In the year 1833, King Mongkut, Rama IV, while ordained as a Buddhist monk, went on pilgrimage to pay homage to various Buddhist monuments in the northern region. He found King Ramkhamhaeng’s stone inscription, alongside the royal stone seat, Manangkhasila Throne, at the mound of the ancient palace of Sukhothai. It is a rectangular stele, with a modified pointed top, 1.11 meters in height, inscribed on all four sides, occupying an area of 59 centimeters in height, 35 centimeters in width, 35lines each on the first and the second sides, and 27 lines each on the third and the fourth sides.
This stone inscription is regarded an historical and archeological evidence used as a reference that the Thai alphabet appeared for the first time in the year 1283, from a part of the inscription on the fourth side, lines 8-11, which says “Formerly these Thai letters did not exist. In 1205 saka, a year of the goat, King Ramkhamhaeng set his mind and his heart on devising these Thai letters. So these Thai letters exist because that lord devised them....”
The text clearly indicates that before the year 1283, there had never been the Thai letters. King Ramkhamhaeng the Great devised the Thai letters in that year. He devised the letters to differ from other ancient letters in use, and called these devised letters, “Lai Sue Thai – Thai alphabet”
The King devised each letter as a separate entity, placing a vowel in front of a consonant, and on the same level, with a tone mark according to the pronunciation of the Thai word. Moreover, he devised the letters to be drawn continuously without a break, starting from the head of the first letter which curves like a fish hook, and drawn to the end of the last letter with a mild curve as well. The letters are in 61 forms, comprising 39 consonants, 20 vowels and 2 tone markers.
Evolution of the Thai Letters
From distant past to the present time, there has been only one stone inscription with letters devised by King Ramkhamhaeng in the year 1283. Other stelae inscribed during the Sukhothai Period dated about 60-70 years later, with certain letters somewhat changed in form, while others retaining their original forms. Moreover, inscriptions were not limited to stelae, but also on other stone slabs, such as the inscription of Wat Sorasak, 1960 BE (1417 AD) on stone slabs in the shape of temple boundary markers.
Throughout the 20th and 21st Buddhist centuries, the spreading of culture and civilization of the Sukhothai Kingdom to Lanna Kingdom led to the changes and evolution of another form of letters, called Thai Lanna letters, while the Ayutthaya Kingdom adopted the letters that evolved into the present Thai alphabet, comprising 44 consonants, 26 vowels, and 4 tone markers ( 5 tones), making up altogether 74 forms, vowels and tone markers not aligned with consonants, placed in front, after, above or below the consonants.
The use of color symbols for the letters
Black letters – Letters in current use
Brown letters – The Thai alphabet as appeared on King Ramkhamhaeng’s stone inscription 1283
Grey letters – Letters on the inscription of Wat Pa Mamuang 1904 BE (1361)