Reading western text on the history of Thailand, the concept of Kings as Gods seems to crop up quite often. In my eagerness to digest what is said about the history, I've always tended to skip over the nagging feeling that is generated with this western interpretation of Kingship. As I've come to develop a sense of caution on the internal logic of each language, the question marks behind each concept that get translated across cultures have become bigger and bigger for me. This particular one hit me in the middle of my head, since I've had to intensively review books and articles about the history of Thailand in preparation for my paper.
We Thais highly revere our Kings, and willingly place them on top of our heads, but we've never conceptualized them as "God"! Come on, being Buddhists, we don't even believe in God, or gods. OK, so we pray to spirits, go to Indra and Brahmin shrines, but seriously, someone should make it clear, they are never related to as gods. Please, someone, dig in and explain, we don't have the concept of a sole creator who creates the universe, etc, etc., etc.
Our Kings, "Prachaopaendin" literally means "Lord of the Land". "Chao" which through lack of equivalent term in English is translated into "Lord" and then thought of as God. Going into the definition of this term "chao" needs a linguistic paper. A "Chao's" right to rule is sanctioned by what is known as "Tosapit Rajataam" or the 10 laws of Kingship. These are an expression of how centuries of rulership has been tested and what qualites of kingship are valued. Nothing in those rules says he's a god in the western sense that he is the descendant of a creator of the universe. A King's royalty and his power comes from his ability to command many qualities that allows him to rule for the benefit of the people.
I'm registering my protest against this unquestioned definition of a historical concept written in western languages that carelessly use this equation which actually comes from the western epistemology that God gives the Chruch the right to rule, and then the Church gives the right to Kings to rule. Well, that logic doesn't follow in our society. This way of looking at the history of our region through these lenses have written versions of history that somehow just doesn't seem to ring a bell.