How to be a Thai Gentleman

Sunthorn Phu was born in 1786. He is largely regarded as Thailand’s greatest poet. Every Thai student knows his stories and poems very well. I will talk for sure about him in more detail later. In the meantime, I want to show you this poem called “Sawasdi Raksa”. It is a poem written in a kind of verse of eight syllables to a line with a rhyming pattern.

Sawasdi Raksa is meant as an instruction for two royal princes. In the introduction, Sunthorn Phu says “In observing them, one will meet enduring luck, long life, numerous descendants, increased happiness and might. Do not forget to uphold your welfare in accordance with the teachings of the ancients.” He later goes on to say, that the theme of this poem comes from an old book with high-sounding words which are difficult to understand. Although much of this is not so relevant today, the older generation still believe in its value.

“Early in the morning, after getting out of bed, you must refrain from anger and touchiness. Turning your face towards the East and South, you must pronounce three times an incantation according to the Buddhist formula over the water for washing your face. After washing your face with the water, the first word or sentence to be uttered ought to be nice and good. It will increase and enhance your noble dignity. For splendour which upholds a man’s chacrateristic properties resides in your face in the morning. During the day, the splendour resides in your body. You must take a bath and sprinkle your body with scented water. By observing this, you will be healthy and happy. During the evening, the splendour resides at both feet. You must wash your feet. No woman’s foot is allowed to be placed over yours.

“When eating food, if you are facing East you will have power and long life. If facing South, you will be beloved by everyone. If facing West you will be happy and healthy, your sufferings, if any, will be decreased, you will have honour and dignity. If facing North, you will meet with ill-luck; your life span will be shortened year by year.

“While sitting, you must not look downward nor spit. Such an act will spoil your dignity. Facing the North on such occasion is good and keeps you immune from evil spirits and the dark arts. Then wash your face. It will become bright and clear. Before going out, first take a bath and sprinkle your face and body with scented water. Victory will be with you.

“You must not allow your wife to sleep upon your arm (as a pillow for her head), and always wash yourself after sleeping. Fortune will smile, driving away mishaps. Washing your nails on Monday and Wednesday prevents all accursed things coming into contact.

“When going to war, the garments to be donned each day during the seven days of the week are to be of seven colours;

Sunday, Red is auspicious
Monday, Light yellow is to have a long life
Tuesday, Purple is lucky
Wednesday, Yellow-red or glittering multi-coloured
Thursday, Yellow-green
Friday, Blueish-gray
Saturday, Black is a terror to the enemy.

“The colour of war steeds ought to be also identical with that of the day.

“In taking a bath at a riverside or stream, you should face the direction of the running water. The voiding of nature is prohibited. Do not face against the running water for you may accidentally be the victim of the black arts. After a bath, always pay respect to Ganga, the Water Goddess.

“The knowledge of magical arts is good, and incantations ought always to be recited every evening. They will become potent and effective against enemies and increase your dignity and power. When a dog continues to bark and howl, do not say harsh words against it. For such a speech will spoil your word. Do not spit while there is a wind. If the saliva falls on any animal, then the mantra or mystic spell will become impotent.

“When meeting a monk and paying no customary respect due to him, your dignity will be weakened. Do not abuse the sun, wind or rain. Do not hasten the day to come to an end. Pay respect every daybreak and dusk to the sun and the moon. When getting into bed do not fail to make obeisance on the pillow (with one’s hands in salutation) to one’s parents and preceptors, extolling their graces and virtues.

“If, when wearing a phanung or loin-cloth after twisting its two ends together in front, one end is tucked finally on the right side, you will be free from harm of the teeth and claws of crocodiles and other ferocious animals. Do not pass under a bridge across a creek or canal, a trellis supporting climbing plants, a wooden prop of a house, or a fence of animal enclosure. Whoever passes under such things will lose his splendour and dignity and his mantra and magical incantations will become impotent, defeating their own ends.

“When seeing a corpse while going out, do not make a remark. It is very unlucky to do so. You must wash your face as a counter act. Do not sleep with your charms and amulets. They will be impaired of their magical properties. Do not step over weapons. Do not lie on the left side of a woman, for harm will come to you. On New Year’s Day, Sat Day (Mid-Year Feast), a day when there is an eclipse either of the sun or the moon, the lenten full moon day, and your own birthday, sexual intercourse is prohibited. For your age will be shortened. To sleep with a woman during her menstruation, if you do not die, you will lose your eyesight and have a boil full of pus. On your birthday, do not kill any animal. Your life will be shortened and you will lose your glory and dignity. You will also suffer from sickness and pain.

“While sleeping, if your inspiration and expiration flow easily in and out of both nostrils, do not put your left foot over the right one. If the air flows freely in the right nostril only, the right foot must be placed on the left one. It is very auspicious to observe the rule. While walking, sleeping or sitting, if a crashing or creaking sound is heard, it is prohibited to make a remark. The noise may be produced by magical art or evil spirits which can harm one if one makes a remark.”

Most of that translation has come from a book called “Essay on Thai Folklore” by Phya Anuman Rajadhon. I have just updated it a bit. We will post the Thai version on our forums tomorrow (links to the right). Sunthorn Phu also wrote another poem, this time for women, instructing them how to be good wives. I’ll share that one with you soon.

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