THE ELEPHANT KRAAL
Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - January 2010
Phaniat, the place were the elephants are kept and the kings are crowned...
(Jeremias Van Vliet, 1692)

The Elephant Kraal is located off the City Island along the west bank of the new
Lopburi River in the northeastern area in Suan Phrik Sub-district. The elephant kraal of
Ayutthaya is the only one left in Thailand and is located 4 Km northeast of the City along
Road No 309. The area was called in earlier times
Thamle Ya or the "grass locality", as
the whole area was as a large grass field. In its immediate vicinity are the
War Elephants
Monument, the Phaniat Palace and an Old Kiln situated.

The outlook from the Ko Jawet Maha Prasat pavilion, from where the kings watched the
elephant trapping ceremony, is a big cage surrounded with logs having; from the front
centre, fencing lines of 45 degrees spread out to both sides far away into the former
jungle area. The kraal dates back to the 16th century, when King Maha Thammaracha (r.
1569-1590) after the first fall of Ayutthaya in 1569, moved the old elephant kraal near
Wat Song to the present site; a time when elephants were not only caught and trained for
work and transport, but merely used for warfare.

Many visitors in the late 19th and early 20th century had the occasion to visit the kraal in
Ayutthaya. George Bacon, visiting Siam in 1857 describes the site as follows:

"After visiting the ruins, therefore, we inspected the kraal or stockade, in which
the elephants are captured. This was a large quadrangular piece of ground,
enclosed by a wall about six feet in thickness, having an entrance on one side,
through which
the elephants are made to enter the enclosure. Inside the wall is a fence of strong
teak stakes driven into the ground a few inches apart. In the centre is a small
house erected on poles and strongly surrounded with stakes, wherein some men
are stationed for the purpose of securing the animals. ...Once a year, a large
number is collected together in the enclosure, and as many as are wanted of those
possessing the points which the Siamese consider beautiful are captured. ...On this
occasion the king and a large concourse of nobles assemble together to witness the
proceedings; they occupy a large platform on one side of the enclosure."
[1]

Peter Anthony Thompson somehow fifty years later in 1905, sketches the following
picture of the kraal:

"Beyond the busy lines of floating houses, on a tongue of land between two of the
numerous branches of the river, stands the paniet or elephant stockade. This is a
square enclosure of posts, ten feet high and about two feet apart. It is surrounded
by a broad wall with a parapet, and at one end is a pavilion for the King and his
court. On opposite sides of the stockade are two narrow openings, connected with
passages which lead through the wall. These passages are closed by great beams
which hang pivoted at one extremity from a frame-work overhead. They can easily
be drawn aside by ropes, and when the tension is relaxed they swing back again,
and bar the entrance. Outside the wall more posts are planted, so as to enclose a
large triangular space, whose apex is at the narrow gap in the wall. In the base of
the triangle a wide gate is left, and beyond this radiating lines of posts direct the
advance of the elephants. This is the scene of the great "Elephant Hunt," which
takes place once in every three or four years."
[1]

Internet sources mostly report that the last roundup of wild elephants in Thailand
happened back in 1903. Thompson, although gave a dramatic account of an elephant
roundup in Ayutthaya two years later, in March 1905.

"At length the final drive began. Led by two tame elephants, and closely hemmed
in behind, the herd pressed forward into the outer stockade, and the bars were
slipped behind them. They had still to face the narrow passage through the wall,
leading to the inner enclosure, and this they did not like at all. As before, a tame
elephant led the way, but it was not until the tuskers had come up and pushed and
prodded those behind that the herd swayed towards the opening, and still those in
front held back. At last one made a break and with a frightened squeal ran in, and
he was followed by many others. In this way fifty or sixty elephants were got
inside, but then a strange thing happened. Perhaps it was the sight of the great
crowd pressing closely against the posts on every side that at length made the
elephants realise that they were in a trap, but, whatever the cause, they were
growing very restive, and remained huddled together in the centre of the stockade.
Now and then they would crush against the posts, and one big fellow made a fierce
charge in the attempt to regain his freedom. Then the posts creaked ominously, for
though they look so stout they are hollow with age. When the elephants came near,
the crowd outside gave way and prepared to fly, should they break out, but
between the posts were stationed men who thrust with long spears at the
elephants, and kept them back. Matters were now at a deadlock, for no more
elephants would go through the opening, and those behind were pushing forward
and boring into the throng, the little tuskers charging fiercely in with the best of
them. As the crush grew worse some were trampled underneath and some were
lifted off their feet, while in the very middle one great tuskless male was seen high
above his fellows, walking upon the backs of those who had sunk to the ground.
Then, mingled with the grunts and squeals, was heard the deep roar of anger, and
on the outskirts of the scrum were some who slapped the ground with their trunks
in rage. It was soon apparent that many of the smaller elephants were being
crushed to death, and so the tame tuskers came round and drove the whole herd
back again towards the river, but a pile of fifteen was left lying on the ground.
Water was brought in long joints of bamboo, and poured over the prostrate
elephants. A few recovered, and with the help of the tuskers regained their feet
and joined the herd, but the greater number of them were dead. In the evening,
after the crowd had gone, the rest of the herd was safely got inside the inner
stockade."
 [2]

The restoration of Ayutthaya's ancient kraal, the elephant-trapping pen, began in
October 2007. All 980 ageing logs in the fence surrounding the enclosure were replaced.
The "sao talung" are the major component of the pen, or "Phaniat Klong Chang", which
wild elephants were driven into for elephant-trapping ceremonies in the Ayutthaya
period. All the old timber was replaced under a 16 million Baht restoration project,
which was launched to mark King Rama IX's 80th birthday in December 2007. The
governor presided over the ceremony, in which the first of the logs were uprooted from
the ground. There was a ritual to obtain permission from the deities before the ceremony
began, as the kraal is traditionally a sacred place.

The Elephant Kraal was next to the elephant-trapping an important place for the
legitimation of the Ayutthayan Kings. We read in Jeremias Van Vliet's
Short History of
the Kings of Siam 1640
that the place was used for the abhiseka ceremony of the king,
in this case King Naresuan (r. 1590-1605). Van Vliet's account has a bit of a macabre
taste as King Naresuan got all the rowers of the Royal Barges executed at this spot, after
they landed his Royal Barge carelessly on the occasion of his coronation.

He ordered the royal boats to be made ready and the mandarins to go by boat with him
to the Phaniat (the place where the elephants are kept and the kings are crowned) in
order to proclaim him king and swear oaths of allegiance to him. On arrival at Phaniat,
Phra Naret’s rowers made an error in the process of landing, which he left unpunished at
that time. He was crowned with the proper solemnities when he was thirty five years old
and was called Phra Naret Rachathirat. After having been crowned, he had all rowers in
his boat, as well as those in the other royal boats (about 1600 men), burnt alive in that
same place. [3]

A more elaborated pdf file on the elephant kraal written by Ken May can de found
here.

References:

[1] Siam, the land of the white elephant - George B. Bacon (1893) - page  126.
[2] Siam, An Account of the Country and the People - Peter Anthony Thompson (1910)
- Chapter 10.
[3] Van Vliet's Siam - Chris Baker, Dhiravat Na Pombejra, Alfons Van Der Kraan &
David K. Wyatt (2005) - page 228.
View of the kraal
Kraal gate
War elephant memorial
Ko Jawet Maha Prasat
Elephant round up begin 1900
Old kraal gate
(View of the kraal)
(Kraal gate)
(Ko Jawet Maha Prasat)
(Old kraal gate)
(War elephant memorial)
(Elephant round up begin 1900)
(Elephant round up begin 1900)
The Ayutthaya Kraal by Mouhot
(The Ayutthaya Kraal by Mouhot)