3a. Institutional Gifts


Royal Gifts from Thailand

Smithsonian – Gallery 3

King Chulalongkorn’s 1893 Version of the Tripitika

  • Gift of King Chulalongkorn, 1893
  • Dibner Rare Book Library
  • Call no: PK4546.A1-1893 RB SI

Illuminated Manuscript of the Phra Malai Sutra

Phra Malai Sutra

  • Gift of State, 1966
  • Centennial of the Birth of James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian.
  • Angels and a stupa
  • Painted Koi paper
  • Department of Anthropology, cat. no: E404342
  • 66 cm length x 14 cm width

Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Cabinet from Wat Rakhang Khosittaram, Thonburi

Tu Phra Traipidok

  • Gift of State, 1966
  • Bicentennial of the Birth of James Smithson,
    Founder of the Smithsonian Institution
  • Department of Anthropology, cat. no: E404341
  • Wood and gold wash
  • 169.5 cm height x 97 cm width x 676.5 cm depth

The composition on the doors proceeds counter-clockwise from lower to upper left. These depictions place two worldly events of the life of Siddhartha Gautama in the lower register, while two scenes depicting his adoption of the life of an ascetic and initiating the search for Enlightenment are above.

Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Cabinet from Wat Rakhang Khosittaram, Thonburi

Upper Left

The Ordination of Siddhartha: Prince Siddhartha cuts his hair and vows to begin life as an ascetic in search of the Way. Indra bears witnesses to the event. Brahma (with three heads) offers him an alms bowl and monks robes. The horse who bore him and the horseman who escorted him across the Anoma River lie at his feet.

Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Cabinet from Wat Rakhang Khosittaram, Thonburi

Upper Right

The Great Departure: Celestial beings transport Prince Siddhartha across the Anoma River, escorted by his horseman to the rear. Mara stands to his front, attempting to block his progress.

Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Cabinet from Wat Rakhang Khosittaram, Thonburi

Lower Right

The Great Renunciation: Prince Siddhartha renounces his family. His wife and child lie sleeping at his feet while palace attendants and musicians sleep below.

Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Cabinet from Wat Rakhang Khosittaram, Thonburi

Lower Left

Standing and grasping the branch of a sal tree with her right hand, Queen Mahamaya gives birth to Prince Siddhartha as two attendants kneel before her. The gods Indra (upper left) and Brahma (upper right, holding the precious infant) welcome him.

Model of Puttha Prang

Wat Arun

  • Gift of State, 1966
  • Molded plaster, painted
  • Department of Anthropology, cat. no: E158471
  • 91.5 cm height x 91.5 cm width x 91.5 cm depth of base

A new form of Thai Royal gift–the institutional gift–was developed in the 1880s by King Chulalongkorn. In 1881 the United States and Thailand negotiated changes to the 1857 Harris Treaty. King Chulalongkorn wished to send a gift, but since he had learned that Royal Gifts to the United States presidents had been deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, he planned to send the commemorative gift directly to the Smithsonian.

It is interesting that the major part of this gift were “Gift of Respect” or Khru’ang rachabannakan items, including Gum Benjamin or gambooge (Styrax benzoin [Styracaceae]) used for skin complaints and rheumatic conditions, rong thong (Garcinia hanburyi) used as golden-yellow ink in Thailand; Catechu or gambir sisiat thet (Catechu gambir (Anacardiaceae)) used as a masticatory when chewing betel; Cardamom kra wan (Amomum krervanh, or Elettaria sp.) a spice and medicinal remedy; Copal varnish gum yang (resinous fuel oil from the tree Dipterocarpus alatus); Saltpeter (din pra siu); Tumeric (kamin); Samrohng seed (met Samrohng); Shoria Robustamint seed (met meng-lak); lotus seed (met bua); the useful medicinal Nox vomica (p’on baa chu); and rice (Oryza sativa). It is possible that in giving this large “Gift of Respect”, Thailand hoped to increase trade in these and other valuable items. This was certainly always the goal in giving the historical “Gifts of Respect.”

King Chulalongkorn had learned through John Halderman, the U.S. Minister in Bangkok at the time, that the Smithsonian’s curators were especially interested in ethnological materials. Therefore, aside from the Khru’ang rachabannakan trade items, King Chulalongkorn’s gift of 1881 consisted of fish traps and nets, probably from his own extensive royal collections, and the flag of Siam. Although there was a Royal Letter commemorating the treaty negotiations in 1881, it was not connected to the gift in any way, nor does it mention the gifts. The timing of the Royal Gift remained connected to treaty negotiations, but both the content of the gift and the intended receiver of the gift had changed.

King Chulalongkorn sent gifts to allies around the world in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his coronation. In 1893 the Tripitika, the “Three Baskets” of Buddha’s teachings, normally recorded in the Sanskrit-based Pali language script, was printed for the first time in Thai script at the Royal Press. There were no Royal Letters sent out with the books; the volumes were sent directly to institutions of learning throughout the world on behalf of the king through the Siamese Legation office in London (Siam did not have an embassy in Washington until 1901). Multi-volume sets were sent to the Smithsonian Institution, to Harvard University and to Cornell University among others.

Gallery 3