World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5

By Paul Bernabeo | Go to book overview

Sukhothai and Ayutthaya

Before the emergence of Siam at the end of the eighteenth century CE, the region was home to a number of Thai kingdoms. These early Thai states developed from the twelfth century CE onward, when they were able to fill the vacuum created by the waning power of the Khmer (Cambodian) Empire to the east.

Among the early Thai kingdoms, Sukhothai (in west Thailand) and later Ayutthaya (north of Bangkok) emerged to dominate the region. Both these powerful states became centers of Thai art, culture, and commerce. Thai peoples settled the river valleys in northern mainland Southeast Asia in the eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. They grew rice in the valleys, fished the waterways, and worshipped territorial and ancestral gods they believed were essential to their well-being and to the fertility of the land. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Thais became followers of Theravada Buddhism, which became increasingly widespread in the region.


THE RISE OF SUKHOTHAI

At the end of the twelfth century, Sukhothai, in the northern part of Thailand's central Chao Phraya Valley, was an important city within the Khmer Empire. The Khmer kings ruled parts of central, north-central, and northeastern Thailand through local rulers, such as the Khmer-appointed ruler of Sukhothai, who paid tribute to the Khmer king and took an oath of allegiance to demonstrate his loyalty. In return, the ruler of Sukhothai received a title and Khmer support. However, as the Khmer Empire weakened and the Thai population grew, Sukhothai was able to exert itself as an independent kingdom in the first half of the thirteenth century. Other Thai kingdoms also emerged, including Lanna, which was centered in the region of present-day Chiang Mai.

Ramkhamheng (c. 1279-c. 1317), the third ruler of the kingdom, was the most famous ruler of Sukhothai. He left an inscription on a stele (a commemorative stone slab), dated 1292, in which he claimed to be overlord of an empire that reached into Laos in the northeast and to small principalities to the south in the Malay Peninsula. In 1292, Ramkhamheng went on a mission to China, submitting to Chinese overlordship in exchange for recognition as a loyal vassal and Chinese protection. Although an account of Ramkhamheng's mission is not included in the inscription, it demonstrates the power China had in the region and the respect other regional rulers had for the Chinese Empire. Ramkhamheng's inscription relates that under his rule the Thai alphabet was invented in 1283.

While other scripts existed before that time, Ramkhamheng's version of written Thai gained the widest usage and, with some modifications, is the script in use today. The inscription records important information about religion, customs, the Buddhist monkhood, the dispensation of justice, and a brief account of how Ramkhamheng came to the throne. The inscription is so comprehensive and persuasive that its contents have been adopted by modern Thai nationalist and official historians and promoted as a charter for good government. So much meaning has been invested in the inscription that its authenticity has been questioned, with some historians arguing that it is an invention of the mid-nineteenth century.

The main temple of Wat Phra Mahathat. the largest surviving
religious complex in Sukhothai, is surrounded by more than two
hundred bud-shaped
chedis, towers that contain a Buddhist relic or
the ashes of a king or an important monk
.

-604-

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World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Country Locator for Volume 5 Myanmar and Thailand i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Geography and Climate 580
  • The Land of Myanmar and Thailand 582
  • Geology of Myanmar and Thailand 590
  • Climate of Myanmar and Thailand 594
  • Flora and Fauna of Thailand and Myanmar 598
  • History and Movement of Peoples 602
  • Sukhothai and Ayutthaya 604
  • Later Burmese Kingdoms 608
  • British Intervention in Burma 610
  • Peoples of Myanmar and Thailand 612
  • Myanmar (Burma) 614
  • Government 618
  • Modern History 620
  • War and Independence 623
  • Independent Burma 626
  • Modern Myanmar 628
  • Cultural Expression 630
  • Art and Architecture 632
  • Music and Performing Arts 636
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 638
  • Food and Drink 640
  • Daily Life 642
  • Family and Society 644
  • Welfare 646
  • Yangon (Rangoon) 648
  • Naypyidaw 650
  • Mandalay 651
  • Moulmein 652
  • Pegu 653
  • Economy 654
  • Thailand 662
  • Government 666
  • Modern History 668
  • Siam in Transition 670
  • The Age of Reform 672
  • War and Military Rule 674
  • Modern Thailand 676
  • Cultural Expression 678
  • Art and Architecture 680
  • Decorative Arts 683
  • Music and Performing Arts 684
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 687
  • Food and Drink 688
  • Daily Life 690
  • Family and Society 693
  • Health, Welfare, and Housing 695
  • Education 697
  • Bangkok 698
  • Chiang Mai 703
  • Nakhon Ratchasima 704
  • Udon Thani 705
  • Economy 706
  • Further Research 716
  • Index 718
  • World and Its Peoples 722
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