Standing tall and graceful where Khlong Bangkok Noi joins the Chao Phraya River is the white Persian-style building of the Ansorissunnah Royal Mosque, or Su-Rao Bangkok Noi. Its history dates back to the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.
Ansorissunnah Royal Mosque, or Su-Rao Bangkok Noi.
Umamah Masoodi, who volunteers to provide information for visitors at the mosque, said: "The first mosque was built after our ancestors had escaped from Ayutthaya. The original location is Bangkok Noi Railway Station. It was moved to the current site in 1901."
The mosque is accessible by boat via the Bangkok Noi canal and on foot via an alley off Arun Amarin Road, Thon Buri. You can take a long-tailed boat from Tha Chang pier and travel northwest along the Chao Phraya River to the canal. The mosque is on the right-hand side, opposite Siriraj Hospital.
According to the mosque's website, when Burmese invaders were burning down the capital of Ayutthaya, many villagers escaped. Many, including Muslims, fled south by raft or boat on the Chao Phraya River, finding places to call their new homes. Those Muslims later settled down in areas called Talat Kaeo, Bang O, Bangkok Noi, Bangkok Yai and Bang Lamphu Lang.
Some of them, including the predecessors of the current Bangkok Noi residents, settled down and built a mosque near a field of hog plum trees (makhok) at the mouth of Khlong Bangkok Noi canal, or the present-day Thon Buri railway station.
Later in the reign of King Rama V, the king wanted a railway constructed from Bangkok to Phetchaburi and considered the mouth of Khlong Bangkok Noi a suitable location. He offered a plot of land opposite a royal barge centre in exchange for the location of the mosque. Also, he granted money for the construction of a new mosque for the Sunnis, members of one of Islam's two major sects. This is why it is today known as a royal mosque. Another plot of land close to the mosque was later given by the king for the opening of the country's first Islamic school which teaches both Thai and Arabic languages. The king named the school Ratchakaroon.
However, the mosque, the school and the entire village were destroyed in a spate of air raids during World War II. Only the cemetery was left. The Muslims, including the Sricharoon family and Phet Thongkham Company, donated money to rebuild the mosque in 1949.
"During World War II, the area was a strategic point and later thoroughly bombed. The old mosque made of wood was destroyed as well. The local villagers later gathered money to rebuild it," Umamah said. The mosque has a prayer hall, cemetery and school, where Umamah studied as a primary student.
"All of us have had faith in Islam for generations. We are Sunnis. The Sunnis came to Siam first from Islamic countries while the Shi'ites followed," she added.
"Among the Shi'ites was Sheikh Ahmad Qomi, or Chao Phya Boworn Rajnayok, the forefather of the Bunnag family whose descendants later converted to Buddhism. Everyone [in the community] knew each other. The area was prosperous and attracted many merchants. But, after the construction of roads, a number of people moved to elsewhere. In the past, most of the villagers were merchants or ran their own businesses. Nowadays, many of the young generation here work as government officials or company employees."
"This community is famous for food. Every family can bake bread. A poem by King Rama II mentions khao hoong proong yang thes [Persian-Arab-style cooked rice added with cardamom fruit]. The people of Bangkok Noi used to cook food for royals. A book says Phraya Chularatchamontri [Siam's Islamic spiritual leader] was in charge of rice cooking and tea brewing near [the Grand Palace's] Thewapitak Gate," Umamah noted proudly.
According to her, Chao Chom Marnda Riam, a consort of King Rama II and the mother of King Rama III, was a native of Thon Buri and she cooked very well. She was a descendant of Sultan Sulaiman, a Muslim who ruled Songkhla during the Ayutthaya period. The family of Chao Chom Marnda Riam adopted the surname Sirisamphan during the reign of King Rama VI.
"We love to cook are biryani rice with chicken, bukhari rice, samosa and certain Indian and Arab foods like roti and mataba. The recipes must have been brought in by our trader ancestors," Umamah said. According to her, khao mok is the Thai term for biryani. Muslims at Bangkok Noi cook biryani by mixing meat and spices first and adding the rice later. The first mixture will become brown. After adding saffron, the rice will become yellow. After adding rice, the colour will fade. Therefore, biryani here is in three colours _ brown, yellow and off-white. Here, chicken biryani is eaten with ground sesame and vegetables like basil leaves and cucumber. The samosas are delicious and special for being deep-fried in cooking oil mixed with goat fat and ghee from Australia.
The community is also known for tasty breads, including plain and sweetened breads and a kind called kanompang yasoom.
The recipes have been passed on to them for generations since their merchant ancestors travelled to Ayutthaya. Umamah claimed that one of Thailand's most popular bread shops, Nom Mon, uses recipes from Bangkok Noi.
Festivities in the community are like those Muslims mark elsewhere. On Fridays, they gather and celebrate at the mosque. Men join a mass prayer ceremony outdoors. When Thai Muslim pilgrims go to Mecca, the rest celebrate at home, butcher an ox and give away beef to the poor. Other occasions include Ramadan and the big celebration of Eid, after the end of Ramadan, when about 1,000 Muslims visit for prayers and feasts.
In addition, the area has long been known for the making of good-quality cotton wool mattresses. The business is believed to have started about a century ago after an early group of mattress makers had travelled abroad, probably to the Middle East for pilgrimages, and seen good mattresses there.
"About 80 years ago, the area was famous for cotton wool mattresses. There were even cotton wool factories here. Now, about 20 people still make mattresses and run two shops in Bangkok Noi and two others in Phahurat," said mattress maker Na Khamthas, whose family has been in the business for generations. Making a 15cm-thick king-size mattress needs three sacks of cotton wool and making a 20cm-thick king-size mattress requires four. Each sack costs 600 baht. The prices of cotton wool mattresses from Bangkok Noi range from 7,000 to 15,000 baht.
"In all, the community around the royal mosque remains close-knit, mainly because of its residents' religious faith. Socialisation makes us know our religion," Umamah noted.
About the author
- Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer