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Sukhothai The Dawn of Happiness

Early 13th-century northern Thai kingdoms were actually scattered city-states with limited human, military and economic resources. Usually located in fertile, naturally-protected surroundings, self-sustaining in terms of food, fuel, building materials and cloth, and separated by dense jungle, they were individually powerless to defy Khmer suzerainty. Each state was obliged to pay tribute, principally by the time-consuming, cumbersome practice of sending water in earthenware jars to Angkor’s royal courts.

Although Khmer power was paramount, it was, because of the distance from Angkor, far from absolute. Nevertheless, it was a constant affront to the Thais’ innate sense of inner freedom to be held in thrall. Over the years this imposition became increasingly insupportable.

In 1238, two Thai chieftains, Khun Bang Klang Tao and Khun Pa Muang combined forces and, after attacking and defeating the local Khmer commander, founded the first truly independent Thai kingdom in Sukhothai (in Pali : Sukhodaya or, aptly, ‘Dawn of Happiness’)

This singular act of aggression signaled future Thai expansion throughout the entire Menam Chao Phya basin pushing the Khmers out of territory they had formerly occupied. Indeed, by the early 1300s, Sukhothai enjoyed suzerainty over territory westwards to the Bay of Bengal, the entire Malay peninsula (including the island presently called Singapore) to the south, and northeast to Vientiane, the present Laotian capital.

The victorious Khun Bang Klang Tao was popularly acclaimed Sukhothai’s first king and ruled as King Sri Intratit. His successful liberation of his people from Khmer rule aroused the attention of neigh-bouring Thai states which saw that Thai independence could flourish only if the Thais presented a united front against would-be aggressors. Accordingly, alliances were forged and cemented by intermarriage, a practice which Thais had already used to establish themselves among settled Mon and Khmer communities.

Sukhothai’s population grew rapidly following an influx of Thai refugees fleeing from Nanchao. Many were absorbed into Sukhothai’s army, which rapidly increased in strength. This large army served as insurance against both jealous Thai rivals and the Khmer threat in Lopburi 300 kilometres to the south which since the 11th century had been a Khmer empire outpost and stronghold.

Sukhothai reached its zenith during the rign of King Intratit’s youngest son, Ramkamhaeng the Great, the third Sukhothai king, popularly known as ‘The Father of Thailand’. The most famous of Sukhothai’s eight kings, Ramkamhaeng attained legendary status during his long (1275-1317) reign.

An absolute monarch–meaning his authority was unquestionably supreme–Ramkamhaeng had been an accomplished warrior during his youth. His exploits on war elephants gained him a fearsome reputation as he expanded Sukhothai’s territory by campaigning for his father against the Khmers and rival kingdoms.

King Ramkamhaeng ensured Sukho-thai’s continuing security and stability by concluding pacts with the powerful neigh bouring kingdoms of Chiang Rai-Chiang Mai and P’ayao. In a series of brilliant diplomatic coups, he established trade treaties with India and Burma, made close contact with Ceylon, the bastion of Thera-vada Buddhism, and promoted friendly relations with the Chinese emperor by sending five Thai embassies to China between 1292 and 1314.
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Article Added on Sunday, November 22, 2009
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