Sukhothai: The Dawn of Happiness
Sukhothai: The Dawn of Happiness
Early 13th-century northern Thai kingdoms
were actually scattered city-states such as Sukhothai, Lanna and
Phayao, with limited human, military and
economic resources. Usually located in
fertile, naturally protected surroundings.
self-sustaining in terms of food. fuel,
building materials and cloth, and separated by dense jungle, they were
individually powerless to defy Khmer suzerainty,
exercised from Angkor's royal courts.
In 1238. two Thai chieftains, Khun
Bang Klang Hao and Khun Pha Muang
combined forces and, after attaching
and defeating the local Khmer commander. founded the first truly Independent
Thai kingdom in Sukhothai (in Pali: Sukhodaya or, aptly, 'Dawn of Happiness').
||Sangkhalok wares fabricated in
Sukhothai kilns were widely exported
to various countries in Asia.
This singular assertion of independence signaled future Thai expansion
throughout the entire Chao Phya river
basin pushing the Khmers out of territory
they had formerly occupied. Indeed,
by the earty 1300s. Sukhothai enjoyed
suzerainty over territory westwards to
lower Burma, the area of Nakhon Si Thammarat
to the south, and northeast to Vientiane, the present Laotian capital.
The victorious Khun Rang Klang
Hao was popularly acclaimed Sukhothai's
first king and ruled as King Si Inthrathit
(Sri Indraditya), His successful liberation
of his people from Khmer rule aroused
the attention of neighboring Thai states
which saw that Thai Independence
could flourish only if the Thais presented
a united front against would-be aggressors. Accordingly, alliances were forged
and cemented by intermarriage, a practice which Thais had already used to
establish themselves among settled
Mon and Khmer communities.
Sukhothal reached its zenith during
the reign of King Sl Inthrat hit's youngest
son, King Ramkhamhaeng the Great,
the third Sukhothai king. The most
famous of Sukhothai's eight kings. King
Ramkhamhaeng attained legendary
status during his long (1275-1317) reign.
An absolute monarch -- meaning
his authority was unquestionably supreme
King Ramkhamhaeng had been an
accomplished warrior during his youth.
His exploits on war elephants gained
him a fearsome reputation as he expanded Sukhothai's territory by
campaigning for his father against the Khmers and rival kingdoms.
King Ramkhamhaeng ensured Sukhothai's continuing security and stability
by concluding pacts with the powerful
neighboring kingdoms of Chiang Saen,
Chiang Mai and Phayao. In a series of
brilliant diplomatic corps, he established
trade treaties with India and Burma,
made close contact with Sri Lanka, the
bastion of Theravada Buddhism, and
promoted friendly relations with the
Chinese emperor by sending five Thai
embassies to China between 1292 and 1314.
In 1300 Chinese artisans came to
Sukhothai and introduced the production
of glazed ceremics which were exported
to neighboring countries and are now internationally prized as
and other ceramics with underglazed handpainted designs.
Pottery kilns are still prominently visible among
Sukhothai's magnificent ruins.
Devoutly Buddhist, King Ramkhamhaeng invited monks from Sri Lanka to
purify the Khmer-influenced Buddhism
practiced in Sukhothai. Sukhothai
people in general appeased the spirit
called Phra Kaphung Phi abiding on a
hill near Sukhothai. After the introduction of the Theravada sect. monks in
Sukhothai followed a more tranquil.
disciplined way of monastic life. There
were two major schools of Buddhist
monks in Sukhothai. Khamawasi and
Aranyawasi, the first consisting of
monks residing in the city monasteries
to preach to the people and the second
consisting of those in the monasteries
outside the city, concentrating on medi-
tation. As Theravada Buddhism be-
came the predominant Thai religion,
numerous graceful temples were built
to house the elegantly beautiful Sukhothai-style
Buddha images that today rank
among the world's greatest expressions
of Buddhist art.
In the most far-reaching achievement of his reign. King Ramkham-
haeng created the Thai alphabet in 1283 and
in one stroke formed the tool for uniting
scattered city-states into a nation with
an identity of Its own. A distinguished
scholar of Pali (the ecclesiastic language
of Theravada Buddhism) and neighboring
languages, King Ramkhamhaeng based
his alphabet on already established Mon
and Khmer scripts. Once the Thai alphabet found common usage, nascent
literary, religious, historical and educational forms took shape and became vital
aspects of a truly indigenous Thai culture,
With surprisingly few modifications,
King Ramkhamhaeng's alphabet remains
in common use today.
Recently, along the east coast,
archaeologists have excavated
underwater sites, salvaging beoutijui
plates with fish motifs.|
Sukhothai's major economic base
was agriculture, namely rice farming and
fruit growing. These, together with freshwater fish caught in fields, streams and
rivers, formed the simple, albeit nourishing, Thai diet. The same food remains
popular throughout the Thai countryside today.
The capital flourished as a trading
center. Pottery was exported to Java,
Sumatra. Pegu, the Philippines and Japan. In Japan, the Sangkhalok wares
were even used in the ancient tea ceremonies. Suhhothai also developed
commerce with China, Burma. Sri Lanka
and Persia. Its major products were rice, fruits and timber.
Sukhothal and other towns within
the kingdom were administrative, religious. military and market centers. The
Sukholhai kingdom was governed
through towns In a loosely organized
feudalistic system controlled by the king.
Nearby provincial towns were ruled di-
rectly from the royal palace; those located
farther away were ruled by appointed
governors who enjoyed absolute power
within their own territories. It was the
assumed duty of these governors to raise
armies to defend the kingdom in time
Stucco moldings of Apsaras in various
dancing postures decorate the chedi at
Wat Mahathat, representing masterful
Until the late 19th century, as Thai
power centers moved ever southward
down the Chao Phya river basin, this
mode of administration remained in force
throughout the realm.
King Ramkhamhaeng ruled his
ethnically diverse subjects Mons,
Laotians, Malays, Burmese, and Khmers
as well as Thais wisely and justly. In
times of war he protected his subjects,
bravely leading the army. He enjoyed
a paternal relationship with his people,
teaching good conduds, and embodying the open accessibility and closeness
between king and subjects that epitomizes
the ideal Thai monarch. According to
a stone inscription of 1292, anyone with
a grievance could strike a bell hung outside King Ramkhamhaeng's palace and
be granted a royal audience.
It is small wonder that modern Thais
regard Sukhothai as a place of enviable
contentment. The 1292 inscription
evokes the peaceful, prosperous life its
inhabitants must have enjoyed: "This
Sukhothai is good. In the water there
are fish. In the fields there is rice. The
king does no] levy a rate on his people...
Who wants to trade in elephants, trades,
Who wants to trade in horses, trades.
Who wants to trade in gold and silver,
King Ramkhamhaeng's successors
were of lesser caliber, though one of them,
King Li Thai. was a noted Buddhist
scholar and compiled the Tribhumikatha,
one of the first Thai books. After the
reign of King Li Thai, Sukhothai's power
gradually declined, and when King
Maha Thammaracha III (Sai Lu Thai)
passed away, Phra Ramesuan (Ramesvara) from Ayutthaya was installed on the
throne in Sukhothai, he was the son of
Phra Borom Racha II of AyUtthaya and a
princess of Sukhothal. By the late 14th
century Sukhothai had become a vassal
state of Ayutthaya, a young, dynamically expanding kingdom some 400
kilometers farther down the Chao Phya river valley.