The Ramakien is a Thai version of the Ramayana. The earliest stages of the Ramayana seem to date from the 7th to 4th centuries BCE, and many other cultures that were influenced by India developed their own version.

According to the Wikipedia article about the Ramakien, the epic was "adopted" in the late first millennium, with the oldest recordings dating from the 13th century. However, the "Thai version of the legends was first written down in the 18th century". (Based on this, it seems that the "adoption" that took place in the last first millennium may refer to the Ramayana.) The article continues,

The version recognized today was compiled in the Kingdom of Siam under the supervision of King Rama I (1726–1809), the founder of the Chakri dynasty, which still maintains the throne of Thailand. Between the years of 1799 and 1807, Rama I supervised the writing of the well-known edition and even wrote parts of it. (…)
Rama II (1766–1824) further adapted his father's edition of the Ramakien for the khon drama, a form of theater performed by non-speaking Thai dancers with elaborate costumes and masks.

The article about Thai literature also mentions that

A number of versions of the Ramakien epic were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767. Three versions currently exist. One of these was prepared under the supervision (and partly written by) King Rama I. (…)

This suggests several things:

  1. The Ramakien was probably already important before Rama I supervised the compilation of a new version.
  2. It probably did not exist in print before Rama I. (The article Global spread of the printing press does not provide information about the spread of the printing press in Thailand.)
  3. The drama adaptations probably made the content better known to an audience that may have been illiterate.

However, it is not clear from the above when the Ramakien began to be considered a national epic. Was this an immediate effect of the compilation supervised by Rama I or did that take much longer?


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