Saturday Art: Thailand’s Ancient Capitol
(Picture courtesy of creative commons at wikipedia.com.)
In a central part of Thailand, there’s a wonderful collection of ancient temples and beautiful grounds, along with a museum of the art of its time, Sukhothai. Wandering through those amazing and ancient monuments is worth the very long trip to get there, and should take some of your time to see that unique collection.
Sukhothai story was narrated into Thailand’s “national history” in late 19th century by King Mongkut, Rama IV, as a historical work presented to the British diplomatic mission. King Mongkut is considered as the champion of Sukhothai narrative history, based on his find of the Number One Stone Inscription, the ‘first evidence’ telling the history of Sukhothai.
From then on, as a part of modern nation building process, modern national Siamese or Thai history comprises the history of Sukhothai. Sukhothai was said to be the ‘first national capital’, followed by Ayutthaya, Thonburi until Rattanakosin or today Bangkok. Sukhothai history was crucial among Siam/ Thailand’s ‘modernists’, both ‘conservative’ and ‘revolutionary’. Rama IV (King Mongkut) said that he found ‘the first Stone Inscription’ in Sukhothai, telling story of Sukhothai’s origin, heroic kings such as Ramkhamhaeng, administrative system and other developments, considered as the ‘prosperous time’ of the kingdom.
Sukhothai history became important even after the Revolution of 1932. Researches and writings on Sukhothai history were abundant. Details derived from the inscription were studied and ‘theorized’. One of the most well-known topics was Sukhothai’s ‘democracy’ rule. Story of the close relationship between king and his people, vividly described as ‘father-son’ relationship, the ‘seed’ of Thai Democracy. However the change in ruling style took place when later society embraced ‘foreign’ tradition, Khmer’s Angkor tradition, influenced by Hinduism and ‘mystic’ Mahayana Buddhism. The story of Sukhothai became the model of ‘freedom’. Jit Bhumisak, a ‘revolutionary’ scholar, also saw Sukhothai period as the beginning of Thai people’s liberation movement from foreign ruler, Angkor.
This is a trip I want to take, and this time I want to be awhile to wander through. A surface impression I had on the short trip I did take was of the superimposition of later, Buddhist, figures, over dancing figures from a culture that predated even the past represented there.