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How did the character Montho from Ramayana make it into the name of the Thai letter ฑ (tho montho) of the Thai alphabet. Where is the relationship and in what year was this connection established?

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This seems to be pretty much straightforward:

King Ram Khamhaeng (c. 1237/1247 – 1298) is credited with both the creation of the Thai alphabet and the firm establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the state religion of the Kingdom.

As mentioned in other answers, the writing system was built in the way so that original Pali/Sanskrit sacral texts underwent minimal change. However, the spoken language lacked many consonants that present in Pali script and in spoken Sanskrit.

Since all wide variety of Pali consonants was preserved (in written form), this led to duplicate consonants, e.g., several written consonants mapped to the same phone in a spoken language. For example, there are whopping six Pali consonants mapping to [tʰ].

To mitigate this, Thai consonants have a "guiding word",
just like if English had A - Apple, B - Box, etc.
So if one tells you, "write a tho consonant", you would wonder, "which one? — ah, tho montho, not tho than, not tho thahan, I understood".

There are other Thai consonants having its "guiding words" related to Buddhism.
Consider พ พาน /pho phan/ (a decorated tray with a pedestal, used in Buddhist ceremonies)
or ณ เณร /no nen/ (young monk).

Young monks in Thailand
Young monks in Thailand, image courtesy of

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Thai is one of the most complicated written languages in the world.. (not saying most efficient). One of the rules is if a word is from foreign language, a new alphabet and a written structure is invented so that it would be distinguishable between original thai and foreign languages, which mainly Pali or Sanskrit.

To give an example of a word "nirvana" since it is not English, there would be a need to invent a new letter that produces "n" sound and new structure on how to put letters together so the goal is to communicate to readers that "nirvana" isnt English origin. Lets say "&^" is a new "n" sound, nirvana would spell "&^ervanah*". For that, now "n" sounds has two representations in Thai Language "n" and "&^" and every time "&^" is used it cant be used with "i" etc. Most of foreign languages in thailand at the time of beginning of written system were Pali and Sanskit around 700-1000 years ago. So my guess is, ฑ (tho montho) is younger than 1000 years old.
I dont think religious beliefs were not as strong driving force as the idea of separating foreign languages to original Thai.

tho montho produces "T" sounds but not of Thai Origin. If word is originally Thai, "t" sound, would use "tho thahan ท"

this guy put a video explaining thai written system. thai written language explained

PS. Dont try to pronounce island of Phuket in Thailand, with an F.

  • word with PH but pronounces like regular "p" is to tell English readers that "Phuket" is not English or latin origin. – sargon Jul 9 '16 at 3:41
  • So what is the origin of words that start with tho montho if not Thai? Is it Sanskrit, Pali, or another origin? Also, is the letter imported from a language from a place where Buddhism was practiced, and is that part of the reason why the name of the letter is tho montho? Thanks. – Jack Maddington Jul 9 '16 at 3:59
  • Interesting video though. – Jack Maddington Jul 9 '16 at 4:09
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    that's correct.. if a word contains tho montho, then it is not thai. Hard to tell if it was pali and Sanskrit. notice the form of orginal thai that produces t sound, ท and ฑ. There is little dent on top of the circle. it is hard to tell if forms or art work of each letter was inspired by other languages. It could be a copy espiecially if they have similarity. Since knowledge from foriegn lands was mainly thru religious scriptures, then it could be from Buddist Sutta or even Ramyana. If i have to guess, it's from Pali. – sargon Jul 9 '16 at 4:11
  • How did you manage to make your guess that it is from Pali? – Jack Maddington Jul 9 '16 at 4:16
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Unusual question for a Buddhist forum. However, if this question is asking: "How did a Hindu letter find its way into a Buddhist culture?", the answer to this question is Thailand has never been exclusively a Buddhist culture.

The original religious beliefs of Thai people, which are still upheld today, were animistic, such as spirit & ancestor worship.

Later, Brahmanism (Hinduism) was a predominant religion in Thailand and other South East Asian lands, such as Indonesia. This is why there are old Hindu temples in Java, why Bali is a Hindu culture and why the king of Thailand is considered a reincarnation of Vishnu & why the Thai royal family still has Brahmanistic ceremonies.

At a later time, Buddhism came to Thailand (and Indonesia, as demonstrated by the Borobudur temple in Java). Although Thailand abounds with many thousands of Buddhist monks, the animist & Hindu beliefs remain strong in Thailand.

At a later time, Islam came to Thailand (which included Malaysia) & Indonesia.

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