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9.:4 Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767)

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    The Ayutthaya Kingdom existed from 1351 to 1767 and is displayed on the map (9.4.1) as a bright purple country. European voyagers in the 1500s believed Ayutthaya was one of the major Asian powers. The kingdom later became modern Thailand. The early kingdom was based on the maritime regions by the seas before expanding to the inland areas. For a short while, Burma controlled the area from 1569 to 1584 until the kingdom was under the king's control. After the late 1500s, the culture entered the “golden age” with the growth of capitalism. Ayutthaya was located on an island at the confluence of three rivers, a place to control access to the rest of the country. In 1767, Burma attacked the area and burned the city of Ayutthaya to the ground. 

    Map of Southern Eastern Asia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of Kingdom of Ayutthaya (1750) (Nicolas Eynaud, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Left as archaeological relics are the tall prangs (reliquary towers) and some Buddhist monasteries, all a tribute to the splendor of the past. Prangs were made from brick or laterite (a red clay material) and formed the temple towers. The buildings were sophisticated, structurally, and elegantly decorated with murals and statues. The chedi were similar to the concept of the Buddhist stupa, a sacred place usually shaped like a bell-shaped tower. Inside the chedi, they frequently have a relic chamber. 

    Wat Chaiwatthanaram

    Wat Chaiwatthanaram (9.4.2) was constructed in 1630 to honor the king’s mother. A large, 35-meter-high prang stands in the middle of smaller prangs to symbolize Mount Sumeru, a place the Hindus believe was the god’s mountain. The temple's name means “Temple of long reign and glorious era.” All of the complex sits on a platform with hidden entrances. Eight chedi-shaped chapels surround the central prang. The inside walls were painted with murals, and the exterior walls were covered with reliefs based on Buddha's life. One hundred and twenty Buddha statues were lined around the wall. Each of the chedis held a Buddha statue under a wood ceiling covered with black lacquer and gold stars.  

    a temple made of stone and ruins
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Wat Chaiwatthanaram (Justin Vidamo, CC BY 2.0)

    Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

    The temple Wat Phra Sri Sanphet (9.4.3) was located on the palace grounds and is one of the more important temples. When King Ramathibodi II ascended to the throne in 1491, he built two chedi to store his father’s ashes and one for his older brother. The third chedi was constructed to hold the ashes of King Ramathibodi. In 1605, King Ekathotsarot ordered five Buddha statues to be installed in the temple complex. One Buddha was made of gold with a crown and jeweled bracelets. Another Buddha statue was made from gold and placed on an engraved pedestal. The third Buddha was seated and made from gold and copper alloy, and gems were added. The pedestal was made from a copper and zinc alloy to resemble gold. The last two images of Buddha were made from pounded silver on engraved silver pedestals. Because the temple was part of the palace complex, the kings used it exclusively. In 1767, when the Burmese sacked and burned many of the buildings, leaving only the chedis. The Burmese took the Buddha images and melted them down for the gold. 

    three tall spires above stone buildings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Wat Phra Sri Sanphet (Sabyk2001CC BY-SA 4.0)

    Wat Yanasen 

    Wat Yanasen (9.4.4) was near the Royal Treasury building, holding lassos and Holy ropes to control the elephants. A gutter flowed near the temple's base to control the water flow; however, no identifiable walls existed. Some buildings have been restored, including the Main Chedi, which has indented terraces and arched porches in the old style. The ubosot (hall for rituals) has also been restored. The historical records of the temple were stored there, and a sermon hall and monk’s quarters are also located in the complex. 

    Brick Stupa with surrounding buildings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Wat Yanasen (Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Luang Pho Tho or Sam Pao Kong 

    Luang Pho Tho or Sam Pao Kong (9.4.5) is a massive and highly revered Buddha statue in the Wat Phanan Choeng temple. Initially, the statue was created in 1324 when a group of refugees escaped from the Song Dynasty in China. The Buddha statue is gilded and nineteen meters high. It is housed in the largest building in the complex. Occasionally, the statue was destroyed, but always restored. The statue was made from brick, mortar, and stucco formed into the characteristic pose of Subduing Mara. Orange drapes cover the statue for ceremonies, and the drapes run down to cover the worshippers. The statue is one of the most revered images in Thailand. Around the temple, other statues (9.4.6) sit in rows or niches, creating multiple places for people to worship. 

    Gijsbert Heeck was a Dutch doctor who wrote in his journal in 1655, “We saw a frightfully high, large, and heavy image, (we estimated) some twenty times larger than the largest image we had seen anywhere. It sat cross legged, but even so, one looked up to him as at a tower. From one knee to the other measured a width of 42 of our feet, and his thumb thick in circumference, l9 inches wide, and as long as a common rattan. The fingers and nails were exceptionally long and broad relative to his hands and feet. His knees seemed like small mountains, and the back was so broad that it looked like the wall of a lofty church. His mouth, nose, eyes, and ears were all matching and so well
    proportioned that we could see little or no reason to judge it too thick or too thin, too long or too short, too broad or too narrow. This astonishingly large image was richly gilded from top to bottom, looking more a golden mountain than a human figure.”[1]

    large golden seated man
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Luang Pho Tho or Sam Pao Kong (PholtographCC BY-SA 3.0)
    several gold men seated with baskets of orange robes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Supporting statues (PholtographCC BY-SA 4.0)

    Wat Ko Kaew Suttharam 

    Wat Ko Kaew Suttharam temple was constructed in 1734, and its architecture is simpler than the other temples. The critical part of the complex is the murals (9.4.7) in the ubosot (hall). One wall has murals portraying the “Seven Great Places” where Buddha stayed after his enlightenment. Another wall depicts the “Eight Great Events” of Buddha’s life, starting when he was born. Other images also include pictures of European people who came to the kingdom. The closeup mural image (9.4.8) reveals the details found in each painting. No documentation is available describing the image. Other spaces are covered with stories about pilgrimage. Above the doors are footprints of Buddha. “The footprint to the proper left is on a mountaintop. Five footprints were commonly known through popular liturgies of the time; no inscriptions survive on this wall, and it is difficult to determine which footprints might be intended here.”[2] The murals in the temple are some of the few paintings left in any of the temples. 

    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Murals in Wat Ko Kaew Suttharam (Thien JiraCC BY-SA 3.0)
    wall mural with several scenes of people
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Mural closeup (กสิณธร ราชโอรสCC BY-SA 4.0)




    [1]  A Traveler in Siam in the Year 1655: Extracts from the Journal of Gijsbert Heeck - Barend Jan Terwiel (2008) - page 65.

    [2] Imaginaires of Late Ayutthaya Pilgrimage: The Seven and Eight Great Sites at Wat Ko Kaeo Suttharam, Phetchaburi.