On June 26 every year, Thai students celebrate the birthday of legendary poet Phra Sunthorn Voharn, widely known as Sunthorn Phu, who was declared a World Poet by UNESCO in 1986.
Sunthon Phu, a poetic genius, is recognized for his outstanding works in verse. He was appointed the royal clerk and received the title of Khun Sunthon Wohan in the Second Reign. During the reign of King Rama III, Sunthon Phu resigned and left the court to become a monk. After he left the monkhood, he worked for a member of the royalty for one year, and then faced difficulties when the princess passed away. He traveled by boat and continued to write poetry to earn a living. His fortune rose slightly during the reign of King Rama IV. He was given the title of Phra Sunthon Wohan in 1851 and served the court until his death in 1855.
His famous works were Phra Aphai Mani, a romantic adventure of a young prince who was kidnapped by a sea-ogress, known as Phi Sua Samut. Phra Aphai Mani is considered a combination of Thai and international traits, as there were some foreign characters in the final part. It is believed that Sunthon Phu took foreigners engaging in trading contract with Thailand at that time as models for foreign characters in Phra Aphai Mani.
The greatness of Sunthorn Phu lies not so much in correct and ornate style, which is the aim of
most Thai poets, as in the very simplicity and sincerity of his expression. Unlike so many other poets, he wrote from his heart and not from his head. Not being a learned man, he confined himself to simple forms of verse and simple language. But in his own field, in what we call Glon poetry, he was past master and his works are unsurpassed and probably can never be surpassed, although no other Thai poet has had so many imitators. But Sunthorn Phu reigns supreme, because in all his poetry, in Phra Abhai Mani, in his Nirats with their mixture of romance, pathos and humour, he touched the heartstrings of the common people. That is why he is so deservedly called the People’s Poet.
Regarded as one of Thailand’s major literary figure, Sunthon Phu was declared one of the world’s great personalities in the field of culture by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1986 when Thailand celebrated his bicentennial.
On June 26 each year, an event is held in commemoration of this great poet in the compound of his memorial in Klaeng District, Rayong Province. It features a contest of poetry reading, impromptu poetic dialogues, and picture drawing. More importantly, there is a pageant of Phi Sua Samut, and contestants make up to look like a sea-ogress. The pageant brings a great fun to both the contestants and onlookers.