The book was hardly read by Thai students, in its original English version.
Bangkok: A “Festival of India” will be held in Thailand later this year, to celebrate 70 years of relations between the two countries. A reciprocal “Festival of Thailand” will also be held in India, said Indian ambassador to Thailand, Bhagwant Bishnoi, in Bangkok.
The idea of reciprocal festivals in both countries to celebrate the 70th year of their diplomatic ties, came about in July 2016, when Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited India. The Indian ambassador made the announcement, at an event, to announce the Thai translation of British writer A.L. Basham’s famed 1954 treatise The Wonder that was India. Translated into 12 languages, the Thai translation of the book is the first of many Indo-Thai activities planned this year.
The Thai translation took more than a year to be written, and was the joint effort of several academics and Indophiles, with the financial support of the embassy of India.
The book has been prescribed in four universities in Bangkok, which offer courses in Indian studies — Thammasat, Chulalongkorn, Silpakorn, Mahidol.
The book was hardly read by Thai students, in its original English version. Thus, the Thai version has been welcomed.
The book launch was followed by a lively panel discussion by five Indophiles as they brought out both the high and low points of the book.
Dr Sawitree Charoenpong from Thammasat University said that she uses the book as a constant reference point, since it portrayed the numerous diversities of India, which many Thais were not aware of.
“They think of India as one entity,” she said. Prof. Chedha Tingsanchali, who studied in India, said the book helped him a lot for his art history classes in Silpakorn University. What he enjoyed most, were the book’s portrayal of varied aspects of both the Buddhism and Hinduism, including the latter’s “feminine” aspects.
Well-known Indophile Veera Dhirapatranon, who has visited India numerous times, admired the fourth chapter of the book, which dealt with political thinking, specially the Arthashastra, which he said could be applied to Thailand’s political scenario even today. But he had his reservations about its portrait of Indian history, as the book covered India only till the 12 century.
“That gives the impression that India is a Hindu nation, which it is not. In fact, it has one of the biggest Muslim populations in the world!” he exclaimed. He displayed the numerous “new” volumes of books on India that he had read, which gave a broader vision of contemporary India.
Dr Chris Baker, an academic who has a doctorate in Indian History from Cambridge, agreed that the book was an “incomplete” picture of Indian history. However, he was proud that the author of the book was the first post-colonial writer to write about India, and to assert that Indian culture was not inferior to Western culture.
Kanchanee La-ongsri, moderator of the panel discussion and one of the translators of the book, said that the book was an encyclopedia on India.
“It is a legacy of India, and a starting point for Thais to read about India, in their own language”, she stated. The forthcoming festivals of India and Thailand, in the two countries, should certainly add to this legacy of historical and cultural ties between the two nations.