Thai History - The Sukhothai Period
The origins of the Thai people are debatable, but what is not is that the majority of Thais regard the kingdom of Sokhothai, which literally means ‘Dawn of Happiness’, as the first truly Thai kingdom. It is seen as a near-utopian civilization where any citizen could request an audience with the king by ringing a particular bell at the appropriate time and where kings regarded themselves as compassionate monk-kings rather than the God-kings of the later Ayutthaya era.
At the time when its Sukhothai province declared independence from their Khmer overlords in, the Angkor-based Khmer empire to the north and the Sirirak empire to the south were in decline, so when Sukhothai began rapidly expanding, their neighbours couldn’t stop them.
King Ramhamkeng, whose name literally meant ‘Rama the Bold’, was the most famous of the Sukhothai kings and is today revered partly for being the monarch who introduced a style of benevolent monarchy that was reinstated after the Ayutthaya period and which remains today. Accorded the epithet ‘The Great’, he was a reluctant but successful warrior who was, as well as being a learned and devout man who introduced the Thai script and adopted Theravada Buddhism as the state religion, an adept diplomat. He obtained Chinese support by persuading the Chinese Ming dynasty that their mutual neighbours the Khmers were also their mutual enemies. The many Chinese potters who came to Sukhothai as a by-product of this alliance passed on skills which resulted in the creation of religious sculptures which not only most Thais but also many foreigners believe are the most beautiful ever created by anyone, anywhere. These sculptures can still be viewed today at Sukhothai. King Ramkanheng also forged a lasting alliance with the rulers of two Mekong Valley principalities, one of which became the closely-allied kingdom of Chiang Mai. Including these new allied kingdoms, Sukhothai territory increased tenfold under Ramhengkeng’s rule. After he drowned, his successors devoted themselves more to religion than politics and, as a result, the kingdom was eventually, forcibly but peacefully, incorporated into the kingdom of Ayutthaya in 1438.
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