The Biography of Somdej Toh (Toh Phromarangsi)
Somdej Toh or Archan Toh was born on 17th day of April in 1788 (B.E.2331), in a small village of Kamphaeng Phet Province of the Chakri Dynasty, known formally as Phra Buddhachan Toh Phromarangsi, he was born before his father became the King. Among devotees he is addressed as Somdej Toh or Archan Toh, he is one of the most beloved and famous Buddhist monks during Thailand's Rattanakosin period in Thailand ruled under King Rama. Somdej Toh is a venerable person in Buddhism. Somdej Toh was named "Toh" before his monkhood and then "Phromarangsi" as his ordination-name.
When Somdej Toh ordained as a novice at the age of 12, his family took him to Wat Nibbanaram - currently Wat Mahathad in Bangkok, a temple right across the road from the Grand Palace. At the age of 21, in 1807 (B.E.2350), he ordained as a monk under the Royal Patronage at Wat Praseeratanasa..... (Wat Prakeo) in Bangkok. Later he refuges in Wat Rakang ability to further his knowledge; he studied hard at the temple on philosophy in Buddhism and various Buddhist scriptures. Well-versed in Buddhist teachings, he was also named as Maha Toh, the King monk.
He was noted for the skill of his preaching and Thai poetry to reflect the beauty of Buddhism. He studied the Buddhist scriptures of Pali scriptures with several Buddhist masters. A shilled meditator with closed connection with the royal family, Somdej Toh was famous for his wide popularity of his humble, despite his ranking and considerate, he was easily approach for communicating with advices and offered blessings with people at all levels of life. After becoming a well-known monk, he became the preceptor for Prince Mongkut, Prince Mongkut later became King Rama IV of Thailand.
When Prince Mongkut was ordained as a monk. Somdej Toh was his senior monk, the one who taught him initially in Dharma and Vinaya. Soon after Prince Mongkut was appointed to a clerical post, his father the present King passed away. The Privy Council appointed one of his brother as King Rama III in place of his father. Somdej Toh in the course of his studies in Buddhist practice. he decided to leave Bangkok and went for “Thudong” alone, deep into the jungle to the border of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia for more than 2 decades. Thudong is a monk’s journey to gain knowledge to build up good karma and to know the teaching of Buddha. Prince Mongkut remained in the temple as a monk for 20 years. When King Rama III (his brother) passes away, Prince Mongkut was then offered the throne. So Prince Mongkut disrobed and was reign as King Rama IV.
In the year 1860 (B.E.2403), King Rama IV built the Holy City Hill named “Phra Nakhon Khiri Royal Palace” locally it is known as Khao Wong, or Palace Hill in Phetchaburi province. King Rama IV invited the country monks for the opening ceremony and celebration in a grand manner. Among the monks, the King gave the order decree to fetch Somdej Toh back to Bangkok from Thudong. Royal Officer was sent out into the forest to look for him, or bring back any monk they could found. Finally, the topic been brought to his attention, Somdej Toh voluntarily intended to return to Bangkok after 20 years of Thudong. He was invited for the ceremony, Somdej Toh set off his journey with a boat to Bangkok for the celebration, while on his way there was a sea storm occurred. Somdej Toh steps out in front of the boat, and with his virtue of prayer, he waved his hand toward the sea. The wind died down, and the sea storm was utterly calm. It can be said that with his prayer, even the wind and the waves obey him. Somdej Toh had long been the favourite of the King. After that occasion, King Rama IV appointed him to be in charge of Wat Rakang, and provided him with the title of “Somdej”, is a high-rank title a monk hold. After receiving the title, his name was revealed as Somdej Toh until today.
During King Rama IV reign year 1864, Somdej Toh was given the ceremonial name Phra Buddhacharn Toh Phromarangsi. Another contribution of Somdej Toh is the Chinabanchorn (Jinnabanchorn) Katha. This Katha was an ancient Buddhist Katha, which Somdej Toh received from an old scroll from Sri Lanka. After having the Katha, on some occasions Somdej Toh editing and rewrite to improve the Katha scriptures from the original one making it easier to pray. The Katha is named “Chinabanchorn”, which is the same name to Tao Maha Phrom Chinabanchorn. Somdej Toh used this Katha for ceremony chanting, blessing and meditation all the times whatever he does. Chinabanchorn Katha is known as the most powerful Katha of all and believed to be the supreme Buddhist spell because the words of this Katha invited the magic power of Lord Buddha Somdej Phra Sammasam Buddhachao, other Deities and Phra Arahants. Phra Somdej amulets generally are good for protecting the worshipper from avoidance of misfortune, accident, disaster, dispelled black magic, evil spirits and ghosts.
There is one story tells early in his reign. There was a time before Somdej Toh went for Thudong, he went to reside at Wat Rakang to further his studies. The night before, the abbot of the temple dreamed a white elephant was moving toward the direction of the temple and devoured all the scriptures in a box, the abbot was terrified and awakened by the dream. The next morning he felt that a conclusion must be some unusual visitor will come to the temple to take refuge that day. As it happened as he thought about, on the same day, a devotee came to the temple of Wat Rakang to invited the abbot to perform a religious ceremony out of the temple. Before the abbot left, he instructed a novice monk in the temple that if there were a visitor who visits the temple that day, they must use all effort to retained him at the temple until he comes back. On that day, when Somdej Toh arrived at the temple of Wat Rakang, the novice monk told him the incident and requested him to wait and stayed for his abbot to come back.
Somdej Toh was amazed by the incident, but he, however, stayed on and wait for the abbot to get back. After a moment, the abbot returned in a hurry and asked the novice monk is there any visitor who came to the temple. Somdej Toh was even more surprised and asked the abbot how come he knows that he will visit the temple on that day. The abbot told him of his dream and Somdej Toh immediately greet and pay respects to the abbot. When the abbot saw Somdej Toh, he knew that Somdej Toh was an unusual person with his appearance from his looks, loving-kindness and wisdom than the rest of other monks. He will become a very outstanding monk and accepted him as his disciple. Somdej Toh was famous for his knowledge in both holy Dhamma and Visha (magic). The abbot taught Somdej Toh everything he knew until the last day of his life.
In Thailand, whenever the monks attend a prayer chanting ceremony, they will carry a holy fan, these fans describe their ranking statue. Before any ceremony start, the sacred fan will be raised in front of the monk’s before chanting the verses. One day the King of Thailand invited Somdej Toh to conduct a bliss seeking prayer ceremony at a temple. Somdej Toh was holding his holy fan standing at the river bank when he intended to get a boat to get across the river. The area boat-man around there would usually provide Somdej Toh with a free trip without charge because they know him well. On a particular day, a boat-man who came from somewhere else that did not knows Somdej Toh provide him with a ride across the river and ask Somdej Toh for the boat fare. As he knows that the boat-man is just making a living, he offered his royal sealed holy fan to the boat-man as the fare. When Somdej Toh arrived at the temple, the royal guards get confused as to why Somdej Toh did not carry the holy fan with him and thought that he might have forgotten to bring it along.
When the royal guards learned about the incident, they are in fear as the holy fan was granted to Somdej Toh by the King with the royal seal on it, and also the holy fan was decorated with precious gemstones, and the handle of the holy fan was made by ivory. When this matter was referred to the King, the King immediately ordered his royal guards to get back the holy fan from the boat-man. When the royal guards found the boat-man, he was still shivering and mentioned that it was Somdej Toh who insisted him to take the holy fan as the boat fare. The royal guard paid the boat fare and got back the holy fan from the boat-man and returned it to Somdej Toh. From this story, we can see the generosity of Somdej Toh. After this incident, the King decide with a new law that no boat ride charges should be imposed on any monk taking a boat ride across the Chao Phraya River and this law is still enforced to present day.
There was a day when Somdej Toh was taking a short afternoon nap, and he notices that somebody has entered his room by the corner of his eye, he realised that it was a thief. He keeps unknown and pretended asleep and did not bother with the thief. When the thief is about to leave, he saw a small gift box on the wall shelf near where Somdej Toh is sleeping. He intended to get the small box from the shelf but scare it may wake up Somdej Toh. The thief tries hard to achieve the small box, but he failed to get it. Somdej Toh suddenly woke up to get the box and hand it to him. The thief was confused when he sees Somdej Toh gave him the box without anger. He bravely asked Somdej Toh why he gave the small box to him, Somdej Toh told him, you are here for your neediness that why you came here, this little box belongs to me and I have to take care and look after it every day. Now that you want it, I shall let you have it, and I will be free from taking care of it. We came to this world without bringing anything with us, and we will not be taking anything with us when we leave. So why should we have to tie ourselves so much in this human world?
Somdej Toh remained so dedicated to his life as a monk and brought many inspirations and implications to the people. He devotes a large number of funds he had for building several giant Buddha statues on the government property. During the year 1867, Somdej Toh intended to create a tall standing Buddha statue holding an alms bowl at Wat Inn (known as Wat Intharawihan). When the Buddha statue is in process Somdej Toh who is personally inspecting the construction of the Buddha statue when the Buddha statue was under construction he used to sleep at the site tent under the foot of the Buddha statue. On a night of June in the year 1871, when the figure was incomplete Somdej Toh pass away at the foot of the Buddha statue. Somdej Toh who originated the idea and unfortunately he is unable to see its completion. Somdej Toh left behind many precious such as the Buddha statues, temples and 84,000 thousands of Phra Somdej amulets. He also left behind the scripture text of Chinabanchorn Katha, which is beneficial to all (is also known as The Grand Sutra Text). At present, more than 50 per cent of devotees can chant this Katha.
Because of his power of meditation and prayer, he created amulet of Phra Somdej reputed to be the most popular amulet among Buddhist collectors. The amulets were blessed and chanted by him and other respected famous monks in Thailand. He became renowned for his wisdom, a venerable monk who gives Dharma talk to the royal palace and the public throughout the country.