn early in the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910), the father of modernization of this country. Three years after his enthronement, he made his first tour overseas. When he arrived at Singapore, he was greeted with a guard of honour with a military band playing God Save the Queen. Then he proceeded to Batavia, as Jakarta was then known. The Dutch authorities there had earlier asked the Siamese government for a copy of the Siamese national anthem but got a Thai song entitled In Praise of His Majesty used during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1824). And the tune turned out to be unimpressive.

In the early morning normally at 8.00 a.m.,
students line up to pay respect to the
national flag and to sing the national
anthem before starting their classes.

After returning home, King Chulalongkorn commissioned the bandmaster of the Royal Guards, Mr. Hevutzen, a Portugese, to compose a Western-style majestic song similar to God Save the Queen to be played at the arrival of the King at a ceremony and at his departure from the place. The result was the present version of Sansoen Phra Barami. Later, Mr. Jacob Feit, an American musician of German origin, who came to Thailand as a tourist and then settled down in Bangkok, re-arranged the song into a four-part chorus. But it is seldom heard today.

King Rama V

The lyrics of the song were first written by Prince Naris, the King's half brother and a well-known scholar, and were slightly changed by King Rama VI (1910-1925) before the song was officially adopted as the National Anthem in 1913.

King Rama VI

Then a bloodless revolution broke out in June 1932 which changed the political system of Siam from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. Among the things that the revolutionary party, which comprised returned students from European countries, demanded was a new national anthem. A tune composed earlier by Prince Paribatra (or Boriphat) of Nagara Svarga (Nakhon Sawan) called Maha Chai or the Song of the Great Triumph was adopted with words written by Chao Phraya Thammasak, the first speaker of the new National Assembly.

But a few days later, the revolution leaders found it unsatisfactory and ordered Phra Chenduriyang, the son of the above-mentioned Mr.Feit and a Thai mother, to compose a Western-style march to be used as a national anthem. Phra Chenduriyang at first did not want to do this because he was loyal to the king, having drunk the water of allegiance when he was made a Phra* by the king. Moreover, he was then serving as an official in the Fine Arts Department. However, he was forced** to accept the work and was given a one-week deadline to complete it.
For the first three days he could think of nothing and became sleepless. Fortunately, on the fourth morning when he was on a tramcar on his way to his office, he suddenly found inspiration in Brahms' Symphony No.1 and his musical idea flew out like a spring. He could not wait to write it down. After getting off the tram at Sanam Luang, he rushed to his office. In about a quarter of an hour he finished the melody and immediately took it to the army officer in charge at the Propaganda Department (later Public Relations Department). And the new Siamese National Anthem was born. The words were written by Khun*Wichit Matra.

Ratchadamnoen Road-Sanam
Luang Ground in 1917; Tram in Siam

The new song was widely sung and played throughout the country but was not officially adopted until 1934 when a committee voted to accept Phra Chenduriyang-Khun Wichit Matra's version as the National Anthem after a slight change of the words. The former anthem, Sansoen Phra Barami became the Royal Anthem, which was sung or played exclusively to greet the King, to bid him farewell or to pay homage to him. In
other words, it is used when the King arrives for and departs from an official function and also at the beginning and/or the end of a sport or entertainment event where a large group of people are present.

The "Sansoen Phra Barami" is sung or
played to greet Their Majesties the
King and Queen, to bid them
farewell or to pay homage to them.

Then in 1939, the government decided to change the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, and it was found necessary to change the words of the anthem to conform to the new name of the nation. A public contest was held and the version submitted by Colonel Luang Saranuprabhandh in the name of the Royal Thai Army was chosen as the winner. On 10 December 1939, the original tune and the new lyrics were officially adopted as the National Anthem of the Kingdom of Thailand and have been in use up to the present.

*Phra and khun: non-hereditary titles conferred by the king on government officials, ranking third and fourth, respectively among five such titles. The system was abolished after the 1932 Revolution.
** According to Witsanu Sapsuwan, a pupil of Phra Chenduriyang, the musician was actually threatened at gunpoint by a military officer.

Last year there was a call to change both the tune and words of the anthem. The proponents had even got new versions ready for adoption. But the proposal met with strong opposition from many sections of the public and had to be abandoned.

The tune and words (in English) of both anthems are given below. The English translations are from Thailand in the 90s published by the Office of the Prime Minister in 1995.

Sansoen Phra Barami (Royal Anthem)

click to enlarge

We, Your Majesty's loyal subjects,
Pay homage with deep heartfelt veneration,
To the supreme Protector of the Realm,
The mightiest of monarchs complete with   transcendent virtues,
Under whose benevolent rule, we Your   subjects,
Receive protection and happiness,
Prosperity and peace;
And we wish that whatsoever Your Majesty
  may desire,
The same may be fulfilled.

National Anthem

click to enlarge

Thailand is the unity of Thai blood and body.
The whole country belongs to the Thai   people, maintaining thus far for the Thai.
All Thais intend to unite together.
Thais love peace, but do not fear to fight.
They will never let anyone threaten their   independence.
They will sacrifice every drop of their blood to contribute to the nation, will serve their
country with pride and prestige-full of
victory. Chai Yo (Cheers).

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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