Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ramathibodi: Founder of the Ayudhya Kingdom

Upon the end of the reign of Ramkhamhaeng, the Sukhothai Kingdom seemed to have lost its prestige. It lost of grandeur later resulted to the occupation of the Kingdom by the Khmers of Angkor. The Thai people became once again engulf in the shadows of the Khmers. But suddenly, a new Thai leader emerged. One that would found a new kingdom stronger than the Sukhothai Kingdom. A kingdom that would last for centuries - the Ayudhya Kingdom. Its founder, Ramathibodi, would be stuff of legends that would revolve around the creation of the Ayudhya Kingdom.

Ramathibodi was born as U Thong or Golden Cradle. Not much is known about the life of U Thong, including his birth. But some estimated that he was born in 1314. He came from a family of Chinese merchants that settled in the lands of Tai people. Although from a Chinese lineage, he learned Indian culture. His knowledge of this culture would heavily influence his destiny in the future.

U Thong was born in a period of Angkor domination and decline. After the death of Ramkhamhaeng in late 13th century, Sukhothai’s prestige and territory started to diminish. Its dominance over the lands of present day Thailand ended. Due to the maintenance of local rulers, the Sukhothai disintegrated and later devoured once again by the influence of the Khmers from Angkor. However, Khmers’ hold was not as tight as it seemed. It was already an ailing kingdom. What only the Tai people needed was a leader that would liberate and rule them.

And this leader came in form of U Thong, whose political marriage allowed the creation of a unified people. By 1330’s two Thai chiefdoms dominated the Thai people under the sovereignty of the Khmers:  Lopburi and Suphanburi. U Thong already had economic already had economic support in form of his merchant connection. He only needed, the military and the political support which came in form of marrying two princesses from the two main chiefdoms.

Throughout the 1340’s, U Thons forces began their conquest in expelling the Khmers and expanding territories they control. From central plains of modern Thailand, it controlled the lower plains of the Chao Phraya River. It also reached the coast of the Gulf of Martaban. Then it also reached as far as the Malay Peninsula. Under its large expanse of land, it also had diverse population, including Chinese, Mons, and Khmers.

By 1350, U Thong was confident enough to established a new Kingdom. In order to connect with the Indianized populace he decided to surround himself with Hindu culture. First in an island at the Chao Phraya River, he founded his capital city. Its name would also be that of his Kingdom. A name that was derived from the famous epic of India – the Ramayana. He named his capital and kingdom, Ayudhya or Ayutthaya, from the Kingdom of Rama in the epic. In addition, he also wanted to mirror the virtues of Rama from the Ramayana and he took the name Ramathibodi. To captivate and earn the respect of his people, Ramathibodi practiced the tradition of devaraja or god king. When a king died, his spirit would join the ranks of Hindu Gods.

His reign would saw conquest and order from the chaos of war. Although, the Kingdom was established, war with the Khmers continued. In 1352, an expedition was sent against the Khmers under the command of his son, Ramesuan. However, his son proved to be a newbie and was badly defeated. More than a decade later, another expedition was sent against the Khmers. This time, it was led by Boromaraja, Ramathibodi’s brother. Unlike the previous one, it was successful. With the conquest against the Khmers, the Ayudya managed to capture officials from the Khmer that would help to establish laws and government on the land.

Under Ramathibodi laws and government was established. A code of law was written, based on local traditions and Indian legal concepts. Edicts were also written in Pali, a written language that originated from India. In governance, Ramathibodi established a cabinet-like body. It included a kun klahng or a minister of finance, a khun muang or a minister of interior, a khun nah or minister of agriculture, and a khun wahng or a minister for royal household.

Ramathibodi’s reign, nevertheless, faced though challenges. In 1357, a cholera outbreak broke. Also, rebellions in Chiang Mai and Sukhothai were flaring during his reign.

The reign of Ramathibodi ended with his demise in 1369. The kingdom that he established would face tough challenge ahead but would continue to flourish for centuries. 

Hoare, T. Thailand: A Global Studies Handbook. California: ABC-CLIO, 2004.

Mishra, P. The History of Thailand. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2010.

Ooi, K.G. Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, From Angkor Wat to East Timor. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2004. 

Schellinger, P. et. al. (eds.). International Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania, Vol. 5. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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