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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  Tamils - a Trans State Nation > The Tamil Heritage > Culture of the Tamils >  International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Studies> First International Tamil Conference Seminar > Some Aspects of South Indian Cultural Contacts with Thailand: Historical Background - S. Singaravelu

First International Tamil Conference - Seminar
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
18 - 23 April 1966

Some Aspects of South Indian Cultural Contacts with Thailand:
Historical Background

S. Singaravelu

In October 1931, Dr. H. G. Quaritch Wales, describing the Coronation and Anointing Ceremonies of the seventh ruler of the present Chakri Dynasty, King Prajadhipok (1925 1935), in his treatise on Siamese State Ceremonies, 1 referred to the fact that the High Priest of Siva, after rendering homage to the King who was seated on the Bhadrapitha throne, pronounced the Tamil mantra, the Siamese name of which (Poet pratu Sivalai) meant 'Opening the Portals of Sivalaya'.

Dr. Wales mentioned also in the same book that the Tamil mantra was recited by Maharaja Gru of the Thai Court Brahmans also on the occasion of another Siamese State Ceremony, namely, Triyambavay-Tripavay (popularly known as Lo Jin Ja. — 'Pulling the Swing') or the Swinging Festival. Also, on the seventh day of the same festival which used to be held annually in Bangkok and in the former capitals of Ayudhya and Sukhodaya as well as in other chief cities of the Thai realm such as Nakhorn Sri Thammarat (Ligor) in the first lunar month and later in the second month, yet another mantra, called Loripavay, was said to have been recited by four Brahmans.2

Then, in July 1955, Prof. Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, soon after a successful study-tour of South-east Asian countries including Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, published his paper on Tamil Cultural Influences in South-east Asia in the Tamil Culture (IV, 3, July 1955). It was in this paper that Prof. Thani Nayagam made known for the first time the fact that the Tamil verses recited at the Thai Coronation Ceremony and the Swinging Festival were those from Manikkavacakar's Tiruvempavai.3

Subsequently in 1961, Prof. T. P. Meenakshisundaram wrote his Cayämil Tiruvempavai Tiruppavai,4 in which he gave an account in Tamil of the Thai State Ceremonies including the Coronation Ceremony and the Swinging Festival. Then in 1963, on his way back from a visit to the University of Malaya, Prof. Meenakshisundaram visited the Brahman Temple in Bangkok and ascertained that the Tamil mantra mentioned by Dr. Wales in his book, consisted of Tevaram verses of Tirundvukkaracar.

In the same year, the National Education (Indian Schools) Development Council, Malaya, made provision for an Endowment Fund at the University of Malaya for purposes of facilitating research in the field of Tamil Cultural Contacts with Thailand and Cambodia. With the assistance of the Research Funds made available for carrying out research in Thailand, the writer of the present paper was able to undertake a month-long field-trip to Thailand in April 1965.

In the course of this trip, thanks to the good offices of H. H. Prince Dani Nivat Kromamun Bidyalabh, President of the Privy Council, in Bangkok, the author of the present paper was able to meet Phra Maharaja Gru, Vamadeva Muni, the present Chief Brahmanical Priest of the Royal Thai Household, and Phragru Asadachariyan in the Brahmin Temple 5  in Bangkok, and record recitation of the verses entitled Part prata Sivalai (`Opening the portals of Sivalaya) Pit pratu krailat (Closing the portals of Kailasa') and Laripavay (`Elor-empavay', the refrain of the Tiruvempavai verses). He was also able to obtain microfilm copies of the manuscripts containing these verses written in the old South Indian Grantha script.6

With the help of the recorded recitation of Phra Maharaja Gru Vamadeva Muni who recited the Pwt pratu Sivalai and the Pit pratu Krailat, and that of Phra Gru Asadachariyan who recited the Loripavay, and also with the assistance of the manuscripts containing the texts of these verses, it has been possible to identify (a) the poet pratu with the first eleven stanzas of the first Tirumurai (beginning with 'to- tutaiya ceviyan') of the Tamil Tevaram sung by Tirugnanacampantar, as well as with the first ten verses of the seventh Tirumurai (beginning with `pitta pirai cuti perumane') of Cuntarar; (b) the Pit pratu Krailat with the first ten stanzas of the fourth Tirumurai 'Tiruvatikaivirattanam) sung by Appar or Tirunavukkaracar, and (c) the Loripavay with the first eleven verses of Tiruvempavai of Manikkavacakar's Tiruvacakam.

The immediate question arising from the identification of these sacred Tamil verses of the Sivaite Tevaram is : How is it that the recitation of these verses had become an integral part of the Thai State Ceremonies of the Coronation and the Swinging Festival? It is not easy to answer the question unless and until one is acquainted with the historical background, particularly of religion, relating to the peninsular region of South-east Asia in general and in the territory now covered by Thailand in particular.

To begin with, let us briefly review the geographical features of the present-day Thailand. Thailand is situated right in the middle of the Indo-Chinese peninsula, hound by Burma on the west and partly on the north-west, by Laos on the north, north-east and partly east, and by Cambodia on the east. The southern part of the land juts deep into the Malay peninsula between the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. Topographically, the country may be divided into four areas : the northern, the north-eastern, the central, and the southern areas.

The northern area is mountainous terrain divided into four valleys by the four rivers of Mae Ping, Mae Wang, Mae Yom, and the May Man Nan, which finally unite their waters in the Maenam Chao Phraya (`the mother-of-the-waters-in-chief') which is the principal river of the Thai kingdom. (In Thailand, a river is correctly known as Mae Nam — mother of water, but this is often abbreviated to Mae or Nam.) The north-eastern Thailand is a saucer-shaped plateau with the great river of Mae Khong (Mekong) as its eastern boundary. The Central Thailand is a large alluvial plain known as the Menam basin. Its principal and well-known river is the Menam Chao Phraya.

On the left bank of this river, some forty kilometres from its mouth, stands Bangkok (the official name in an abbreviated form is Krungdep, 'the capital city of gods'), the capital of Thailand, while on its right bank is located the city of Dhonburi which was Thailand's capital some 190 years ago, after which Bangkok or Krungdep became the Thai capital. The southern or the peninsular Thailand consists of a long peninsula extending from the head of the Gulf of Siam down to the northernmost Malaysian states of Perlis, and Kedah.

Let us next review the demographical features of Thailand. In order to understand the composition of the population of almost any country in South and South-east Asia, it is necessary to remember that the population of almost every country in the region has been influenced by the great racial and tribal movements of people which have been going on for millenia in the past. It is particularly significant to note that the general direction of these movements has been southwards and eastwards, and that even to this day there are traces of this age-old  tendency. The population of Thailand would seem to have been no exception to the general tendency, in so far as its composition has been influenced by no less than four main waves of migration, namely, the Austronesian, the Mon-Khmer, the Tibeto-Burman, and the Thai. (The terms used here must be regarded as names of language groups, not necessarily of races.) Of these four main waves of migration, the first two, i.e. the Austronesian and the Mon-Khmer are surmised to have started from a western centre (India?),7 while the latter two, the Tibeto-Burman and the Thai are believed to have started from two different northern centres, one probably from the eastern part of the Tibetan plateau, and the other from southern China where several millions of Thai-speaking people are said to remain to this day.

Of the origin and course of the Austronesian, very little is known, except that the Austronesian wave probably under the pressure from the next wave, the Mon-Khmer, advanced and peopled the islands and the east Indian Archipelago, leaving behind remnants on the shores of the mainland. (There are about 400,000 Austronesians — Pattani Malays and the sea-faring Chaonam or Chaole, also known as Orang Laut in Malay, and as Seleung in Burmese, living in the territory of Thailand today, most of them in the southern provinces.)

The Mon-Khmer group would seem to have comprised of no less than fourteen sub-groups, 8 the most important of them being the Lawa, Mon, Khmer, and the Annamite. It is reliably learnt that most of northern Thailand was formerly peopled by the Lawa. From their old deserted fortified towns and their tombs, especially in Muang Yuam (Muang means 'town') to the west of Chiang-mai ('New City') as well as from what is told in the northern chronicle, the Lawa were formerly ruled by mighty kings, who headed large armies with elephants to be used against the invading Mon, who after their conquest of the Lawa about the seventh century A.D. began to people the Menam plain and large tracts of northern Thailand prior to arrival of the Thai.

The Khmers (or Cambodians) occupied the provinces of Buriram, Surin, Khukhan, Ubon, Ratburi, and Kanchanaburi, while the Anna-mites were settled in lower and the northern Thailand.

The Thai group, whose original home is said to have been probably in south-western China, is known to have emigrated gradually into the Indo-Chinese peninsula. During the period of migration, one of the western off-shoots became the Shans of Burma. On the other side of the peninsula, many of the Thai came into Tonking including the Laos of the Lao state, and settled down in the Mekhong basin. Further west of the Lao state in the northern direction were the northern Thai of Chiangsen which was on the northern border of the present-day Thailand. The various Thai groups of people who seem to have been always on the move gradually settled themselves in the peninsula in several small independent principalities.

Having thus reviewed briefly the diverse ethnic and language groups of peoples who have in the course of time made up the population of Thailand, it is important to stress that the various groups of people who had come to settle down in the territory now known as Thailand have intermixed not only with the natives of their adopted land but also with each other and have become assimilated after a few generations into a homogeneous whole. It is largely due to this fact that the cultures of Thailand as expressed in her religion, arts, literature, social system, habits, and customs reveal a unity in a general sense with her neighbours, the Cambodians, the Mons, and to a certain extent with the Burmese, and the Malays, but with local or regional diversities in different proportions.


With regard to the political background of the country, it is believed that between the 5th century A.D. and the 7th century A.D., the northern and the western sectors as well as the central sector of the territory were under the domination of the Indianized Mon-speaking people of the Dvaravati kingdom, while the eastern sector, comprising the basins of the Mun, and the Mae Khong formed largely part of the ancient Hinduized Khmer empire between the 1st century A.D. and the first half of the 13th century A.D., that is to say, beginning from the Funan period (1st century A.D. — C. A.D. 550) through the Chenla period (A.D. 550 — 802) and to the Kambuja or Angkor period (A.D. 802-1215).

The southern region was under suzerainty of the Indianized Sumatran empire of Sri Vijaya (A.D. 657 -- 1157). In the meantime, the Thai as a race had been emigrating gradually from their home in southwest China into the Indo-Chinese peninsula. Towards the 7th century A.D. the Thais were in Yunnan where they had founded the powerful kingdom of Nan-Chao. Subsequently they emigrated gradually into the fertile plains of the peninsula watered by the Chao Phraya and Mae Khong, and established themselves in several independent principalities. There is no doubt that the Thai had been before that time already in the land of the Mon and the Khmer empires, but they were only a minority, and formed themselves into semi-independent principalities.9


The cultures of the pre-Thai period would seem to have been influenced predominantly by Indian cultural elements particularly in the field of religion : Both Buddhism and Brahmanism were the religions of the Dvaravati, the Khmer and the Sri Vijaya empires either alternately or sometimes even concurrently,10 but as far as the Dvaravati kingdom was concerned, the predominant religion during the period between the 4th and 8th century would seem to have been Buddhism which gave expression to the Dvaravati art, possessing characteristics of the Indian art of the Gupta period (4th century — 5th century A.D.).

The bearers of these Indian elements to reach the Indo-Chinese peninsula would seem to have been the Buddhist missionaries, probably Sona-thera and Uttara-thera, and their companions who were sent by King Ashoka (264 — 227 B.c.) to Suvarnabhumi 11 around 243 B.C. The form of Buddhism disseminated by the missionaries of King Ashoka was the Theravada Buddhism. And it is also believed that it was from places like Nakhorn Pathom that the Theravada Buddhism spread further along the shores of the Gulf of Siam and even to Cambodia.

About the end of the first century A.D., King Kanishka under whom rose the Mahayana sect of Buddhism in the Punjab, sent missionaries to China, Tibet, and Southern India. According to Dr. H. G. Quaritch Wales it was from the latter point (Southern India), Mahayanism spread to the Sumatra kingdom of Sri Vijaya.12 When this kingdom extended its way over the Malay peninsula, Mahayana Buddhism reached the southern sector of Siam as far as Pattani and Surathani. For example, the Phra Maha Dhat of Jaiya and the Phra Maha of Nakhorn Sri Tammarat (Ligor) are said to be stupas built in Sri Vijaya style. The Buddha and Bodhisattva images found in Southern Thailand are all made of the Mahayanist style. Mahayanism was to find its way subsequently to Cambodian kingdom as well.

Apart from these trends of Buddhist influence, Brahmanism is also known to have reached the Indo-Chinese peninsula in the early centuries of A.D., first through the founder of the Kingdom of Funan, Hun-T'ien (Kaundinya) and the Indian Brahmans who followed him. Kaundinya (1st century A.D.) is said to have married Liu-yeh of Funan, and they had a son who succeeded to the throne and thus founded the First Kaundinya dynasty. Subsequently, about the beginning of the fifth century, an Indian Brahman from P'an-P'an, who was either named Kaundinya or assumed the name of the earlier Indian immigrant ruler, became king of Funan.

Prof. Jean Filliozat in his paper on the Tamil influence in Southeast Asia has drawn attention to the Tamil Purananuru poem of the Classical period in which the poet Avur Mulankilar eulogises the great valour demonstrated by one Kauniyan Vinnantayan's ancestors in conquering the enemies of Siva (Purananuru, 166: 1-9). According to the colophon suffixed to the verse of Purananuru, Kauniyan Vinnantayan was a Parppan (literally a 'Seer', but later used to refer to a brahman in the Tamil country) of Puncirrur in the Cola country in South India, and Kauniyan was of the Kaundinya KOttiram (gotra). Prof. Filliozat is of the opinion that though the Kaundinya gotra (or sect) was of north Indian origin, the members of the sect or clan had played an important role in upholding Sivaism in South India. It is also significant that the Kaundinyan of the Cola country and the Kaundinya of the Funan kingdom were both keenly interested in safeguarding Sivaism at about the same historical period, and also that they both claimed descent from the same ancestry.

Some of the important changes which appear to have taken place during this early period of brahmanization in the Indo-Chinese peninsula were: (a) The systematization and extension of the worship of brahmanical deities, especially the state worship of Siva-linga under the vocable of Mahesvara, (b) The introduction of South India alphabet,13 and (c) The introduction of the Saka era which was in common use on the South-east coast of India.

Of these developments, the establishment of worship of Siva-linga as the central cult of the state, which seems to have taken place about this time in Fun an as it did in Champa as well, is particularly noteworthy. Siva, originally believed to have been a Vedic god (Rudra) later known as Siva the destroyer in the Brahmanic system of Trimurthi (Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu) came to be worshipped in Southern India, Indo-China, and Indonesia as the god of change and therefore of reproduction. He was generally represented in the temples by the form of the linga, the male symbol of generation, which in Indo-Chinese peninsula came to be stylized as a vertical cylinder with a square base, an octagonal upright column and an oblong dome. The royal linga of the state, under the vocable of Mahesvara (the great Isvara = Siva) was placed in a temple on the hill (signifying the Ma hämeru) which formed the centre of every capital of Indianized Indo-China and became identified with the welfare of the state.

The worship of the Siva-linga seems, from the first, to have been recognized as a State Cult in Funan, later on in other autochthonous kingdoms of the Indo-Chinese peninsula. It did not interfere with the worship of other gods. Indeed, the syncretism of the worship of the Sivaite Mahesvara and the Mahayanist Lokesvara, which forms such an interesting chapter in the later history of Indian religions in Indo-China, seems to have been in its early stages during the pre-Thai period. All through the history of the Cambodian kingdoms, until the simple worship of Sinhalese Theravada Buddhism was introduced, kings who were fervent Vishnuites and Mahayana Buddhists are known to have carefully observed all the rites connected with the state worship of Mahesvara.14 (Even to this day, the Bako in Theravadist Cambodia and the Phra Maharaja Gru of Thailand who have charge of certain important rites and ceremonies are Brahmans whose hereditary functions in connexion with the extinct State-Cult are still respected.)

Together with Sivaism, the cult of Vishnu would also seem to have found a place in the religious life of the Khmer kingdom as evidenced by the fact that statues of Vishnu, with cylindrical coiffure of the Gupta period (A.D. 320 — 600) have been found all over the regions covered by the kingdom.15 In this context, mention may also be made of the remains, found at Srideb in what is now Central Siam, of an ancient city containing some ruins of towers, several statues, chiefly images of Vishnu, believed by Dr. Wales (who explored the site in 1935-1936) to date at least from the first quarter of the sixth century A.D. The architecture and art are admitted by Dr. Wales to be purely Indian, without any resemblance to either ancient or classical Khmer art. The connexion of Srideb with Mon settlements in the Mekhong-Menam delta, has not yet been worked out satisfactorily. In spite of their differences in religion — Srideb was Vishnuite, while Dvaravati was Buddhist — they seem to have existed in close contact with each other.

In later years (Chenla period), the chief sculptures would appear to have been statues of Harihara, half - Vishnu and half -Siva, whose worship characterised the seventh century Chenla, particularly the reign of Isanavarman I. These statues of sand-stone, varied from one to two metres in height, but were generally about the natural size of a man. The upper arms, when not broken, were joined to the arm of support and held the trident of Siva and the discus and conch of Vishnu. The lower arm on the Siva side held the jewel, while on the Vishnu side it rested on the club of Vishnu, which formed part of the support. The coiffure was cylindrical, the jam of Siva on the right.

This interesting form of Harihara (also known as Sambhu-Vishnu) is said to have first appeared on the rocks of Badami and Mahavellipur in South India, in the Pallava country some time before A.D. 450. The fact that there was such a worship of the compound deity, Vishnu-Siva, indicates that there was no serious hostility between the principal Sivaite cult and Vishnuism in the ancient Cambodian kingdom.16

This kind of syncretism of Sivaism and Vishnuism is one of the most interesting facts of the history of religions in South-east Asia. [No less similar was the syncretism between Sivaism and Mahayana Buddhism during the reign of Yasovarman I (A.D. 889 — 900): For some time the ancient University of Nalanda in Maghada, North India, had been a centre of Mahayana influence, where Buddhist doctrines mixed with Sivaism, Shamanism, Tantrism, magic practices etc. were elaborated.17 The Sailendra Maharajas, all powerful in the archipelago, were enthusiastic worshippers of this religion. The influence of the religion was not wholly Mahayanist, for at that time a peculiar syncretism is said to have been taken place at Nalanda between Mahayanism and Sivaism, and the twofaiths were working side by side in perfect harmony.]

Another important religious development in the pre-Thai period (especially towards the end of Chenla period) was the religious foundation of priestly family which came to hold the hereditary position of hotar (royal chaplain) and purohita (chief priest) for the Deva-raja18 (royal god). It is said that this tradition was initiated during the early part of the Kambuja period by Jayavarman II (A.D. 802) on his return from a trip to Java to the court of the Sailendra Maharaja.19

 According to the Sdok Kak Thom inscription, a wise guru, named Sivakaivalya, was chosen as hotar, and he was ordered by the king to bring all his family, with women and children. The king also gave orders to grant Sivakaivalya a piece of land to establish a sruk (village) called Kuti and assign it to him as residence. This sacerdotal hierarchy would also seem to have been introduced hand in hand with the establishment of the Devaraja cult. To begin with, Jayavarman II moved his capital to the site of the royal city of Hariharalaya (abode of Harihara) and established the Devaraja cult on Mount Mahendra which was of suitable eminence for the location of his tower-temple for the royal god (Devaraja) which idea he had probably borrowed from Java, in imitation of the central mountain and temple of Siva on Mount Kailasa. The inscription of Sdok Kak Thom continues :

"Then His Majesty Paramesvara (posthumous name of Jayavarman II) went as Kurung (king) on the Mahendra parvata and Sivakaivalya went also to reside in this city for the service of His Majesty as it already had been established Then a Brahman named Hiranyadama, skilled in magic science, came from Janapada, because His Majesty Paramesvara had invited him to perform a ceremony that would make it impossible for this country of the Kambuja to pay any allegiance to Java and that there should be, in this country, one sole sovereign, who should be Chakravartin."20

Hiranyadama prepared the ritual for the royal linga bestowing upon the king the power of Chakravartin, of which the linga was the symbol, a sort of ceremony establishing the divine right of king.

This ceremony is said to have taken place in A.D. 802. It was the Khmer declaration of Independence. It had the effect of establishing the Supreme Government by divine sanction and of rendering Kambujadesa independent of Java. What was the nature of the ceremony by which a Chakravartin king was seated on the throne, thus at one stroke making the Khmer king sovereign over all the chieftains in the Kambuja?

The inscription of Sdok Kak Thom says Hiarnyadama brought the memory of four holy texts which he used in preparing the magic formula. Then he recited them from beginning to end in order to reduce them to writing and to teach Sivakaivalya to make the formula. Then he directed Sivakaivalya to make the ritual concerning the Devaraja, i.e. the institution of the royal linga under the vocable of the first part of the king's name plus Isvara (Siva), thereby identifying the king with Siva, — a sort of apotheosis of the king during his life. (The king-god was conceived to be the eternal abstract essence of the king confounded with the divine essence and worshipped in the form of a linga.) "This miraculous linga," says Prof. Coedès, "sort of palladium of the kingdom, is generally considered as having been obtained from Siva, by the intermediary of a Brahman who gives it to the king founder of the dynasty "21 The sage Bhrgu is said to have performed the same service for Uroja, founder of the dynasty of Indrapura in Champa in A.D. 875.22 Agastya, the legendary saint of the Tamil country, seems to have performed a similar service for Java in A.D 760.23

Another important aspect of the Devaraja cult was that Jayavarman made the celebration of the cult of the Devaraja hereditary in the head of the family of Sivakaivalya. This raised Sivakaivalya to the position of supreme pontiff and established a sort of sacerdotal hierarchy in Cambodia. The succession is said to have been matrilineal (matrivamsa).

In this context, mention must also be made of the tradition according to which the Devaraja changed residence according to the capitals where the monarch conducted him to watch over the royal power of the monarchs who succeeded each other. Of course, the chief priest of the Devaraja accompanied the royal god to whatever capital to which the monarch moved.

The chief priest was either Sivaite or Vishnuite according to whether the monarch's general views were Sivaite or Vishnuite. For instance, during the reign of Jayavarman III, a Vishnuite king (his posthumous name was Vishnuloka), the Brahmin Krishnapala Amarendra, called Kesavabhatta, is believed to have been the chief priest of the worship of Vishnu.

The function of the hotar sometimes included that of a guru. Thus the closest associates of the monarch were the chief purohita or hotar, who was assisted by other hotars, the guru and ministers.

The purohitas and the gurus would seem to have been well-versed in the sastras. For instance, Sivasoma, the guru and apparently the chief adviser of Indravarman I (A.D. 877 — 889) is said to have learned the sastras from the Bhagavat Samkara who Prof. Coedes thinks was the great Hindu philosopher Sankaracharya, who had just restored orthodox Brahmanism in India.24

Several of the royal priests would actually seem to have been of the royal line on account of the practice of the monarchs who took the precaution of binding the purohita to the royal family by marriage. (Survayavarman I, a Mahayanist Buddhist, came from Tambralinga and became king of Cambodia in 1011; he is said to have taken the cautious step before he took a member of the family of the Sivaite Sivacharya and making him a Royal Chaplain and using him in the construction of public works.


During the reign of Jayavarman VII (A.D. 1181 — 1215), Mahayanist Buddhism seems to have been dominant. The rise of the cult of Avalokitesvara (or Lokesvara) in Kambujadesa is said to have given a great impulse to the syncretism of religions there, especially that of Lokesvara Mahayanism and Mahesvara Sivaism. (The personage of Mahayana Buddhism who figures most in the iconography and inscriptions of South-east Asia is the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara. Lokesvara is usually represented as standing in the chalice of a lotus flower. He is the god of compassion. Like Siva, Lokesvara is often represented with four arms and sometimes with four faces, looking towards the four cardinal points.)25

Sivaism had its counterpart to the doctrine of the compassionate Lokesvara in the cult of Mahesvara, which was associated with linga in Indo-China. These two cults are said to have become so similar that they sometimes flourished side by side without friction. Indeed, the syncretism is said to have even extended to the personality and attributes of the two deities Lokesvara is pictured at Angkor with four faces and sometimes with the trident and even the frontal eye of Siva 26 Mention was already made that the syncretism of Sivaism and Vishnuism probably resulted in the substitution of Vishuraja for the Devaraja. During the reign of Jayavarman VII, the syncretism between Sivaism and Mahayana Buddhism would seem to have resulted in the substitution of Buddharaja.27

Thus far, an attempt was made to trace in brief outline the main religious trends in the Indo-Chinese kingdoms during the pre-Thai period (roughly between 1st century A.D. and the early part of the 13th century A.D.). It now remains for us to consider the historical significance of these cultural trends in the sphere of religion of the pre-Thai period to the cultural trends in the kingdom or kingdoms which were the successors of the already far-flung but extremely weakening empire of Kambujadesa. But before embarking upon a consideration of the cultural trends, something must be said of the important political developments that took place in the Indo-Chinese peninsula at the turn of the 13th century AD

According to the master of Indo-Chinese studies, Prof. George Coedès, the 13th century in South-east Asia marks a veritable turning point in the history of the region.28 Prof. Coedès is of the opinion that it was the Mongols under their great chief, Gengis Khan, who caused such a disturbance to the old kingdoms of South-east Asia that history in the region took another direction turning on different scenes and different peoples. Gengis Khan, since the time of his accession as the Chief of the Turko-Mongol tribes in 1206 was seeking to obtain vassal tribute from foreign sovereigns. After the accomplishment of conquering an empire that extended from Canton to the banks of the Black Sea and to the Persian Gulf, the Mongols turned their attention to Japan and South-east Asia. Japan however was for the Mongols a complete check that was to end in disaster later in 1281. Their attempts were equally unsuccessful in Vietnam in 1287, after fruitlessly trying to stamp out the Cham resistance. But the Mongols found some kind of recompense in Burma, and in 1287 after three campaigns their expedition finally took Pagan. Of course this episode had no lasting political consequences for the Mongol empire, but their political repercussions in South-east Asian political scene were far reaching. These in effect consisted in the temporary disappearance of the Burmese royalty.

Somewhat earlier than this time, i.e. in A.D. 1220, Jayavarman VII of Cambodia died. This event, according to Prof. Coedès, again provided the Thais of the middle Menam (under the leadership of Khun Sri Indradit and his able son, Khun Rama Kamhaeng) with an opportunity to free themselves from Khmer suzerainty and establish the kingdom of Sukhodaya in about 1257.

Subsequently in 1287, the fall of Pagan furnished another opportunity for the Thais to divide and share the power in south, notably at Martaban and others in small fiefs clustered on the rice culture plain at the bend of Irawadi beyond Pagan. At the same time (1287) Mang-ray, prince of Chiang Rai, and Ngan Muong, prince of P'ayao, and Rama Kamkhaeng, king of Sukhodaya, gathered together, and concluded a firm pact of friendship and then parted, each to return to his own country. In the following year (1288), Mangray began to make ready for the conquest of the old Mon-kingdom of Haripunjaya (Lam-pun) which he concluded in 1292, and in 1296, he founded a new capital at Chiang Mai (New City). At the same time, another signatory of the 1287 pact, Rama Kamkhaeng, king of Sukhodaya, achieved hegemony over a greater number of Thai groups and considerably enlarged his territory.

The direct and most important results of the events of the 13th century on the Indo-Chinese peninsula were: (1) The accession to independence of the Thais. (2) The succession of the Thai chiefs to a certain number of Burmese principalities in the Irawadi basin. (3) The decline of the old Khmer empire owing to Thai liberation. (4) The implantation of the Thais on the Malay peninsula and the consequent fall of the Sumatran empire of Sri Vijaya during the time of the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit.

Now, turning to the Thai kingdom, after a century of brilliance, Sukhodaya (also known as Sukhothai) became a vassal state of the kingdom of Ayudhya, founded by King Ramadhibodi I (Prince of U-thong) in 1350. The history of the kingdom of Ayudhya may be divided into five periods. During the first period (covering the reigns of King Ramadhibodi, 1350 — 1969, and that of his four immediate successors) Ayudhya's suzerainty was established over the neighbouring Thai principalities. During the second period, the kingdom was further extended especially in the north.

The third period (1533 — 1605) was that of the great wars with the neighbours, especially the Burmese, and the opening of trade relations with the Europeans. During the fifth period, Ayudhya was invaded by the Burmese (in 1763), and after four years of fierce battle was completely destroyed in 1767. One of the generals of the last king of Ayudhya, known as Phra Chao Tak Sin succeeded in driving the enemies of the country away, and became king of Thailand, and established his capital in Dhonburi, a city on the right bank of the river, Caho Phrya (Menam).

After a reign of several years (1767 — 1781), he is said to have been seized by religious delusions. One of his generals, Chao Phrya Chakri, on his return from his victorious campaign against Cambodia, proclaimed himself king in 1782, and established his capital on the opposite bank of the Menam on the actual site of the present Bangkok. King Chao Phrya Chakri, also known as Rama I (1782-1809) was succeeded by Phra Buddha Loet La Naphalai or Rama II (1809-1824). The other kings of the Chakri dynasty were: Phra Nang Klao, Rama III (1824 — 1851), Phra Chom Klao or Rama IV, better known as King Mogkut (1851 — 1868), Phra Chula Chom Klao or Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, 1868 — 1910), Phra Mongkut Klao or Rama VI (King Vajiravudh, 1910 — 1925), Phra Pok Klao or King Prajadhipok (1925 — 1934) and King Ananda Mahidol (1934 — 1946). The present king is King Bhumiphol Adundet.

Turning now to the consideration of the religious trends during the Thai period, it must first be noted that much of the various Indian religious influence would seem to have been brought to bear on the Thai way of life rather indirectly by way of the Indianized kingdoms of Dvaravati, Sri Vijaya, and Cambodia during the pre-Thai period. One can trace this influence of the Indianized Khmer kingdom upon the Thai court ceremonials and other aspects of their culture, particularly after the Thais established their own kingdom of Sukhodaya, independent of the sovereignty of the Kambuja. First of all, making due allowance for the rise of the Theravada Buddhism and the passing of the power of the Brahmans (even in Cambodia) and the modifications incidental to changing conditions generally, one has reason to believe that the Thai kings soon after they declared complete independence from the Cambodian empire, surrounded themselves with the various appurtences of the erstwhile great Khmer royalty, particularly the court Brahmans whom they at first recruited from Cambodia 29 where they could be found in large numbers probably because they were no longer required by the local rulers to consecrate their power of which they had none.

There has been this vital connexion between Monarchy and Brahmanism for centuries in the past: Although Buddhism soon became the religion of the people as well as their rulers, Brahmanical consecration of the sovereignty of the ruler through the chanting of their magical formula was still essential to the monarchy. The chanting of these formula or mantras were mostly observances for which Buddhism had not provided, for the observances were such as Buddha would have classed them among low arts'; nevertheless public opinion and perhaps the higher echelons themselves had greater confidence in the skill and power of the Brahmans.

As for the influence of the Brahmans in Thai court life, mention may be made of the Thai book entitled R'oang Nang Nabamasa, or the story of Lady Nabamasa which is considered a great source book of Brahmanical and other traditions of the Thai royalty. The author of the book is supposed to have been the daughter of a Brahman at the court of the kings of Sukhodaya.

During the Ayudhya period also, court Brahmans are known to have been recruited from time to time both from Cambodia and from the peninsula, and most probably from South India as well. (The earliest account of the Bangkok court Brahmans is that of Crawford,30 who visited Thailand on an embassy in 1821. One of the Brahmans whom he met is said to have told Crawford that he was the fifth in descent from his ancestor who had first settled in Thailand, and who according to the statement of the Brahman came from the island of Ramesvaram in South India. Now, making an allowance of an average of thirty years for each generation of this Brahman family, the Brahman who came first to settle in Thailand must have lived at least 150 years before 1821 (the year of Crawford's mission), i.e. 1671, which year also happens to correspond to the reign of King Narayana of Ayudhya (1657 — 1658) who is said to have favoured Brahmanism. 31

Just as in the ancient Khmer Empire, the Brahmans at the Thai court would seem to have been charged with several functions. One of them was to interpret supernatural omens to the kings. The Brahmans also helped in the work of calendar-making, and fixing the auspicious days for the State Ceremonies. The Brahman, i.e. the chief among them, was also a royal chaplain. Of all these functions, the most important one was to officiate at the State Ceremonials, particularly the Anointing and Crowning ceremony.

According to H. H. Prince Dhani Nivat,32 coronation in Thailand since the time of the inauguration of the Chakri dynasty, has been carried out in accordance with the reconstructed system of the ceremony drawn (on the basis of the corresponding ceremonies of the Ayudhya period) by a Royal Commission appointed by the founder of the dynasty, King Rama I. Later King Mongkut (1851 — 1868) probably added much to the old rites in order to reconcile their Brahmanical nature (in other word, syncretise) with the people's national religion of Theravada Buddhism.

The actual ceremony of the Thai coronation, or rather the Anointing and Crowning ritual, which is believed to legalise a king's accession to the throne, consists of a benediction of the precincts of the Maha Montien (the Great Residence of the King) in which the waters of anointment are also blessed. This benediction is carried out on three successive evenings by three separate chapters of abbots, while the high abbot chants a proclamation inviting all to give their moral support to the great national festival being held by His Majesty the King for the benefit of the realm.

Meanwhile Brahmanical ceremonies to bless anointment and invoke the gracious attitudes of Hindu deities take place in a separate building within the Grand Palace. The king then goes through a purificatory ritual after which he seats himself on the octagonal throne, shaded by the white canopy of the State, facing east. He then receives the invitation to rule from the representatives of the people. The king accepts the invitation by receiving an anointment poured down his hand and sprinkles it on his head and turns round successively to other sectors of the octagonal throne. [This is believed to represent an earlier Cambodian tradition of Indian origin by which the monarch who, wherever he went, acknowledged the loyalty of the people from all the (eight) quarters of his kingdom.]

The king then walks over to the Bhadrabitha throne where the High Priest of Siva chants the verses of the 'Opening the Portals of Sivalai', inviting the great god to pervade the person of His Majesty. The High Priest of Siva then hands to the king the five principal articles of the royal regalia, namely, the great Crown of Victory, which the king himself puts on his head amidst fanfare; the auspicious Sword of Victory, supposed to have been the Sword of State from the time of the great Khmer emperor, Suryavarman, and presented by a later Khmer monarch to King Rama I; the Golden Sandals sanctified by the tradition of their grass originals having been the symbol of the sovereign power of the ancient Indian hero, Rama; the Fan and the Sceptre, thus making up the set of five articles of the royal regalia. Other articles are handed to the king afterwards : the Brahman girdle, an attribute of Siva, the discus, the traditional weapon of Vishnu, the sword, the gun, (a weapon of recent times) and other weapons of the regalia.

Then the king addresses the High Priest of Siva, extending his authority over the realm, exhorting at the same time all to live in peace. To this injunction, the High Priest of Siva replies on behalf of the people : 'I do receive the first gracious word of command given by Your Majesty.' In the afternoon, the king grants a formal audience in the throne hall of Amarindra surrounded by the members of his court. This is in brief the Anointing and Coronation ceremony as it took place in 1950.

Now, to pose again the question raised at the beginning of this paper: How is it that the Brahmanical recitation of Tamil Sivaite verses of the Tevaram (i.e. 'Opening the Portals of Sivalai) have become an important feature of the Thai coronation ceremony ? The probable answer would seem to lie in the fact that the verses concerned are of Sivaite character, and their recital by a Brahman is meant to invite Siva down so that he might become merged in the person of the king. In this context, we may recall that a similar belief was largely responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the hereditary Brahmanical sacerdotal family of Sivakaivalya in the ancient kingdom of Cambodia.

In such a system of belief, the Brahman has played an important, perhaps an indispensable role, as an intermediary between the King and Siva. The Tamil Sivaite hymns of the Tevaram (and Tiruvempavai verses) which are recited by the Thai Court Brahmans might well have reached Thailand through the Brahmans of South India. It is significant to note that the Sivaite tradition, believed to have been introduced first by a member of the Kaundinya sect of South India around the first century A.D. is kept alive to this day in Thailand by the services of Phra Maharaja Gru whose ancestors are also said to have come from South India. Finally, when we recall the Tamil poet and author of the Purananuru poem (166), Avur Mulankilar's hope and wish that Kauniyan Vinnantayan's meritorious service of protecting Sivaism would continue as long as there is the Himalayas, it is rather tempting to surmise that the Tamil poet might as well have been addressing the first Kaundinya, the founder of the kingdom of Funan in South-east Asia.

1 H. G. QUARITCH WALES, Siamese State Ceremonies (1931), p. 83.

2 Ibid, p. 249.

3 XAVIER S. THANI NAYAGAM, Tamil Cultural Influences in South-east Asia, in Tamil Culture, IV, 3, (1955).

4 T. P. MEENAKSHISUNDARAM, Cayamil Tiruvempavai Tiruppavai. Madras, 1961.

5 The present Maharaja Gru, Vamadeva Muni, and Phragru Asadachariyan are living just next to the Brahmanical temples of Siva, Vishnu and Ganesa situated near the Wat Suthat in Bangkok. There are Brahman families in Bangkok, Nakhorn Srithammarat (Ligor), and Pattalung. But according to Phra Rajgru Vamadevamuni, there are only eight Brahmins in Bangkok and four in Nakhorn Sritammarat who have been initiated through the ceremony known as Pvaj Brat, consisting of two stages, the first of taking the cord of three strings, and the second of taking the cord of six strings. Those who are not initiated are regarded as unsuitable to perform the Brahmanical ceremonies. The initiation ceremonies are held only in Bangkok and Nakhorn Srithammarat, and they are conducted by the Phra Rajagru.

6 In this context, grateful acknowledgement is made of the kind help and assistance extended to the present author by a number of his friends in Bangkok. Special mention should be made of the following: H. H. Prince Dhani Nivat, Phya Anuman Rajadhon, Mr. J. J. Boeles, Mrs. Chavalit, and the members of the Malaysian High Commission in Bangkok, particularly Mr. Ahmad Kamil and Mr. V. D. Pitchai Pillai

7. The Munda languages of Chotanagpur in Bihar, India, are known to represent the western end of a chain of languages stretching from Northern India across South-east Asia to the shores of Tonking.

8 The Mon-Khmer group is said to include the following : Sakai, Lawa, Kamuk or Puteung, Chaobon, Chawng, So, Saek, Kaleung, Ka Brao, Ka Hinhao, Sui or Kin, Khmer, Mon, and Annamite.

9 PHYA ANUMAN RAJADHON, The Cultures of Thailand (p.6.), Thailand Culture Series, No. 1, 4th edn., Bangkok, 1956.

10 Ibid, p. 9. Phya Anuman refers to a Thai saying among the people of the Central area where Hinduism still has some force : 'Buddhism and Hinduism usually uphold each other'. See also SIR CHARLES ELIOT, Hinduism and Buddhism, an historical sketch (3 V), V. 3, p. 120 ff.

11 LUANG BORIPAL BURIPHAND, (formerly of the National Museum, Department of Fine Arts, Bangkok), while accepting the general view that the term Suvarnabhumi referred to all territory lying between India in the west and China in the east, argues that the capital of Suvarnabhumi could very well have been located in Nakhorn Pathom of Thailand where one of the greatest Buddhist stupas ever built in South-east Asia. namely the Phra Pathom Chedi, is to be found. The stupa of Nakhorn Pathom, minus the upper part, believed to have been added at a later period, would seem to show exactly the same construction and style of the stupa of Sanchi in India. Furthermore, archaeological objects found in the region of the Dvaravati kingdom include Dhammachakra or the Wheel of Law and Deer which were the symbols of the first sermon of Lord Buddha, preached at the Deer Park, Benares, after his Enlightenment. Since the Wheel of Law together with the Deer were the early symbols especially revered by the Theravada Buddhists, Luang Boribal Buriphand argues that the capital of Suvarnabhumi could probably have been situated at the site of the present-day Nakhorn Pathom.

Be that as it may, from some time about the beginning of the Christian era, the Tenasserim coast and the Malay peninsula were known in India as the `country of Gold' or Suvarnabhumi, and Suvarnadvipa, 'island or peninsula of Gold'. Shortly after the beginning of the Christian era, Greek geographers began to designate the coast as `Chryse the Golden' (the 'Golden Chersonese), or peninsula. Mining camps are known to have grown up in the region and around them small agricultural settlements. One of the earliest settlements, and according to Lawrence Palmer Briggs, perhaps the earliest—was the present village of Takuapa, just south of the isthmus of Kra. This is said to have been the finest harbour on the west coast of the peninsula. The mart of Takola, which Ptolemy located on this coast about the middle of the second century A.D. has also been identified with Takuapa. Tambralinga (Nakhorn Srithammarat, or Ligor), just south of the Bay of Bandon, is said to have existed as early as the second century. Thus at an earlier date, permanent settlements of which the Takuapa settlement of a somewhat later period has been identified as a South Indian Tamil one, were established on both sides of the peninsula, which could serve as alternative routes, in some cases, to the long trip around the southern tip of the peninsula, springboards so to say, for the penetration of the valleys of the Menam and the Mekong. See also PAUL WHEATLEY, The Golden Khersonese, Kuala Lumpur, 1961.

12 H. G. QUARITCH WALES, Siamese State Ceremonies. (p. 13), London, 1931.

13 DR. B. CH. CHHABRA believes it is proper to call the script of this period a Pallava script. He says: "It is a very remarkable fact that the earliest known inscriptions found in those countries of the Far East are all composed in Sanskrit, all belonging approximately to the same period, the fifth century, and are written in a script which in every respect is identical with the Grantha character used at the time on the coast of Coromandel Even more significant is the pheno-
menon that for several centuries, the Pallava Grantha remained the only script in vogue in Further India and in Indonesia (if at least we are to judge from the evidence of the inscriptions) and that during this period it exhibits a development running parallel with that which we notice in the contemporary records of Coromandel " — Expansion of Indo-Aryan Culture during Pallava Rule as evidenced by the Inscriptions, in Journal of Proceedings, Archive Society of Bengal, Calcutta, 1935. p. 56.

With regard to other script used for the inscriptions, it is said that during the reign of Yasovarman I (A.D. 889 — 900) of Cambodia, the Nagari script of Magadha (which has been in use in Java since the latter part of 8th century) was introduced into Cambodia, but this new super-ornamental script seems to have disappeared early in his reign itself. — L. P. BRIGGS, The Ancient Khmer Empire, New Series, Vol. 41, part 1, Philadelphia, 1951, p. 106.

14 L. P. BRIGGS, The Ancient Khmer Empire. Philadelphia. 1951. p. 25.

15 Ibid, p. 35.

16 Ibid, p. 55. An inscription of Ang Pou, dating from Isanavarman I (A.D. 611 — 635) reign says: `Victorious are Hara and Acyyuta become one for the good of world, though as the spouses of Parvati and Sri they have different forms.' — SIR CHARLES ELIOT, (op. cit.), V. 3, p. 114.

17 PAUL Mus, Les religions de L'Indochine, 1 :103 — 156. (1931).

18 PROF. GEORGE COEDES generally refers to the Devaraja as God-King. In Khmer, Deva-Raja is called Kamrateng jagat to raja.

19 For the background story of Jayavarman II's trip to Java, see L. P. BRIGGS, The Ancient Khmer Empire, pp. 67 — 69. Briefly it is said that when Java, and the Malay peninsula were being conquered by the Sailendra (8th century A.D.), the Cambodian ruler also did not escape from the raid. The Sailendra Maharaja is said to have taken the Khmer king by surprise, beheaded him and placed a new king on the throne as his vassal.

20 GEORGE COEDES and PIERRE DUPONT, L'Inscription de Sdok Kak Thom. St. 70 — 77.

21 GEORGE COEDES, La fondateur de la royaute angkorienne et les recentes decouvertes archeologigues an Phnom Kulen. Cahiers de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient. Hanoi, 1938, 14 : 40 — 48.

22 R. C. MAJUMDAR, Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East. I. CHAMPA. Lahore, 1927. pp. 82 — 83.

23 K. A. NILAKANTA SASTRI, Agastya. TBG, 76 : 471 — 545. pp. 500 — 503.

24 GEORGE COEDES. Les Etats hindouises d'Indochine et d'Indonesie (Histoire du Monde. 8. p. 187.

25 L. P. BRIGGS, The Ancient Khmer Empire. p. 228.

26 LOUIS FINOT, Lokesvara en Indochine, in Etudes Asiatiques. 2V Paris 1925. pp. 230 — 231.

27 L. P. BRIGGS, op. cit. p. 228.

28 GEORGE COEDES, "The 13th century in South-east Asia", in The Proceedings of the 9th Pacific Congress, 1957. V. 3 (Anthropology and Social Sciences), pp. 38 — 39, published in Bangkok.

29 H. G. QUARITCH WALES, Siamese State Ceremonies. p. 60.

30 J. CRAWFORD, Embassy to Siam. London 1828. p. 119.

31 With the final destruction of Ayudhya in 1767, some of the Brahmins are said to have gone to Nakhom Srithammarat from where King Tak Sin, on the re-establishment of the kingdom, is said to have recalled them and tried to collect all that had survived of their ceremonial lore. His successor and founder of the present Chakri Dynasty, King Rama I collected all the available information covering the coronation ceremony of the Ayudhya period and two years after his accession to the throne, he was anointed and crowned with full rites which afterwards became the model for all future ceremonies. (History of the Second Reign, p. 19). See also H. G. QUARITCH WALES. op. cit. p. 70.

32 H. H. PRINCE DHANI NIVAT, "The Coronation", in The Standard, May 6, 1950, Bangkok.



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