THAO SURANAREE CULT
Thao Suranaree (1771-1852), also known as Khun Ying Mo or, shortly, Ya Mo, is the omnipresent heroin patroness of Nakhon Ratchasima. She is credited for saving Korat’s people from deportation and slavery during a time of war between Siam and Laos, and in particular for leading her peasants, men and women, to a crucial victory against the Lao army in 1826. Korat would not be the same without the deep civil and religious cult dedicated to her. For more information on Thao Suranaree’s biography, check out these pages:
The Ya Mo monument, located in the center of town, just outside the old city gate, is visited daily by a neverending procession of worshippers coming from all around Thailand. The main statue there, erected in 1934, was sculpted by an Italian-born artist, now considered as the father of modern art in Thailand: Silpa Bhirasri (real name Corrado Feroci, 1892-1962). Along the years, the statue has become the symbol of the city. However the real object of attention and devotion at the monument is a smaller replica statue located below the main one. Pilgrims buy flowers, colored veils, and tiny golden stickers to decorate and honour it. By consequence, the small statue is always colourful and it changes look costantly.
Ya Mo monument is the main non-commercial meeting point in Korat. All major official ceremonies and speeches take place here. Next to it, to the left, there is an empty square with amphitheatre, used for official gatherings, political rallies, festivals, promotions, outdoor projections, and similar events. To the right, there are some small covered stages where folkloric groups will perform the locally popular “Korat Song” for tourists; a larger covered stage, offering shadow to VIP participants during official events; a tourist information booth; and a stall selling products for the monument.
Behind the monument is the old city gate (Pradtu Chumphon). In front, over the road, one of the many Chinese-style temples that are scattered around town (San Jao Po Fai).
A second Thao Suranaree memorial, with exact replica of the main statue, is found at Wat Sala Loi, where the heroin’s remains are kept along with her husband’s. Here the statue is displayed in a sort of chedi that looks more like a mausoleum, quite ugly if compared to the beautiful temple rising just behind. At the chedi’s entrance, downstairs, there is a wall sculpture representing scenes of everyday life in old times Korat. In another part of Wat Sala Loi, homage to Thao Suranaree is rendered also in the form of a big painting where she is portrayed in three different poses.
In the main city square there is a small light-and-sound museum dedicated to her bravery and victory against the Lao army. It consists of a long scale-model representing daily life in Korat and surrounding area at the time of the events, plus the events leading to the battle, the battle itself, exultation for the victory, and consequent tribute with beginning of the civil cult for Ya Mo. The show consists on illuminating only portions of the model, in chronological sequence, with a background spoken comment telling the story (in Thai only). This looks very much like a huge creche with many characters and elements, and is recommended for a visit with children. Opposite the scale model there is an impressive 12-meter long bas-relief sculpture, also representing the scene of Ya Mo’s victory over the Lao army, with the heroin standing at the center in a triumphant martial attitude. The museum opens everyday, except Monday, from 10:00 to 18:00.
Just outside the museum is the popular memorial to the bravery of Korat’s people, a group statue also relating to the same battle, ideally featuring Thao Suranaree among the group. See our dedicated page on this monument.
Thao Suranaree, in the form of Silpa Bhirasri’s statue, is then represented all around town and found in every corner. Replicas of the statue in all sizes are sold by the dozens and end up being displayed inside shops, offices, private homes. Replicas of the whole monument are also found here and there, for example outside the two big covered markets: Yamo and Suranakhorn. When it is not the statue, then it will be a paint or print reproduction, like in the office of the local cable TV provider KCTV, or in the hall at Pegasus hotel. Stickers with the image of the statue are also found everywhere, in particular on rear windows of cars and vans.
The image is used in all kind of commercial and non-commercial advertising, as seen around town anytime. Elevator doors at Klang Plaza 2 are a good example. The words themselves, “Suranaree” or “Yamo”, are widely used, not only to designate streets or markets but also within names of commercial companies.
Finally, an important festival and fair is dedicated to Ya Mo every year in March. It attracts many people from the city and surrounding areas. In 2009, it featured a big show, performed outdoor by well-known professional actors backed up by scores of walk-on actors and some horses, titled “The Victory of Ya Mo”.
For a more in-depth analysis of the Thao Suranaree legend, you may want to check out the book just published in October 2009: “Lady Mo and Heroism at Tung Samrit”, by Frank G Anderson.