The Legend of King Naresuan’s Elephant Duel | Battle of Nong Sarai

Duel on elephant back was supposed to be the height of warfare at that time… It’s a bit like knights used to joust … so it’s very romantic to have an elephant duel

Elephants might be the much-loved symbol of Thailand today, yet in the past, they were used as instruments of war. In fact, a tradition of single combat on elephant back first emerged in Thai history in the 13th century during the Sukhothai period.

The origin of the elephant duel is still unknown but there is the possibility that the Thais and other Southeast Asian warriors adopted this practice from Sri Lanka.

The duel was usually invoked when two major armies faced off and when initial skirmishes failed to indicate which party was likely to win. In order to avoid an immensely destructive battle, the two opposing parties could negotiate a duel between two figures of equal rank, each mounted on his heavily armed war elephant (along with one or more bodyguard behind the warrior and a mahout in front to guide the animal). At the agreed moment, these two would rush forward and attempt to disarm, wound, kill or unseat each other. It was understood that the outcome would settle the entire battle once and for all.
It is the single combat between King Naresuan and the Crown Prince of Burma, Mingyi Swa, which has been remembered as one of the most legendary battles in Thai history. The fight was at the battle of Nong Sarai in 1592, which was a pivotal battle of the Siam-Burmese wars of this time. The two leaders, perched atop their elephants, engaged in a fierce and heavily-romanticised duel.


Accounts of the battle differ with many conflicting views and details. However the story which is usually told is based on Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya

Naresuan, the Siamese prince who led the rebellion, bravely came forward on his war elephant and loudly challenged the Burmese to a duel. His heroic words were transmitted in the annals: “Whatever
is Our royal older brother doing standing in the shade of a tree? Come forth and let us fight an elephant duel for the honor of our kingdoms!”

Thus the Thai prince shamed the Burmese crown prince into accepting a challenge. The Thai elephant, being in rut, went berserk and rushed towards the enemy. The Burmese crown prince slashed with his scythe, but Naresuan turned and avoided being hit. Naresuan slashed with his sword, hitting the Burmese prince’s right shoulder, and cutting deeply into his opponent’s chest. At this time, Naresuan’s elephant driver was hit and killed by an enemy bullet. Prince Naresuan’s brother, the future King Ekathotsarot, fought with General Mangcacharo and also won that contest. The Thai army then rushed forward, slashing and stabbing, forced the enemy to retreat in defeat, and pursued them until the Burmese were no longer on Siamese territory.

It should be noted that historical accounts of the battle differ greatly with many conflicting views and details.

There’s around 10 different accounts of the incident and it’s important to state at the beginning that not one of these claims to be an eyewitness account,…… and these are all different, no two are the same and they differ about every single detail of the thing.

Then there’s the question of whether … it was a formal duel, whether Naresuan challenged the Burmese prince or in some accounts they just met in the middle of the battle and fought against one another.

More importantly there’s a question, big differences in how he is killed. [In] the mainstream version, Naresuan kills him with a sword. In other versions the Burmese prince is killed with a bullet.” – Chris Baker, Historian

Today, the elephant battle is remembered as one of Thailand’s finest moments and has become a vital part of the nation’s psyche. Naresuan’s victory along with freeing Thais from Burmese subjugation, saw him earn the title Naresuan the Great, and statues of him and his elephant battle can be found all over Thailand. The date of the battle (January 18th) has been adopted as a national holiday and celebrated each year as Royal Thai Armed Forces Day.
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