Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Thailand before the Thais.

This is a text, I've borrowed from USMTA,I wonder if they've written the documents on history themselves,but I've seen copies of the wordings in several other webpages, so I don't really know. I feel the wording has been carefully chosen, why duplicate the effort? The purpose of my blog will be to provide links (a bit too lightly coloured with this blogging template, hope you can see them) on key issues I find interesting, and maybe have chats with others who have similar interests once a while.

Thailand before the Thais: The area covered by the modern state of Thailand, known until 1939 as Siam, is one of considerable diversity. The term Thai or Siamese is therefore primarily not ethnic, but political, denoting a subject of the king of Thailand, secondarily linguistic, meaning a speaker of the Thai language, and thirdly cultural, signifying a product of the culture to which the various ethnic groups that have formerly lived or live today in the region have all contributed.

The term Tai is generally used to denote the various related peoples, among them the Shans, the Laos and the Siamese Thais, who graduallly migrated into mainland Southeast Asia from southwest China (this issue is still widely debated) and of whom the Siamese Thai branch now form the majority of the population of the kingdom of Thailand.

Trading relations between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia go back far into the prehistoric period, but the earliest evidence of Indian influence penetrating into Southeast Asia in the wake of this trade dates from the 1st century AD with the formation in mainland Southeast Asia, the Malay peninsula and the western islands of the Indonesian archipelago of states in which, the kings in order to legitimise their power, had adopted either Hinduism or Buddhism, together with other Indian ideas of kingship, statecraft, law and administration, and forms of religious art and architecture derived from Indian models.

Among the earliest of these kingdoms was the state called Funan by the Chinese. According again to the Chinese sources, Funan was replaced as the leading power in the Mekong valley by one of its vassals, the Khmer state of Zhenla, which was centered round Bassac in southern Laos. When Funan was being threatened by the rising power of Zhenla, the dominant people of central Thailand seem to have been the Mons, an ancient people, related to the Khmers, who probably settled in the region at about the same time. While under the rule of Funan, the Mons adopted Indian religion, chiefly Theravada Buddhism. unlike the predominantly Hindu Khmers. There appear to have been numerous small Mon states in the region, of which the most important was Dvaravati. Little is known about Dvaravati, and even its name occurs only once, in an inscription that refers to the 'Lord of Dvaravati'. Many believe that it was a federation of Mon states rather than a single state, but the term is now applied to all Mon art and culture of this period in Thailand. The principal Mon-Dvaravati centers were U Thong, Lopburi, Khu Bua and Nakhon Pathom. In the north in the Lamphun area was the Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya, called Hariphunchai in Thai.

Haripunjaya is traditionally believed to have been founded in the late 7th century by a group of holy men at whose invitation the Buddhist ruler of Lop Buri sent his daughter Cham Tewi with a large retinue of Mons to Lamphun to be the first ruler of the new state. At about the time that Haripunjaya was founded, Dvaravati seems to have become politically, though not culturally, subject to the great maritime empire of Sri Vijaya, the capital of which is thought to have been at Palembang on the east coast of Sumatra and which at various times between the 7th and 13th century extended its rule over much of western Indonesia, the Malay peninsula and southern Thailand as far as the Kra Isthmus and other parts of the coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

In the early 11th century the eastern part of the Mon realm fell under Khmer rule, while the western part was conquered by the Burmese King Anawrahta of Pagan (ruled 1044 -77). Haripunjaya also fell under Khmer rule in the II century and was finally conquered at the end of the 13th by King Mangrai, ruler of the northern kingdom of Lan Na.

Finally after a serious of battles they succumbed to Khmer domination, but by early 13th century, they outnumbered the titular overlords. It was at this point that several groups united, proclaimed their freedom and in 1238, founded the independent kingdom of Sukhothai, (Dawn of happiness) in the Pali language. Under its second ruler, King Ramkhamhaeng, Sukhothai expanded its empire pushing the Khmer as far back as Malaysia and the Philippines. The kingdom of Sukhothai is remembered for its culture rather than political power. in a brief but brilliant period,it was the scene of a 'golden age' that saw the introduction of the Theravada Buddhism as the state religion, the creation of the Thai alphabet and the establishment of a paternal monarchy that made a vivid contrast to the aloof Khmer god-kings of Ankor.

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