KHLONG MAHA PHRAM
Text, photographs & maps by Tricky Vandenberg - February 2012
Update May 2015
The last stretches of the old Maha Phram  Canal (1) are situated northwest of
Ayutthaya in Bang Ban sub-district. The waterway, at present not more than a moat, runs
north of the Bang Ban's district office towards Ban Pom. The Maha Phram Canal runs in
between
Wat Khanon and Wat Lat Bua Khao and joins there the Chao Phraya River.

The canal was dug to give Ayutthaya access to the Chao Phraya River, which in the
Ayutthayan era ran through the present Bang Ban Canal, a few kilometers west of the
city. This western entry/exit of Ayutthaya was of very much importance as the waterway
was used to travel to the northern cities.

The Maha Phram Canal started north of Ban Kop Jao, ran through Maha Phram and had
its mouth near Wat Khanon in Ban Pom. The canal joined here with
a waterway coming
down from Ban Mai and which was running into the Lopburi River at Hua Laem (Cape
Head), northwest of Ayutthaya City in front of Sat Kop Fortress.

The Catholic
Seminary of the Holy Angels established by the French in the 17th century
was situated on the southern bank of the canal at Maha Phram. The location is locally
called 'Tuk Farang' or 'Tuk Maha Phram' and situated east of Wat Khlang. It is obvious
that this waterway - important for the French as a connecting waterway with the
Saint
Joseph enclave in the former Cochin Chinese settlement, south of Ayutthaya - was not
missing on their maps. We find the canal indicated on a map drawn by the French
Engineer de La Mare around 1685. De La Mare denominated that stretch of water with
'Mapram R.'.

At the mouth of the Maha Phram Canal stood the western royal tax station, called
Pak
Khu tax station (Pak Khu - mouth of the ditch). It was situated south of Wat Lat Bua
Khao along the canal and controlled the navigation coming and going to the Chao Phraya
River.

Van Beek wrote that the Chao Phraya River was blocked off near Ang Thong in 1853
and pushed into the Bang Kaeo Canal. Near Ban Mai (Maha Rat) the waterway was
deviated into the Lopburi River and resurfaced in the old Chao Phraya River near Wat
Mai (Ayutthaya), 5 Km south of Wat Jula Mani, but the attempt to give the Chao Phraya
a new river bed failed and the project was abandoned. In 1857 a new attempt was
undertaken but this time a channel was dug in front of Wat Jula Mani southwards to Ban
Mai. The river followed now the straight course south and joined the Maha Phram Canal
at Wat Khanon. [1]

The Maha Phram Canal as thus lost its function as a link to the Chao Phraya River and
because of lacking current, the canal silted largely and became much narrower, but still
can be seen today.

The Maha Phram canal was of course not only of importance to the French at the end of
the 17th century. The canal was already longtime prior in existence. King Chakkraphat
used this canal to flee on a royal barge during the rebellion of Prince Sri Sin in 1561 [2]
and the rebellion of Patani in 1564 [3]. We find in 1658 the King of Hongsawadi
encamping at Maha Phram after having been chased out of the
Lum Phli Field by the fire
of the Narai Sanghan Cannon in an embrasure of the corner of
Wat Sop Sawan. [4]

They urged their elephants forward to collide with each other. Prince Si Sin
attacked with a scythe and Caophraya Maha Sena fell off his elephant. Prince Si
Sin, going in by way of the Sao Thong Chai Gate, was able to enter the royal
palace. King Cakkraphat, being taken by surprise, boarded a royal barge and fled
up to
Maha Phram Island. [RCA - Rebellion of Prince Si Sin - Page 41]

On the next day they moved in to anchor at the Chai Gate. The Phraya and Sultan
of Tani, having been presented with the opportunity, turned to revolt and entered
the royal palace. King Cakkraphat was taken by surprise and fled to
Maha Phram
Island on the Si Sakkalat Royal Barge. His generals and ministers together entered
the royal palace and utterly routed the men of Tani who boarded their boats and
promptly fled. All the chief ministers then went out to invite King Cakkraphat,
Lord of the White Elephant, to enter his great royal residence. [RCA - The
Rebellion of Pattani - Page 49]

The King of Hongsawadi reached the Capital City of Ayutthaya with his army on
Wednesday the  first day of the waxing moon of the first month, and entrenched his
troops in the Vicinage of Lumphli. Then Phraya Ram ordered the Narai Sanghan
Cannon,  over  three wa and one sòk long and with twelve niu cannon balls,
dragged over and set up in an embrasure at the Sop Sawan corner, and ordered the
gunners to fire into the middle of the King of Hongsawadi’s army. The cannon balls
hit and killed many elephants, horses and soldiers, and fell close to the pavilion of
the King of Hongsawadi. The King of Hongsawadi had the cannon balls brought up
to receive propitiatory offerings and then withdrew his army to encamp at
Maha
Phram
.][RCA - The Hongsawadi Armies Besiege Ayutthaya - Page 61]

We find the Maha Phram Canal also mentioned a few times in the epic poem Khun
Chang Khun Phaen, indicating that it was one of the main waterways heading towards the
City of Ayutthaya.

Khanan Ai said, ‘Don’t worry.’ He boarded the boat and hurried away from the
landing. He took companions who had been partners for a long time. All were
armed. They made no noise. They went to the sharp corner [Hua Laem], turned to
the right, and hastened past Wat Tha. When dusk fell and the water was high, they
hid on
Maha Phram island. [KCKP: 41: Phlai Chumphon discovers the love
charm]

Khun Chang rode on the neck, his shiny pate swaying to and fro. He wielded the
goad to make the elephant trot along, his rear end jiggling this way and that. They
took the direct route to the city, out to Thong Plain, down to the crossing at Kop
Jao, through Ban
Maha Phram, turning right to Golden Mount, then through the
rice fields to reach to Ayutthaya at midday. [KCKP: 33 The marriage of Phra Wai]

Phraya Boran Rachathanin mentions the Maha Phram Canal in his work Tamnan Krung
Kao
but called it the Hua Saphan Canal. Hua Saphan was situated north of Kop Chao
along the waterway at present called Bang Ban Canal. The Hua Saphan canal was used
as a short cut for going to Pa Mok or Ban Chao Chet. [5]

In the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya, the canal is mentioned as the Pa Mok route. [6]
Phraya Boran wrote that the Hua Saphan Canal in previous time might have been deep
and very wide and therefore had an island, called Maha Phram Island. There could have
been an established Brahman community which village was on that island.

The exact date of the establishment of the canal is not known. North along the canal are
situated from west to east: Wat Jaeng, Wat Sao Thong and Wat Lat Bua Khao, while on
the south bank are located: Wat Klang, Wat Muang Wan and Wat Khanon.

Footnotes:

(1) Maha Phram = The Great Brahmin.

References:

[1] The Chao Phya, River in Transition - Steve Van Beek - Oxford University Press
(1995) - page 11-2.
[2] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 41 /
Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - Rebellion of Prince Si Sin.
[3] Ibid. - page 49 - The Rebellion of Pattani.
[4] Ibid. - page 60-1 - The Hongsawadi Armies Besiege Ayutthaya.
[5] Tamnan Krung Kao - Phraya Boran Rachathanin (1907) - page 95-6.
[6] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 102 /
Source: Luang Prasoet.
Maha Phram River on a 17th Century map
Origin of the Maha Phram Canal north of Bang Ban at Hua Saphan
(Maha Phram River on a 17th Century map)
(Origin of the Maha Phram Canal north of Bang Ban
at Hua Saphan)
Water regulator near the Mouth of the Maha Phram Canal
The silted Maha Phram Canal
(Water regulator near the Mouth of the Maha Phram
Canal)
(Maha Phram Canal)