Thaïland : the indian influence

Wat Phra Ram at Ayuthaya. Thaïland.

Located in a swampy area, the Wat Phra Ram, one of the oldest monument at Ayutthaya, has started to be constructed around 1369 by the king Ramesuan on the cremation site of his father, Ramathibodi I, the first king of the Ayutthaya kingdom in former Siam ( now Thailand). At this time, it was the custom to build an edifice in praise of a deceased king. Building such a monument was considered as highly meritorious. And gaining merits was ( and is still ) very important in theravada buddhism, the main religion in this part of the world. Then the site has been donated to buddhist monks ( another highly meritorious deed !) who established a monastery.

Ayutthaya was then the Siamese royal capital. It lasted from 1350 to 1767, four centuries when the country has known its historical apex. The city was named after Ayodhya, a north-indian town which is the birthplace and former capital of Rama, a local prince who lived in the Antiquity and whose life has been narrated in the Indian epic “Ramayana”, the second largest poem in the world. Since then, Rama has been deified and has become one of the main hindu gods.

In the 14° century, Siam was strongly influenced by the “khmer” ( people coming from Cambodia) : elements of brahmanism ( the precedent form of hinduism), “theravada” buddhism and “mahayana” buddhism were mixed. Indeed, indian culture spread to the South-East Asia kingdoms from the 1° century. All these kingdoms were first indianized by brahmanic priests and later by buddhist monks. ( Buddha was a north-indian prince too who became a spiritual master) Among these indianized territories, the more important one was the “khmer” empire. All these kingdoms were indigenous and independent of mainland India. And if the royal families and the elites have adopted so easily the Indian culture and its religions, it’s because at this time brahmanic and buddhist beliefs legitimized their own rule, the power of the king and the aristocracy. Indeed, in the ancient Indian scriptures, the king was considered as the sovereign of the world, the one who was responsible of the right order of the universe ! A very interesting concept for any king !

Since the 18° century, the kings of Thaïland belong to the Chakri dynasty.( The “chakri” is an indian sun symbol ) The actual king is Bhumibol Adulyadej, which in sanskrit ( the former lingua franca of literate hindus) means “strength of the land” and “incomparable power”. Before him, many kings were called Rama, in homage of the hindu god of morale.

If Thaï people are mostly buddhists ( others are animists or muslims), many rituals and symbols derive from brahmanism. And hindu deities are worshipped by many Thaïs ( who mix easily both religions).


About travelerreport

My blog is all about travelling and photography
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