Mon, Srivijayan and Khmer influences

Before the Tais emerged as the dominant force in the 13th century, Thailand was dominated by Mon and Khmer peoples. The Mon were a people and a civilization centred on the western edge of the central plains. They established the enigmatic kingdom of Dvaravati. From the small collection of inscriptions and statues scholars do know, however, that the kingdom was Buddhist and extended eastwards towards Cambodia, northwards towards Chiang Mai, and westwards into Burma. The Khmer were the people, and (usually) a kingdom, centred on present-day Cambodia with their capital at Angkor. They controlled large areas of Thailand (particularly the northeast) and Laos (the south) as well as Cambodia.

Prior to the 13th century the people of the
Srivijayan Kingdom
also extended their influence across Thailand. This was a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that had its capital near present-day Palembang (Sumatra) and which built its wealth on controlling the trade through the Straits of Melaka between China and India/Middle East. Because of the monsoon winds (northeast/southwest) boats powered by sail had to 'winter' in island
Southeast Asia, waiting for the winds to change before they could continue their journeys. Srivijaya, for which we have little solid evidence, is thought to have been one of the most -
if not the most - powerful maritime kingdom in the region.

Dvaravati

The Mon Kingdom of Dvaravati was centred close to Bangkok, with cities at modern-day Uthong and Nakhon Pathom, and was an artistic and political outlier of the Mon Empire of Burma. Dvaravati relics have also been found in the north and northeast, along what are presumed to have been the trade routes between Burma east to Cambodia, north to Chiang Mai and northeast to the Khorat Plateau and Laos. The Dvaravati Kingdom lasted from the sixth to the 11th centuries; only the tiny Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya, with its capital at Lamphun in the north, managed to survive annexation by the powerful Khmer
Empire and remained independent until the 13th century. Unfortunately, virtually nothing
of the architecture of the Dvaravati period remains. Buildings were constructed of laterite blocks, faced with stucco (a mixture of sand and lime) and, apparently, bound together with vegetable glue. In Thailand, only the stupa of Wat Kukut outside Lamphun shows Dvaravati architecture (it was last rebuilt in 1218). Dvaravati sculpture is much better represented and the National Gallery in Bangkok has some fine examples. The sculptors of the period drew their inspiration from India's late-Gupta cave temples, rendering human form almost supernaturally.

Srivijaya

The powerful Srivijayan Empire, with its capital at Palembang in Sumatra, extended its control over south Thailand from the seventh to the 13th centuries. Inscriptions and sculptures dating from the Srivijayan period have been found near the modern Thai towns of Chaiya and Sating Phra in Surat Thani, and Songkhla provinces. They reveal an eclectic mixture of Indian, Javanese, Mon and Khmer artistic influences, and incorporate both Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist iconography. Probably the best examples of what little remains of Srivijayan architecture in Thailand are Phra Boromthat and a sanctuary at Wat Kaeo, both in Chaiya.

The Khmer

Of all the external empires to impinge on Thailand before the rise of the Tai, the most influential was the Khmer. Thailand lay on the fringes of the Angkorian Kingdom, but nonetheless many Thai towns are Khmer in origin: That Phanom, Sakhon Nakhon and Phimai in the northeast; Lopburi, Suphanburi and Ratburi in the lower central plain; and Phitsanulok, Sawankhalok and Sukhothai in the upper central plain.

The peak of the Khmer period in Thailand lasted from the 11th to the 13th centuries, corresponding with the flowering of the Angkorian period in Cambodia. However, antiquities have been found that date back as far as the seventh and eighth century AD. The period of Khmer inspiration is referred to as 'Lopburi', after the Central Thai town of the same name which was a Khmer stronghold. The most impressive architectural remains are to be found in the northeastern region: Phimai, not far from Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) , Muang Tham and Phnom Rung , both south of Buriram. As Cambodia's treasures are still relatively expensive and hard to get to, these 'temple cities' are a substitute, giving some idea of the economic power and artistic brilliance of the Khmer period. There are also many lesser Khmer ruins scattered over the northeastern region, many barely researched, and these offer worthwhile forays for those with a real interest in Thailand's historical and archaeological past.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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