Written by Intharayut
Translated by Peera Songkünnatham
[คลิกที่นี่เพื่ออ่าน “ไม่เอาศักดินาอนาจาร” เป็นภาษาไทย]
As we struggle to purge feudal elements from the nation’s cultural life dominated by the threesome of royalism, militarism, and capitalism, it is advisable to unpack earlier attempts to do the same. This entry revisits an anti-feudal criticism of sex writing in classical Thai literature, which includes the euphemistic nature imagery of bot atsajan, ‘wondrous episode.’ A classic bot atsajan reads:
The sky shook, the Kingdom of Heaven swayed;
The earth barely held—slumping it went.
The rivers made roaring waves, fizzing and foaming;
All the trees, wondrously—left and right they leant.
This earth-shattering scene describes the moment of male orgasm in a threesome between King Lo, Princess Phuean, and Princess Phaeng, the three royal protagonists of Lilit Phra Lo (pronounced li-leet pra law) dating from the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767).
Sanam Ratsadon presents two landmark articles: “Bot Atsajan Is a Literary Trope of a Class Purporting To Be Divinities on Earth” and “Lilit Phra Lo: Feudal Literature.” Both were written by Intharayut, a pseudonym of Atsani Balachandra (1918-1987), a poet, writer, translator, and legendary government attorney-turned-communist insurgent. Intharayut means Indra’s Weapon; as such, it is one of the author’s many lightning-related names, from his given name Atsani or Aśanī, Sanskrit for ‘thunderbolt,’ to his nom de guerre Sahai Fai Maifa, ‘Comrade Fire Burning the Sky.’ The reference to Indra, the Indic equivalent of Jupiter, ‘Sky Father,’ also recalls the author’s most famous pseudonym Nai Phi, ‘Ghostmaster’—another reference to the King of the Gods.
Like a thunderbolt, these two articles struck at the heart of Siamese decadence. Published in 1950 in the journal Aksornsarn as part of the column Reflections from Literature (ข้อคิดจากวรรณคดี), they became foundational texts for Thai(-style) Marxist literary criticism with multiple reprints in the 1970s. The following translation is based on the Atsani Balachandra’s centennial re-edition by Read Publishing in 2018, which restored the original Aksornsarn version of “Lilit Phra Lo: Feudal Literature” after the discovery that its reprints had gone through substantial revision by an unknown party.
A critical reappraisal from the vantage point of sexuality is overdue, however. While the class-based analysis has proven generative, most notably via Pramin Khrueathong who in 2010 further cracked the code of class by delving into the changing hierarchy of gods/ghosts featured in Lilit Phra Lo, the pearl-clutching over sexually explicit content seems no longer (if it ever was) in accord with common sense—unless we’re talking about the Thai judges who consider Ekkachai Hongkangwan’s 2017 prison sex anecdote to obviously be obscene. The abundance of Intharayut’s absolute statements when it comes to sexual morality and desire begs the question, according to who?
Bot Atsajan Is a Literary Trope of a Class Purporting To Be Divinities on Earth
The issue of bot atsajan has been a subject of intermittent debate among the new generation of literature students, who discuss what they like and dislike. And how, for those in favor of it, to make bot atsajan art, not vulgarity which offends the eyes and ears of readers and listeners.
Some have criticized as vulgar the racy writing style of modern novels. Some even suggested that the case be brought to court. The new generation of writers countered that those novels contained artistic writing which was not against the law and in no way a vulgar thing. If that were to be considered vulgar for being suggestive of a graphic state of nature, then what about the many verses of ours that clearly make innuendos depicting the so-called vulgar state in the passages known as bot atsajan?
The matter of legality is for jurists to discuss, not literature students. But the fact that the novelists went so far as to invoke bot atsajan from ancient poems did leave the oh-so-noble, affected crowd rather dumbstruck; no word escaped their mouths for quite a while.
Then, one of the literati claimed that bot atsajan was not lewd or vulgar; rather, it consisted of elegant, pleasant words. Plus, the literary diction was discreet; not one word of the vulgar or lewd kind was present. However, nobody could deny that bot atsajan was structured both in its diction and in its sense as a double entendre, as an ambiguity to be interpreted. It could be taken in an aimlessly literal fashion, or it could be taken in a low-minded way as to become unbearably crude. The literati said not one word in reply; rather than countering that such a low-minded interpretation was not valid, they actually appeared to take pride in the fact that they could write or could grasp those deeper meanings, taking it as a sign of intelligence, even. But they still acted all innocent like adult turtles burying their eggs, saying that whoever interpreted it in such a way would himself be considered a low-minded person. Neither they nor the author had anything to do with it.
This should give us pause for thought: considering that they recognize the ambiguity, and that they do not wish for things to be apprehended in a debased, vulgar way, then why can’t they prevent that forking from arising in the first place? If they can’t prevent it, how can they be called intelligent? More like bumbling fools, as they are incapable of tinkering with verses to rule out potential bad meanings.
In addition, the passages comprising bot atsajan don’t appear to be pertinent to the story’s love scene at all. Some are, but only tangentially so before they plunge into beastliness or drift towards irrelevant things rather than stick to the imagery of the story at hand. So why bring it into play when there is no use in sight? Bot atsajan like that seems gratuitous.
But the old-minded can’t help but keep bot atsajan as adornment of what they call literature. Certain “cheres maîtres” these days who have been hailed as authors and pandits have attempted to pen bot atsajan for sale in the middle of the market for everybody and their mother to see. What’s more, it comes with illustrations. Hair-raising.
In light of this, how can one be led to agree and believe that bot atsajan is not vulgar and not related to lewd beastliness? Truth is, the old and the old-minded all find satisfaction in writing and reading bot atsajan. Boisterously so. As they read and as they write, who among them wouldn’t take the wondrous imagery of nature in the low-minded direction straight to vulgarity, which to them is a supreme enjoyment in line with their proclivities as “the well-bred”?
But due to their two-faced behavior, where they profusely profess that lewdness and vulgarity are bad things that shall not be done by anyone when in fact they enjoy and can’t avoid doing it, they become afraid and ashamed of revealing that they indulge in what they themselves prohibit, admonish, and pretend to abhor. And yet they can’t not do what they like to do, so they have to do it, but do it in double entendres for the sake of deniability. The well-bred are an eloquent bunch indeed. They have had practice since they were little kids in weaseling their way out of trouble.
Bot atsajan is penned because those who pen it are the well-bred whose proclivity for carnal gratification, which they consider the highest bliss, is obsessive to the exclusion of all else. Without it, their emotions will turn lifeless and irritable. They have at their disposal a wide variety of devices serving up that kind of bliss. Bot atsajan is one such servicing device. That’s why they write it, or commission the writing of it, for their own reading and listening. But it must be ambiguous, for the benefit of deflecting criticism over its vulgarity and lewdness that may later arise.
Moreover, as a social device bot atsajan creates fixation on frivolous matters. Apart from acting like the fox without a tail, the “well-bred” who are the ruling class also see the benefit of getting the masses crazed about these matters unquestioningly, so that they can conquer hearts and minds and secure easy obedience. All the verses containing bot atsajan are an instrument of rule which the reactionary ruling elite has wielded until it is second nature.
One laughable development, however, cannot be left unmentioned: the undeniably lewd bot atsajan has turned into a fashion1 in Thai poetry, cherished and relished by all the royal pandits of the land. And if they happen to be talented enough to write, they won’t pass up the opportunity to author it. This bunch is stuck in backward, old, fusty, and fanciful ideas. For those well-bred by lineage, writing it is a habit from their upbringing. But for those who hanker after “well-bred” status, they can’t help but follow suit, eyes closed and tumbling away in stupidity. This fashion in the Edenic2 garden of delights is thus pervasive in Siamese literature.
 written “fashion” in the original –trans.
 written “Eden” in the original –trans.
Lilit Phra Lo: Feudal Literature
“Three lilit works have since ancient times been regarded as first-rate literary classics: Yuan Phai, Phra Lo, and Taleng Phai.”
Academics Department, Education Ministry
Consequently “this year (2477 ), the Education Ministry has selected Phra Lo Lilit to be part of the literature textbook for the final examination upon completion of secondary education.”
Moreover, it is part of university-level coursework (at the Division of Arts, Chulalongkorn University) as well.
The book Chindamani, which was the first generation of Thai language textbooks, also used a stanza from Phra Lo as the exemplar of the khlong si suphap form.
Praise has swept through like a tempest for ages upon ages. But is that praise simply an instance of parroting the master’s opinions? Let us figure this out.
No doubt, Lilit Phra Lo is a work composed specifically to serve the monarch, or cronies of the monarch, or the ruling class. Quite an explicit announcement of such a service appears in stanza 5 of this work:
The poem polished, heart-mellowing methods pleasingly deployed,
Proffered *in service of* (bamrœ) His Majesty—the person most meritful.
The word “bamrœ” means to serve. The author or authors composed this work in order to mellow the heart (soothe the feelings) and to serve the monarch who was seen as a meritful person.
It was not composed in service of the people, nor to soothe their feelings. That’s because authorship originated from poets of the palace. Not poets of the people!
Some have speculated this or that person to be the author. However, some of the literati have theorized that the author wrote it when he was not yet king, that is, before his later ascension to the throne.
Readers versed in the various versions of old Thai literature can of course see that Phra Lo was not written by a single person, but by multiple people at the same time just like Twatosmas, Khun Chang Khun Phaen, etc;
That it was composed by a gathering of courtiers who were poets in the monarch’s service. Those poets had expertise, but lacked the poet’s audacious spirit—they allowed themselves to be branded with a price tag. True, their dignity radiates loud and clear within the palace walls. But in the villages, the rice paddies and the fields, their dignity has been regarded with suspicion, pity, and disapproval for over a century now.
This lilit clearly credits two authors, i.e., a certain phra maha raja khru, and a yaowaraj of Chiang Mai, in the following:
To completion Maha Raj Jao has composed,
Exalting the rank of Phra Lo—a superb one.
The servants dared to die first before their masters,
Their virtue unrivaled in this world—even in Heaven. /659
To completion Yaowa Raj Jao has put meticulous care
Into the verses on Phra Lo—most gallant of gallants.
Whoever listens will be captivated and keep craving for more
Of the special headlong rush into love—a veritable romance. /660
Khun Phum, a woman poet who was also a courtier, stated that during the reign of Phra Narai of Ayutthaya,
A gifted Maha Rajakhru was born
Who came to serve under His Majesty’s lotus feet.
He wrote Phra Lo, the great man who fell for
Women, and Phra Sri Samutkhot which greatly pleased.
Phra Maha Rajakhru was a resident of Phra Narai’s royal court. So was Phra Yaowaraj. In fact, they were vassals3 of Phra Narai, and for that, as a matter of course, they had to compose in service of their master Phra Narai. Both were artists, and so Lilit Phra Lowas an artwork in service of the monarch, made to satisfythe monarch. Whoever listens to this lilit will likely be captivated by its artful powers.
 written “Vassal” in the original –trans.
The art of the ruling class naturally serves two purposes: to satisfy the carnal urges of the ruling class to the utmost, and to inebriate the people and keep them under the influence of the ruling class’s charisma.
Lilit Phra Lo is Art of the Ruling Class. As such, it serves those two purposes to the brim.
The servicing of carnal urges can clearly be seen; it can even be counted as the core part of the story. Obscene images leap off the page from the beginning to the end of the story. The authors’ depiction of vulgar acts is straightforward, without much of a desire for euphemism or circumlocution.
The two women led their guests up the garden house,
Swiped the mattress, set down cushions—a lovers’ proposition.
*The two intercoursed, the two giggled, the two indulged*
In their sensual wiles—the two in unison. /421
Concluded the two intercourses, consummated the carnal ploys,
The two loose-limbed women asked—their lovers’ names. /422
It’s a transparent depiction of lustful desire, where lewd acts are committed wantonly without bothering to ask “what’s your name? where are you from?” That is, not until after the finishing act. Alas, the il-lust-rious epic of Siam!
Depictions of lewd acts do not let up, and they are spelled out in quite straightforward language.
Take a look:
Whereas the three royals:
Hand around body, drawing close
Skin to joyous skin; /516
Hand twined with hand, hug with hug,
Flesh to supple flesh,
Soft, pampering touches; /518
Chest to silky chest,
Belly to supple belly,
Soft bosoms of his beloveds; /520
Heaven’s ponds can scarce compare
To thy smooth flesh, Princess,
This bath of pampering splashes; /524
O resplendent sloping bank,
Pristine, spotless, pure:
Can Heaven’s mounds ever match thee? /526
How privileged I am to lay eyes on
Thy golden gourds, my girl.
My King, wilt thou not lay eyes on me? /527
There aren’t just lewd images being described, but also the barefacedness that no woman, not even a lady of the night, will allow herself to be subjected to.
Take a look… take a good look, people!
Phra Phuean conquered as lover,
King Lor laid and caressed
Now the golden Phra Phaeng; /528
Ran through the list of frolicking feats,
Vigorous conquest of lovers; /529
This describes a scene between one man and two women, going to and fro between this and that person without getting tired. This kind of shameless acts can only be committed by and among the ruling classes of the sakdina and the bourgeoisie!
Sexual intercourse is regarded as a valiant act on the part of royal and bourgeois heroes, a deed done aggressively, bluntly, and ruthlessly according to the whims of carnal lust. It is devoid of real love, and foul!
Take a look, people, take a look…
As if a raging stallion
Bolted fierce in full force,
Faster and faster yet; /530
As if a rampaging elephant
Tore through with its tusks
And grabbing, grappling trunk. /531
And when the women can’t take it, he went:
He coaxed the princesses,
My beauties, I have had
It rough getting to you girls. /532
Would you please *stop carping*?
Oh my pretty Princesses,
Be patient with me, for merit’s sake. /533
Harumph! Stop crying—bite the bullet!
Then the shameless ladies reveal, Oh my goodness, it’s that neither of us have one drop of experience, my King (534:3). Beseeching, have mercy on us two—Your Majesty (534:2). Making a big show of gratefulness, we owe thee more than can be counted (534:1). And even asking, be gentle, my generous King—we sisters beg of thee (534:4).
But the man did not listen. To the contrary,
Without abating, faster and fiercer went the libidinous force, [until]
The two ladies went weak in body—and woeful. /536
The sky shook, the Kingdom of Heaven swayed;
The earth barely held—slumping it went.
The rivers made roaring waves, fizzing and foaming;
All the trees, wondrously—left and right they leant. /537
Didn’t move away an inch, nor stop wiggling;
Wanting yet another war—*hadn’t rested in peace.*
Poor lotus flowers didn’t take kindly to it,
Stayed shut, did not bloom—unlike the water lilies. /540
Such is the beauty of feudal belles-lettres adopted by the bourgeoisie of this day and age! Such is the refinement of vulgarity! Such is the art of the reactionaries!
In truth, art is one thing, obscenity another entirely. One is good, excellent, noble. The other is bad, low, lewd, foul, disgraceful. The former corresponds to art; the latter, obscenity. Hence, these two things have nothing in common! As for those who try to claim that art and obscenity are inextricably linked, either they say that to claim the sanctified and glorified label of art to slap on their pornographic work in order to ply the people with falsehoods, to oppress them, and to sell their high honor as poets for scraps from the master’s table, or they say that because they are projecting their own qualities onto it. As they have a foul character, they naturally view foul things to be good and satisfying. Conversely, those with virtue and a finely tuned, discerning sensibility naturally view beautiful things to be beautiful, and vulgar things to be vulgar, always: they cannot turn vulgarity into beauty with their gaze.
We Thais certainly know the virtue of beauty already. We cannot extricate goodness from beauty; we mix them together in the word dee-ngam. This is characteristic of the sensibility of the Thai nation, a nation of rhymesters and lovers of the arts. The Greeks, who were the supreme lovers of the arts, likewise, used the word “kalos”which referred both to goodness and beauty. When they spoke of beauty, that naturally meant goodness. Therefore, whatever is beautiful must also be good. Whatever is vulgar, lewd, not good, is thus not beautiful. And things that are not beautiful are not art.
But we must keep in mind that the two aforementioned national characteristics are those of nations, i.e., the majority of citizens. When such a nation divides its nationals into a hierarchy of classes, the minority class which has taken advantage of the majority class by exploitation and oppression seeks for itself as much pleasure and comfort as it is able. Lacking in human virtue, the minority class is thus devoid of shame, and thus monomaniacal about maintaining surface-level pleasures for themselves and their cronies. For this reason, their quest for pleasure increasingly degenerates into a beastly condition, because beasts operate by greed, thirst, lust, and crudeness. People distinguish themselves from beasts by their creation and refinement of culture, step by step, until humanity emerges with the self-regard of being nobler than the beasts. But once one is debased by impure thoughts from a lack of morality, ethics, and human virtue and starts oppressing other people, beastliness takes hold. Since brutal oppression and the lack of sympathy are by default the lowly habits of the beasts, and since libido and sexual desire take primacy among those habits, the ruling class, which is the minority class, is therefore saturated with carnal desire. This way, the good national characteristic that holds beauty and goodness to be equal fades away. The ruling class then creates or commissions another art, but a kind of art that is contaminated by obscene things in order to satiate their animal urges. That’s why we see as many nude sculptures by the ruling class of Ancient Greece as the nude paintings for analogous uses by the Thai ruling class. And these nude paintings and images often adorn the inside walls of royal palaces and mansions of rich and oh-so-noble men. Commoners do not own such images, because it’s not what they want. They still consider that beauty necessarily implies goodness, that art must possess noble virtues, not lewd and obscene beastliness. The takeaway is that in all these cases of slave society, feudal society, and bourgeois society, the instruments of production were in the hands of the ruling class tightly ensnared in sexual desire. Commoners were unable to produce artworks for themselves, unless they were commissioned to produce for the ruling class’s possession. And in these periods, honorable artists, the majority of whom were commoners, were taken by the ruling class and turned into currency!
These days, some people say that art is created from the stirring of emotional sensitivity in artists. That is correct, but we should be aware that emotional sensitivity is the nature of all living animals, which may be categorized into lower animals and higher animals (i.e., humans). All animals possess an emotional apparatus, as emotions are part of nature. But each class of animals has distinct degrees of emotional refinement. Some animals have only rudimentary feelings, while others have more advanced ones. We humans are the animals with the most refined feelings, which are becoming ever more refined thanks to human striving. The ultimate stage of emotional refinement is the emancipation from all attachments. A stirred emotion is a kind of feeling, and therefore may be thick or thin, low or high, refined or unrefined. The cultured, naturally, are more developed in their feelings and more refined in their emotions than the uncultured. The emotion spurring art is a highly refined one; therefore, it is an emotion that is pure. But all manners of gain and temptation can lead human culture to downfall. Therefore, an artist’s emotional sensitivity may at times veer from refinement and turn into baseness no different from the commonest of animals. Such is the emotional sensitivity of the sakdina and the bourgeois classes who, succumbing to the temptations of gain and selfishness, seek to basely satisfy their sexual desire just like the lower animals. The lack of refinement in artistic emotional sensitivity is a sought after trait among the sakdina and the bourgeois classes, who invite artists with such a trait to make art for them. This results in artworks that bespeak the animal condition of the lower kind, that is, tending towards carnal lust, which we consider to be obscene. The urge, born out of loving desire, of all animals to propagate their species is natural; all animals are slave to this nature. Sri Siddhartha strove to prevail over this nature, thus he admonished against such acts. Ordinary people are incapable of prevailing over nature to that degree, but they do make an effort, and thus emerges refinement, bolstered by shamefulness. This is not exclusive to humans; certain beasts, in fact, possess a similar refinement in their struggle for emancipation from attachment, to win over nature, in other words. For this reason, even snakes get angry when somebody catches them in the act of mating. Emotionally refined higher beasts such as elephants find cover when they act on these as-yet-unconquered natural urges, but certain lower beasts such as ducks and dogs do not do so since their emotional refinement has not reached the level to be seeking that kind of emancipation. We humans, as mentioned, possess the highest degree of emotional refinement, and so we cover up or try to avoid emotional stirrings of the unrefined kind, and keep on refining them. For this reason, artists who are pure occupy a higher plane of emotion and possess a refined sensitivity. Their artworks, consequently, are pure, untainted by obscenity which would otherwise arise from unrefined stirrings of emotion.
To put it briefly, when one speaks of something, one should have a thorough grasp of it. When one speaks of emotional sensitivity, one should be able to discern: is it of a refined or an unrefined kind? is it the people’s emotional sensitivity or the oppressor’s (the sakdina, the bourgeoisie, etc.)? Likewise, when speaking of politics in literature, one must discern: whose politics? If it is the people’s politics, then it will be concerned with bringing about equality, moral purity, and ultimately the supreme happiness of emancipation from all attachments. But if it is the oppressive ruling elite’s politics, then it will be concerned with domination, intoxication, oppression, selfishness, lewdness; with generating lechery on the backs of the people, and ultimately bringing about chaos in human society. Once these points are understood, then the issue of obscenity in works of art will be clear as day.
Lewd images were not confined in palaces and lavish homes of the nobility; they also spread like wildfire into temples and other places of religious worship. This is because in each corresponding era, religion, a thing just as sacred and noble as art, or even more so, also fell victim to the ruling elite. It became a tool to subdue the people, intoxicate the people, mislead the people from lucidly thinking about emancipating themselves from under the yoke of the ruling elite. These ruling elites falsify religion to such an extent that if Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, or Sri Siddhartha were to return to Earth, they would no doubt exclaim: what is this so-called religion in my name? Once religion becomes an instrument to intoxicate and intimidate the people, the ruling elite then hurries to bring the art they have purchased and mix it in with religion in order to further enhance this formula of poison for the people, which has proven effective for thousands of years. Therefore, images for religious exaltation and worship, created by the hand of exceptional artists, no less, did not end up highly noble as they should, but turned into images in the nude, of someone in a state of undress, of a couple in coitus, etc. What a sorry state of affairs! Temples, which should be the sanctum of exceptional virtue, have somehow been turned into the lair of all the fiends of obscene works. Alas, the ruling classes have destroyed everything, even art that is noble, even religion that should be sacrosanct!
The era of Lilit Phra Lo was the feudal era. And since this literary work was composed in service of the ruling sakdina class, the views presented were, as a consequence, all warped from the views held by the people. Men’s beauty, for example, was conceived not as a stateliness corresponding to masculine attributes, but rather a slender kind of beauty in the manner of an opium-and-ganja smoker and womanizer, in whom nothing of value can be found. Why don’t you take a look at the beauty of the eponymous hero of the story:
Figure shapely and lithe,
Waist daintily slender:
Beauty in every part, verily! /12
The Moon radiant in the sky:
A substitute for the case
One cannot see King Lo’s face; /15
Eyes like eyes of golden deer;
Look at Phra Lo’s eyebrows:
Curved as precious bows; /16
Look at his exquisite ears:
Precious as lotus petals;
Cheeks fair as Marian plums; /17
Behold his majestic nose:
As if Deva-conjured,
Just like Kama’s hook; /18
Lips more luscious than paint,
Than the Moon cracking a smile;
Oh verily beautiful lips! /19
The kind of beauty depicted here is not desired by anyone who makes a living with their own sweat, blood, and tears; it is the heart’s desire of those who live on the sweat, blood, and tears of others. If we attend the social functions of the high-born and wealthy these days, we will see that they are packed with divinely painted men just like Phra Lo. At this time there are already hair-perm salons catering to high-society gentlemen.
The sakdina class naturally finds satisfaction in land-grabbing warfare, in turning other polities into tributary states and other peoples into serfs and slaves. Phra Lo’s father was no exception to this defilement: he conscripted many people and citizens to die in land-grabbing wars, just for the instant gratification of his thievish greed, simple as that.
Look at this, you all……
Then the Sovereign of Suang
Tasked his nobles and knights
With taking the outlying city
Of Saung, wishing to wage war
With its heroic king. *Hurry,
We shall leave shortly for battle
To snatch up a tributary state*…
As long as feudal elements remain, human society will never find bliss. When feudal elements cease to exist, if the bourgeoisie takes their place as the ruling elite, then these replacements will govern following the old policies. And, in fact, the Kingdom of Siam is a semi-feudal country today!
So it is not an issue for the ruling elite to heap praises on their patrimony and their tools. So it is not an issue for them to commend this book Lilit Phra Lo.
But ordinary people do not want the feudal elements in this book, because they are poisonous and of no use to them. They can only accept the artistic elements that have been picked out from this book, that is, the style and the literary idiom that is of certain value, figures of speech and bits and pieces of content scattered in Lilit Phra Lo, a work produced by artists in the royal court of Phra Narai of Krung Sri Ayutthaya.