Today’s Thailand comprises the western half of the mediaeval Khmer Empire which, in the 12th and 13th century included almost all of the south-east asian peninsula. Its capital was in Angkor which was fro some time the largest city of the East.
In the 14th century a kingdom rose up in the north around the city of Sukothai and another, itself initially a part of Sukothai around Luang Prabang.
From the middle of the 14th century a new kingdom expanded from the south, its nuclues being around Ayuthaya. This kingdom absorbed Sukothai in 1438.
At a coup d’état in 1782 the ruling dynasty of Ayuthaya was overthrown by a general called Chakri who became the founder of the Chakri Dynasty still ruling today’s Thailand.
Rama I restored
most of the social and political system of the Ayutthaya kingdom,
promulgating new law codes, reinstating court ceremonies and imposing
discipline on the Buddhist monkhood. His government was carried out by six
great ministries headed by royal princes. Four of these administered
the Kalahom, the
the north and east;
the area immediately south of the capital;
the area around Bangkok;.
the Krom Na,
the ministry of lands;
the Krom Wang,
the ministry of the royal court.
seeing the disorder accompanying the overthrow of Taksin, invaded Siam again
in 1785. Rama allowed them to occupy both the north and the south, but the Uparat,
vice-king, his brother, led the Siamese army into western Siam and
crushed the Burmese forces in a battle near Kanchanaburi.
This was the last major Burmese invasion of Siam, although as late as 1802
Burmese forces had to be driven out of Lanna.
In 1792 the
Siamese occupied Luang Prabang and brought most of Laos under
indirect Siamese rule. Cambodia was also effectively ruled by Siam.
By the time of
his death in 1809 Rama I had created a Siamese overlordship dominating an
area considerably larger than modern Thailand.
In the 19th century Siam became an absolutist monarchy in the time of Chulalongkorn (Rama V). He reorganized the government amongst others by establishing a Council of State and a Privy Council in 1874 and ministries headed by a Minister of State in 1892. In 1932 however, a constitutional monarchy was founded which lasts until now.
official name was ‘Siam’ until 23 June 1939, when it was changed to
‘Thailand’. It was then renamed ‘Siam’ from 1945 to 11 May 1949, after which
it was again renamed ‘Thailand’.
Siamese and Thai heraldry uses several symbols from the hindu-buddhist repertory of symbols. On the other hand western influences are of some importance.
The hindu-buddhist symbols are:
1. The trisula (trident), the arms of Shiva
2. The chakram (throwing wheel), the arms of Narayana
3. The three-headed elephant Erawan, the vehicle of Indra
4. The white elephant, an incarnation of Buddha
5. The garuda or vehicle of Vishnu
Besides there are the regalia consisting of a crown, a throne, and some other ritual objects.
Almost all of these emblems were concentrated into the achievement adopted in 1873.
A trisula is a version of a thunderbolt. It is of very ancient mesopotamian origin and it spread to the west and the far east. In hindu symbolism is is the weapon of Shiva, the god of destruction and of war.
In siamese symbolism it is an emblem of the ruler symbolizing his armed authority.
A chakram (not to be
confounded with a čakra or Wheel of Law) is a weapon developed in
India. It consists of a metal ring, sometimes with a sharp edge but, like in
the siamese version, also surrounded by saw-teeth. It was used in man to man
combat and was thrown, giving it a spin to cause optimal damage. In 1785 it
was made the charge of the flag or army ensign by king Rama I Chaophraya
Chakri (1782-1809) who was an Ayuthaya minister and army commander. By his
successors it was developed into the emblem, literally the arms, of the House
of Chakri, ruling Siam and Thailand until the present day.
Airavata or Erawan is a mythical beast of Hindu origin. It is a huge elephant, which is shown
with three, sometimes with 33 heads. The heads are often shown with more
than two tusks. On some statues the Hindu god Indra is riding on Erawan.
Airavata/Erawan in Thailand and Laos is of Khmer origin. He was introduced by Jayavarman VIII (1243–‘95) who was a a devotee of the Hindu deity Shiva. He occurs on some stone sculptures in Cambodia but in particular in Angkor Wat, the 12th century temple of the capital of the Khmer Empire. Usually he is carrying Lord Indra. 
riding Airavata supported by Kirtimukha
Srei Temple, 12th century. Cambodia
a Khmer king is portrayed, Kirtimukha making
him a supreme commander.
In the 19th
century Erawan became the emblem of the North of Siam, consisting of the
former Sukothai Territories annexed by Ayuthaya in 1438, and Luang Prabang,
under Siamese rule from 1788 until 1868 but both once a part of the Khmer
Erawan on a temple front. Probably from Northern Siam
Erawan can be associated with the Mahatthai,
the ministry dating from Ayuthaya times, and restored by Rama I. This Mahatthai
controlled the northern parts of Siam.
beginning of the 19th century, under Rama III Chetssadabodin (1824-‘51) Erawan became the charge of the arms of
Siam, from 1873 accompanied by other emblems.
was the predecessor of the present Ministry of the Interior, founded by King
Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in his reforms of the Siamese government. The ministry
was founded on the 1 April 1892, and his brother Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, was appointed its first
“Minister of State”. At the time the Ministry was divided into three
divisions: the Central Division the Northern Division and the Local
After 1892, Erawan
appeared on coins struck from 1897 until 1925.
20 Satang, 1897
1 silver Salung, 1924-‘25
In 1932 Erawan
disappeared from official symbolism.
At the same time,
it seems, the emblem of the minister of the interior himself was a lion.
Present seal of the
Minister of the Interior
In the middleages the Khmer Empire was known as the Empire of the Million Elephants. A european traveller wrote, referring to the Sukothai Kingdom:
....From this island men
go by sea to another, called Calanok; it is a large country, plentiful in
goods. The King of that land has as many wives as he wants. [......] The King
has also fourteen thousand tame elephants, which he keeps at a town in his
kingdom. When he has a war against any lord near him, he has castles made and
tied on the elephants; in these castles he puts soldiers to fight against his
enemies. Their enemies do the same; for that is the fashion of warfare in
those lands. These elephants they call
warkes in their language. 
Indeed war elephants were used in battle in India as well as in Southeast Asia and could be qualified as a symbol of the Southeast Asian empires and their armies.
On the other
hand, according to Buddhism's influence in place of Hinduism, the king was
also believed to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha-like. And because the Lord Buddha
was thought to have entered the womb of his mother in the shape of an
elephant, an elephant could also be interpreted to be a symbol of the king.
A statuette of such a war elephant or royal emblem has
been found in a tomb of two princes of Ayuthaya who died 1424. It is a kneeling elephant with a howdah
or seat on its back and with a crown on its head. It gives a good impression
of how a war elephant looked like in 15th century Ayuthaya. It also
demonstrates the fact that an elephant was the royal vehicle.
In heraldry an elephant occurs in relation with Ayuthaya in the 17th century. It is on a map of the city of Ayuthaya from the time of King Narai (1656-’88), made by a french traveller.
Arms: Azure, an elephant passant to
the sinister and a dragon in chief.
Crown: An imperial crown. 
course these arms are a european invention but the idea is clear: Ayuthaya is
symbolized by an elephant. Also we may suppose that the dragon is a misinterpretation
of a garuda, which was a symbol of the royal government.
the 19th century the elephant came to be associated with the Kalahom or Department of Defense which
controlled the south of Siam in both civil and military affairs. The Kalahom
was the predecessor of the present Ministry of Defense. It was founded in the
late Ayutthaya period and was retained in the Rattanakosin period. It was
headed by the Samuda Kalahom who usually was merely a military
about 1817 a chakram
(not to be confounded with a čakra or Wheel of Law) enclosing an
elephant was placed on the flag, thus creating a flag of the arms of Naraya
(a manifestation of Vishnu) and the symbol of Ayuthaya making the emblem of
the Kalahom (defense force of the south).
The flag was
interpreted in Europe to be a coat of arms: Gules, an elephant statant on a
platform proper, and a sun issuant radiant in chief [the shield surrounded by
a garland of oak and olive].
As such it is
the coat of arms of Siam in the proper military (and heraldic) sense of the
word. It can be associated with Rama II Itsarasunthon (1809-’24).
emblem was also printed on coins struck 1860-’77 and in 1891 the emblem
became the charge of the navy ensign, the elephant in the field, the chakram
in the upper left corner. This was when the Kalahom had become the Ministry
Navy ensign adopted
25.03.1891 and abandoned 1898
ensign adopted 28.09.1917
In the end an
elephant only became the charge of the navy ensign adopted 28 September 1917 and
still in use. This is paralleled by the elephant statant on coins struck
In the meantime
the emblem of the Samuda Kalahom seems to have been an elephant lion
(a lion with a trunk) or a Gajasiha. This beast was the dexter supporter of
several royal achievements.
The garuda is of very ancient mesopotamian origin and came to Siam by hinduism. It is a bird-man having the body of a man and the wings, head and feet of a bird. Sculpures of a garuda can be found in Angkor Wat, the temple of the capital of the Khmer empire and are dating from the 13th century (again from the reign of Jayavarman VIII).
Usually the garuda is the vehicle of Vishnu, the god of maintenance and as such a symbol of the royal government. In Siam he was introduced at the end of the 19th century and after the reorganization of the government by king Rama V Chulalongkorm in 1892.
Garuda in low relief in
Because the old regalia of Ayuthaya had disappeared during the sack and destruction of the city Rama I had to order new ones for his coronation
Taken all together the regalia consist of 28 pieces of which five are considered to be the most important for a traditional coronation ceremony. Inofficially they are called the Five Royal Insignia, symbolizing and legitimizing not only his rule but also the responsability of the king for his land and people.
The Five Royal Insignia consist of:
Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut (the royal crown, the great crown of victory)
Tharn Phra Gorn Chaipruek (the royal sceptre)
Phra Saeng Khan Chai Sri (the royal sword, the sword of victory)
Wan wit chani (the royal fan and fly-whisk)
Cha Long Phra Baat Chern Ngorn (the royal slippers)
The royal crown is of a traditional siamese conical shape. Its top symbolizes the authority of the king in heaven and its base his caring for his people on earth. The crown is 66 cm heigh and is called the Great Crown of Victory
The Great Crown of Victory is the example of the heraldic crown used as a crest of the arms of the royal family and of the arms of the armed forces services.
The royal sceptre has the form of a stick used for controlling elephants. It symbolizes the justice and righteousness of royal rule. The stick is about 118 cm long and is made of local wood, covered with gold.
The Great Sword of Victory has a double-edged blade. Its handle and sheath are decorated with gold, gems and enamel. The handle is 25,4 cm long and the blade 64,5 cm. Sheathed, sword and sheath are 101 cm long, showing the upper, decorated part of the blade.
The royal fan symbolizes the coolness and silence of the country. It consists of a palmleaf and has a length of 32.5 cm and a diameter of 17-18 cm.
The flywhisk symbolizes the law and the duty. It is made of elephant’s hair. Both pieces have handles of gold and enamel.
The Royal slippers are about 29Í12 cm and are decorated with precious stones, diamonds and enamel. They are lined with red silk and their soles are decorated with gold.
decorations of orders featuring in the achievement are:
The 8-pointed star of the order shows a portrait of King Chulalongkorn within the legend ‘We desire to found the happiness of our family’ in thai. The collar consists of a crowned Erawan, supported by Rajasiha and Gajasiha, 26 flowers and 25 royal cyphers C.P.R. of king Chulalongkorn.
© Hubert de Vries 2012-03-14
 Erawan is the name of the three-headed elephant in thai. In sanskrit he is called Airavata.
 Some pictures of Airavata
in Angkor Wat on internet. An 800 year old Khmer bronze statue
of Airavata, originally from Ankor Wat, was brought to Burma from Thailand by
King Bayinaung Kyaw Htin NawraHta in 1563. It is displayed in a room off the
courtyard of the ornate Mahamuni Buddha Temple in Amarapura, Mandalay Region,
 The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Penguin Classisc, 1983. p. 132