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they conclude that all Christians are Cahat (persons appointed to sin), and their talapoins alone are Creeng (holy.)
Besides the five general moral precepts which are obligatory on all, there is a special code for the talapoins, which forbids them to eat after twelve o'clock at noon; to frequent public shows or listen to music; to use perfumes or jewels about their persons; to sleep or recline on a couch above one cubit high; to borrow or be in debt; to look at anything as they pass along the street; to touch gold or silver ;* to keep food over night instead of giving it to the lower animals; to dig the earth; to meddle with state affairs; to raise the voice in laughing; to make a noise or tread heavily with their feet; to revile, backbite, or threaten; to cough in order to attract attention to themselves; to extend their feet as they sit; and a number of other like prohibitions, amounting to 144, in which the moral and ceremonial are mingled without distinction as above.
The watas are built in the most elevated situations, and many of them cover a large extent of ground. They always include a temple, with the images of Gaudama; an extensive area; one or more sacred spires ; a library; and the dwellings of the talapoins. The style of building is in all more or less Chinese, and one trace of Egyptian architecture is universally foundnamely, the inclined angle of the doors and windows. The Burmans make stupendous pagodas and monasteries, while the image-houses are comparatively small and often trifling. The Siamese, on the contrary, construct trifling pagodas and small detached priests' houses, reserving their principal wealth and labour for the erection of vast image-houses or temples. These are made beautiful, according to Siamese taste, by pillars, gilding, historical paintings, and Chinese tinsel. Most of the buildings are of brick, plastered on the outside, and wrought into a grotesque Mosaic with Chinese and Wedgwood cups, plates, and dishes of all sizes and colours, broken and whole, so set in the plaster as to form flowers and figures. But the chief labour and expense are bestowed on the gable-ends, eaves, doors, window-frames, and the inside of the roof, which are all of wood, and exhibit the most elaborate carving, painting, varnishing, and gilding. The temples consist either of one spacious hall
, containing a gigantic figure of Buddha, surrounded by innumerable smaller ones, or a central one contains the principal image, and a number of surrounding apartments are open to the reception of all that the devotion of the people manufactures. In the principal wata at Bankok there are said to be 1400 or 1500 images of all sizes, from one inch to thirty feet high; and it seems they accumulate so rapidly that the priests are at times obliged to demolish them in great numbers.
One or more pra-cha-dis, or sacred spires, seem indispensable to every religious establishment. These are solid pieces of masonry raised on a base of twelve or eighteen sides, but without aperture of any description. They are neither objects nor places of Worship, and it is supposed that their original design was sepulchral. The pra-cha-di of the principal temple of Bankok is about 250 feet high, and presents a light and elegant appearance.
They often amass considerable wealth, however, employing their secular servants to treasure up the money they receive.
The library of this establishment is as rich in decoration as carving, gilding, and bright vermilion can make it. In the centre is a sort of ark or sanctuary surmounted by a spire; and here the sacred volumes, about fifty in number, are deposited. Like all other Bali books in this country, these consist of long narrow slips of palm - leaf, filed at each end on a cord. The edges are richly gilded, and they have, on the whole, a neat and even handsome appearance.
The outermost range in every wata consists of the dwellings of the talapoins, and the whole establishment is surrounded with brick walls or bamboo fences. Although perhaps not less costly than the Hindoo and Mohammedan temples of India, these Siamese structures are very inferior to them in grandeur, and are said to be little calculated to inspire feelings of veneration or solemnity in the European mind. This is easily accounted for by the mean and perishable nature of the principal materials, the gaudy and meretricious character of the ornaments, and, above all, the absence of all associations of antiquity. The alluvial tract of the Menam affords no materials for durable building, and therefore what would otherwise have been expended on solid materials is squandered on temporary embellishments. Nor does the frame of society supply motives for constructing lasting monuments. Every wata is built from personal motives of piety or pride, and from the nature of the government the founder cannot bequeath secure funds for its maintenance. Many, therefore, of the splendid edifices described by French writers towards the close of the seventeenth century are now forsaken and in ruins.
The votaries who frequent the temples on holidays are of all ages and both sexes : the majority are Siamese, but there are also a good many of the Chinese race, and others from the neighbouring kingdoms of Lao, Pegu, Cochin-China, and Camboja. In vain we look here for the decorum becoming a place of religious worship, in vain expect anything similar to the prostrate awe which characterises the audience-chamber of the earthly monarch. The people are noisy and playful; at one moment making obeisance before the idols, at another singing an idle song or amusing themselves with a silly frolic. One man is coolly lighting his cigar at an immense rod just placed by a devotee as an offering to a deity, and another sits down deliberately before an image, and plays a merry tune on the flageolet, in the midst of persons who are performing their devotions at the same shrine. No officiating priest is to be seen ; no union of voice is attempted ; no worship of a public or official nature is performed: but the devotees go about presenting offerings to the idols, and sprinkling them with perfumes. Their oblations consist of lighted incense-rods, fresh flowers, pieces of cloth, generally of a yellow colour, and chaplets of artificial flowers. In the presentation of these their devotional duties seem chiefly if not entirely to consist; and the women who mix in the crowd, unveiled, and apparently without restraint, are for the most part a great deal more assiduous and decorous than the men.
One of the greatest charities performed during high festivals of a religious nature consists in the liberation of some of the lower animals, which are purchased for the purpose.
The Siamese language is exceedingly simple in its construction, and is doubtless an original. It is destitute of terminations to denote gender, number, person, mood, or tense. A few particles supply the place of these; but they are generally omitted, not only in conversation, but by the best writers. This renders it easy to learn, and foreigners soon acquire it sufficiently for the common purposes of life. But it is proportionally liable to ambiguity, rendering a very accurate acquaintance with it necessary for anything like nice discussion. Except as enriched from other tongues, the Siamese is monosyllabic, and necessarily possesses great variety of intonation and accent. The alphabet consists of thirty-four consonant characters, and is written from the left hand to the right, like those of all the other nations between Arabia and China. The vowels are numerous, and, as in Hebrew, are merely orthographic marks, sometimes placed over the consonant characters, sometimes under, and sometimes preceding or following them.
The language possesses that sort of redundancy which results from lengthened rather than useful cultivation; and it is deeply stamped with the political slavery of the people, abounding in distinct terms, to indicate the relative positions of the speakers as superior or inferior.
The literature of the Siamese is, from all accounts, meagre and uninteresting. It consists of songs, romances, and a few chronicles; but in point of imagination, force, and correctness, it is said to be far inferior to that of the Arabs, Persians, or Hindoos. Except for ordinary letters, there is no such thing as prose composition. There are no regular dramas; but plays are founded on the romances, the actors being dependent on their own wits for converting the subject into a suitable dialogue.
It is to sacred literature chiefly that the Siamese attach any importance. The language consecrated to religion is, as in other Buddhist countries, the Bali or Pali, sometimes also called the Pasa Magnetha, or language of Maghada, the birthplace of Gaudama. This language, as it exists in Ceylon and throughout all the kingdoms of further India, is the same, and the compositions current in all the Buddhist countries seem to differ little from each other ; but the mode of writing in Ceylon is so unlike that practised in Siam, that the Bali manuscripts of the one are not easily deciphered by the priests of the other.
Almost all Bali books, and such in the vernacular as are considered valuable, are written with an iron stile on slips of palm-leaf-a black powder being thrown over the impression, which is thus rendered perfectly legible. These slips are from twelve to eighteen inches long, and are fastened together in small bundles, each forming a volume, which is generally richly gilt, and placed in a silk envelope. For less important works the Siamese employ a kind of stiff paper, prepared with a black paste, so as to receive the tracing, which is made with a pencil of soap-stone, and admits of as on a slate. The paper used for correspondence is a very
poor, soft, uneven fabric, and the writing is executed with a pencil—ink being a material almost unknown to the Siamese. It is gratifying to add, that since the establishment of Christian missions from America at Bankok in 1833, a brighter day has dawned on Siamese literature. For fifteen years a printing-press has been kept in constant operation, and several of the natives have been instructed in its use. The object of these pious labours is to circulate portions of the Holy Scriptures, as well as educational and other works, in the native tongue. Chow-Fah, the heir to the throne, has acquired the English language: he has a printingpress, made by himself in imitation of that on the mission premises, and types of the Roman alphabet, which of late years has been much used as the vehicle of Siamese.
There is a pretty general diffusion of elementary knowledge in Siam, as in most other countries of Asia ; but there do not appear to be schools, properly so called. A knowledge of reading and writing in the vernacular seems to be casually acquired at home, and every man gains some acquaintance with the sacred tongue during his residence at the wata. In other rude states of society the holy order is commonly the depository of whatever learning or science may exist; but the Buddhist nations are deprived of this advantage by a law of their religion, which proscribes secular learning to its priesthood, and denounces all mental acquirements except a knowledge of the Bali books. The consequence is, that medicine, astronomy, and astrology, the favourite science of semi-barbarians, are abandoned to the casual culture of a few foreigners. At Bankok all the medical practitioners are Chinese or Cochin - Chinese, while astronomy and divination are in the hands of the Brahmins. The Siamese, however, have some knowledge of arithmetic, and use the decimal system of notation. Chow-Fah has read many English books, has studied Euclid and Newton, and understands the use of the sextant and chronometer.
Where the government is perfectly despotic, there can be, properly speaking, no right but might, no law but power. Yet we not unfrequently find considerable attention theoretically paid to the distribution of justice on the part of such governments; and the laws are often of a strictly equitable character, though the administrators of them are too generally corrupt. An abstract of the Siamese laws, drawn from native documents, was furnished many years ago to the Royal Asiatic Society by Captain John Lowe of the Indian Army. Several of these laws are of great antiquity, one dating as far back as the year 1053 of the Christian era, and some referring to a code nearly five centuries older.
The penal code bears a strong resemblance to that of China, especially in the indiscriminate and liberal application which it makes of the bamboo for the punishment of almost every kind of offence. Petty larcenies are punished with thirty blows; more serious cases of theft by ninety blows and imprisonment; besides which the culprit is obliged not only to restore the property, but to pay a fine, to support himself in prison, and even to pay for his lodging there, and light to work by. The legal punishment of an incendiary is mutilation by the excision of the offending hand; but the monarchs have latterly commuted this to the severest punishment of theft
. Murder is always punished with death, and the mode is decapitation with
a sword. Sedition and treason are of course unpardonable crimes, and the written code ordains that in such cases the offenders shall be trodden to death by elephants or devoured by tigers; but this has seldom been enforced during the last half-century. Forging the royal signet, or counterfeiting the current coin, is also a capital crime by law; but of late years imprisonment for life, and the heaviest infliction of the bamboo, have been substituted. Assault and abusive language are punished by fine ; and if the injury be offered to a superior, corporeal punishment is added. Except in this particular the Siamese law does not, like that of the Hindoos, allow the rank of the offender to influence the manner or measure of his punishment. The talapoins have in this respect no immunities like the Brahmins—their sacred character being considered, as it ought to be, rather an aggravation of any offence of which they may be guilty. They cannot, indeed, be punished as priests, but it is a summary and easy process, in case of a breach of statute law, to strip them of their sacerdotal garments, and expose them to all its rigour.
It deserves to be remarked, that neither the law of retaliation nor pecuniary composition for crimes is admitted. It would be incompatible with the spirit of a government which has disarmed the people, and tamed them down to the lowest state of submission, to leave in their hands so large a share of free action as would be implied in such provisions.
According to Siamese law, all contracts concerning property ought to be committed to writing. Wills may be either written or nuncupatory, but in either case must be made in the presence of four witnesses. A man may bequeath his property in what proportions he pleases among his wives and children, but he cannot pass by these in favour of others. If he dies intestate, the law provides for an equitable division of his effects; but in the case of persons of rank all is often confiscated, the king exhibiting against the estate an account of which he has himself been both framer and auditor.
Polygamy is legal, but one wife has always the pre-eminence and control over the rest, and she alone enjoys maternal authority among the children. The power of the husband is despotic, and he may even sell his children and inferior wives; but this power does not extend to his wife-in-chief: nor is the taking away of life in any case permitted to him. Divorces are obtained without difficulty on very slight grounds, and are frequent among the lower classes ; only, if the desire for freedom is not reciprocal, the complaining party must pay a fine for the benefit of the other. In any case of divorce the wife receives back whatever she contributed to the common stock, the husband retaining his original share, and also all the subsequent accumulations. If the children are young, the sons are by law allotted to the mother, and the daughters to the father ; but if grown up, they may follow their own choice in this respect. As soon as a divorce has taken place, either party may form a new connection forthwith ; but where there are children this is considered a great evil. Marriages in the first degree of relationship are forbidden, but the monarchs often dispense with this law in their own case, and marry their sisters.
A breach of the marriage-vow does not appear to be regarded as a very great offence. It is punished by a pecuniary fine, according to the condition of the offender, or the bástinado, if this is not forthcoming. The