The Ramakien often is described as a grand love story between Phra Ram and Nang Sida. It is an epic tale where the beautiful Sida must be rescued from the demon King Tosakanth by her courageous husband and the brave monkey warrior Hanuman.
After many battles and successful rescue, we are led to believe that the royal couple lives happily ever after in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, which Phra Ram rules over as King.
However, this Ramakien summary of Phra Ram and Nang Sida’s love story is incomplete. There is an additional episode that occurs after the lovers’ reunification, one that is often removed from the love story’s description.
After their joyous reunion and Phra Ram’s assumption to the throne, Nang Sida befriends a woman named Nang Odun (นางอดูล), who secretly is a demon relative of the dead Tosakanth. She tricks Nang Sida into drawing an image of Tosakanth, which is later discovered by Phra Ram.
Phra Ram is furious at seeing the image of her evil captor, and suspects a now pregnant Nang Sida of unfaithfulness. He tells his brother Phra Lak to take her out to be executed. Once in the forest, Phra Lak can’t kill her and lets her escape. He then kills a deer, removes the heart, and tricks Phra Ram into believing it is the heart of Nang Sida.
While in the forest, Nang Sida meets a hermit monk who she stays with to give birth to Phra Mongkut (the son of Phra Ram). One day Nang Sida goes out for a walk and tells the hermit to look after her child. The hermit begins meditating, and while doing so Nang Sida decides to return and take her son with her.
On awakening from his meditation, the hermit believes that he has lost the young prince. So, he creates a magic amulet with a likeness of Phra Mongkut (พระมงกุฎ). He begins to cast a spell to transform the amulet into a replica of the child. But before he completes his spell, Nang Sida comes back with her son in tow.
The hermit, seeing this, tries to destroy the amulet. But Nang Sida stops him, and tells him to complete his magic, so that she will have a second son — to be named Phra Lob (พระลอบ).
The two children grow up and are trained in the warrior arts by the hermit monk, who in the Thai language is referred to as Phra Reusi (พระฤาษี), and provided with magic arrows.
Many years later the two teenage princes are shooting their magical arrows in the forest. One strikes a tree that creates such a large boom that it is heard by Phra Ram in Ayutthaya. Hanuman and others are sent out to see what caused the noise.
At first, Hanuman is unable to capture the two boys. But later Phra Mongkut is arrested and set to be executed by Phra Ram, who does not realize he is his son. While in captivity, Phra Mongkut is rescued by Phra Lop and taken back to the forest. The two young Princes then join together to battle Phra Ram and his forces.
When Phra Ram’s powerful arrows do not kill the young men, he stops the battle and begins to talk with them. He realizes that they are his sons, and he asks them to lead him back to their mother, Nang Sida, who he begs for forgiveness.
Nang Sida refuses Phra Ram’s overtures, since he had tried to have her executed. Before he is able to forcibly take her back with him, she disappears into the underworld. However, she allows her sons to return with Phra Ram to Ayutthaya.
Finally, Lord Shiva intervenes. He persuades Sida to reconcile with Phra Ram and arranges another wedding ceremony for them.
So, what are we to make of the love story of Phra Ram and Nang Sida? While some Thais are aware of this part of the story and scenes are occasionally produced in Khon drama and depicted in paintings, it remains relatively hidden to tourists in Thailand.
This is not surprising, since many Westerners might view the narrative as disturbing, ruining the beautiful love story that was told prior to this episode.
However, there is a way to look at the entire narrative of Phra Ram and Nang Sida that is less disturbing, one that is in keeping with Thai culture and likely the manner (at least partly) in which King Rama I was viewing it when adapting the Indian Ramayana into the Thai Ramakien (ไทยรามเกียรติ์) in the 18th century.
Instead of viewing the story of Phra Ram and Nang Sida as a love story, we should view it as a story of an early incarnation of the Buddha (Phra Ram) pursuing enlightenment (Nang Sida). While Phra Ram is filled with many valorous traits that are worthy of emulation, he is still a human with human frailties, having yet to achieve full enlightenment.
That he is united with Sida only due to the help of the gods (Lord Shiva), demonstrates that he is unable to achieve enlightenment on his own, but needs the help of the Divine to grow closer to Buddhahood and mastery over suffering and human frailty. Just as we all do.