Thai cremation volumes

Our Cremation Volume Collection

In the NLA Thai collection we have around 3000 titles reflecting more than 4000 volumes, continuously acquiring since the 1960s. The earliest volume we have was published in 1910, this particular volume was printed “on the occasion of the cremation of His Majesty King Chulalonkorn”ใ

 We actively acquire cremation volumes quickly after they are produced; they are not sold commercially but acquired through dedicated dealers who are assisting us to build this cultural resource. 

You can search for Cremation Volumes online in the NLA catalogue using the name of the deceased. Recently acquired volumes (from 2007) are catalogued in Thai for easy searching, otherwise you will need to search using romanised spelling; searching with the romanisation can be awkward ALA-LC  Romanization Table, so please feel free to ask for assistance from the library staff they will be happy to assist you personally.

Cremation Volumes: Nangsu Anuson Ngansop

These volumes, published and distributed as gifts on the occasion of cremation ceremonies, are an important cultural artifact of Thai society, providing a rich source of literary, historical, cultural, and folk information. The custom of distributing books for free grew out of a traditional Thai emphasis on gift giving (than; Pali, dana), often associated with Buddhist merit making. More specifically, the free distribution of cremation volumes is an extension of a cultural practice of giving gifts to people to celebrate a special, meritorious occasion (nai ngan kuson).

With the introduction of printing into Siam in the 1800s, certain influential people began to hand out commemorative volumes, and the idea soon caught on. One of the earliest commemorative volumes found at the National Library of Thailand, entitled Nonthukpakaranan, was prepared for the celebration of the promotion of Krommun Aksonrasatsanasophon to the government service rank of Kromkhun Bodinthaphaisansophon in the year 1876.

Almost all recent samples of cremation volumes are composed of a short biography of the deceased, eulogies from friends and relatives (kham wai-alai), and selected literature of significance to the deceased. Often the "look" of these volumes can be an indicator of status. Some publications have gilt covers and contain numerous colour photographs, while others are simply folded, scaled-down paper replicas of palm-leaf manuscripts with a few (Buddhist) aphorisms printed on each panel and a cover bearing the name of the deceased and perhaps the date of birth and death.

(from Grant Olson, 1992, ‘Thai cremation volumes: a brief history of a unique genre of literature’ Asian Folklore Studies 51:279-294)