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Northern Thailand’s Last Lanna Princess Chao Duang Duen Remembered



Princess Chao Duang Duen

The last princess of the now-defunct Lanna Kingdom in Northern Thailand, Chao Duang Duen Na Chiang Mai, had a burial that was equally as lavish as the amazing life she lead.

One curious traveller remarks, “Why are they wearing white if it’s a funeral? ” The Lanna final rites ceremony, which lasted for a week, ended on Saturday. The Lanna don’t wear black. The funeral procession included hundreds of Fon Lep nail dancers, an elephant, tangerine monks, alms bearers, and the deceased’s family.

The coffin had been sanctified by the abbot and was now ensconced inside a little mobile “castle.”

At her residence in Chiang Mai, the capital of the territories of her ancestors, Chao Duang Duen passed away on January 2 at the age of 93. The Lan Na monarchs, who were established in 1292 AD, governed a large, mountainous area of what is now Northern Thailand for 500 years before Siam, the enlarging kingdom to the south, subjugated them.

Princess Chao Duang Duen

Due to the division of their monarchy into lesser principalities, Lanna territories became tributary nations. They were distinguished by their own language, arts, culture, animistic beliefs, and Buddhist traditions.

This continued until King Kaew Nawarat, Duang Duen’s grandfather, passed away in 1939, at which point Siam totally dissolved the Lanna royal family. Only ten years old, Duang Duen.

The inhabitants of the huge region of Chiang Mai remember Chao Duang Duen as more than just a cultural patron 80 years after her death in Thailand. It is obvious that she was still their princess based on the large number of mourners at her funeral and the language and respect with which the locals speak about her.

“The title may be passed down, but respect is not. She worked hard for it,” Loogtan Yontaranak, her granddaughter, said as she guided us through an exhibition about Duang Duen’s life. For the week leading up to the burial, the pictures, medals, costumes, and testimony each have their own pavilion in the Wat Phra Singh temple.

Chao Duang Duen’s loyalty to Lanna culture

Her grandson Pana Yontaranak said, “Her method of being a princess was the way she cared for other people. He claimed that throughout her life, his grandmother worked to improve the lives of people in both rural and urban Chiang Mai through shrewd commercial acumen, loyalty to Lanna culture, and sociopolitical diplomacy.

Duangduen Chao On January 2, 2023, Na Chiang Mai passed away from natural causes. The woman was 93 years old. Chao Duangduen, the third child of Chao Rachapakinai or Chao Muang Cheun Na Chiang Mai, was born on May 22, 1929. Chao Buarawong and Chao Fong Nual, members of the Na Lamphun and Na Chiang Mai tribes, are her paternal grandparents.

The National Identity Committee, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, hailed Chao Duangduen as the protector of Thai religion and culture in 2022.

Chao Duangduen’s relatives in Chiang Mai took care of her in her old age, according to Mr. Wallop Namwongprom, deputy president of the Chiang Mai Culture Council.

Princess Chao Duang Duen

The council and Chao Duangduen’s family, according to Mr. Wallop, had agreed to hold the funeral according to Lanna customs.

Temple Phra Singh Woramahawihan in Chiang Mai will host the washing ritual and prayers. Thereafter, the casket of Chao Duangduen was transported to Wat Suan Dok for the customary Lanna funeral.

Even when her siblings and extended family migrated south to Bangkok, Princess Chao Duang Duen remained in Chiang Mai for the entirety of her life.

The Voice of Chiang Mai

After she wed the local politician Pirun Intrawut, she started her own newspaper, The Voice of Chiang Mai. Also, she hosted regional radio programs and was awarded the renowned Voice of America Medal for outstanding broadcasters.

She was renowned for having a bright mind, “always reading, always studying, and forcing us to watch the news as children rather than cartoons.”

Chao Duang Duen trained to become the first female judge of the Juvenile Court in 1970 after establishing herself as a critical voice to be taken seriously in the local media, and in 1973 she was elected to the House of Representatives, a body that makes up Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly.

After acting as a journalist, judge, and advocate for women’s rights, Chao Duang Duen’s ultimate transformation saw her take on the position of guardian of Lanna arts, deftly protecting her culture while generating jobs that equaled to financial security for residents of rural and suburban Chiang Mai.

Princess Chao Duang Duen

In the 1970s, she started the Chiang Mai Flower Festival, which is now held each February. Perhaps much more significantly, she established her own textile company, Duang Duen Cotton, in the 1980s, hiring workers from the villages outside Chiang Mai and maintaining traditional Lanna weaving patterns and natural coloring techniques.

In the late 1980s, when most women her age would have retired, she hired and educated locals to weave textiles.

The business, which is now known as the Jomthong Native Handicraft Training Center, was located close to her country home in Jomthong.

Her honors and awards keep coming, but the mammoth funeral served as the best illustration of how devoted she was to Chiang Mai, which returned the favour by giving her a touching send-off. As the mile-long procession of monks, Fon Lep dancers, an elephant, musicians, and her extended family and loved ones slowly marched past, police and traffic wardens blocked the streets of the ancient city centre.

Her casket arrived at Wat Suan Dok, the temple that has been used as the final resting place for Lanna monarchs for 700 years, after a two-hour march. The last Lanna funeral the nation will ever witness, thousands of mourners in white gathered to bid their final goodbyes to their princess as the pyre burned.

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