meaning the ''Dawn of Happiness'' was the first free Thai
city founded in 1238, by two Thai chieftains, Khun Bang Klang
Tao and Khun Pa Muang , this ending Khmer rule from Angkor Wat.
In the early 1300s, Sukhothai enjoyed suzeranity over the Chao
Phya River basin, westward to the bay of Bengal and the entire
state that is still regarded by Thai historical tradition as the
" first Thai Kingdom " was Sukhothai, There
were, in fact, contemporaneous Thai states such as
and Phayao, both in present-day northern Thailand, but the Thai
historical imagination has been most stirred by Sukhothai. Even
today, the evocative ruins of Sukhothai and its twin city Si
Satchanalai conjure up images of material prosperity, artistic
greatness, and serene
piety. Indeed, Sukhothai is remembered as much for its art and
architecture as for its political achievements.
began life as a chiefdom under the sway of the Khmer empire: the
oldest monuments in the city were built in the Khmer style or
else show clear Khmer influence. During the first half of the
13th century the Thai rulers of Sukhothai threw off the Khmer
yoke and set up an independent Thai kingdom. One of the
victorious Thai chieftains became the first king of Sukhothai,
with the name of Si Inthrathit [Sri Indraditya]. Sukhothai's
power and influence expanded in all directions by conquest [the
Khmer were driven southwards], by a farsighted network of
marriage alliances with the ruling families of other Thai states,
and by the use of a common religion, Theravada Buddhism, to
cement relations with other states.
Inthrathit's son and successor was King Ramkhamhaeng,
undoubtedly the most famous and dynamic monarch ever to rule the
Sukhothai kingdom. Much of what we know about Sukhothai in the
13th century derives from King Ramkhamhaeng's stone inscription
of 1292. The inscription is problematic, but it is considered to
be a seminal source of Sukhothai history as well as a
masterpiece of Thai literature. It eloquently extols the
benevolence of King Ramkhamhaeng's rule, the power and
prosperity of Sukhothai. The king was accessible to his people.
For example, he had a bell hung in front of a palace gate so
that any subject with a grievance could ring it and ask for
King Ramkhamhaeng, the ruler of the kingdom, hears the call;
he goes and questions the man, examines the case, and decides
it justly for him. So the people of.....Sukhothai praise him.
to the inscription, the king did not levy road tolls or taxes on
merchandise. His liberality was such that he did not tax his
subjects' inheritance at all. Such a paternalistic and
benevolent style of kingship has caused posterity to regard the
Sukhothai kingdom's heyday as a " golden age "
in Thai history.
allowing for some hyperbole in King Ramkhamhaeng's inscription,
it is probably true that Sukhothai was prosperous and well-governed.
Its economy was self-sufficient, small-scale, and agricultural.
The Thai people's basic diet was the same as that of many other
people in Southeast Asia, consisting of rice and fish as staple
foods. Both, according to King Ramkhamhaeng's inscription were
the time of King Ramkhamhaeng this land of Sukhothai is
thriving. There are fish in the water and rice in the fields."
may have been self-sufficient as far as food was concerned, but
its prosperity also depended on commerce. During the Sukhothai
period glazed ceramic wares known as "sangkhalok"
were produced in great quantities at the kilns of Sukhothai and
Si Satchanalai and exported regularly to other countries in the
South China Sea area, specimens having been found in Indonesia
and the Philippines. Sukhothai also traded with China through
the traditional Chinese tributary system: the Thai king was
content to send tribute to the Chinese emperor and be classified
as a vassal, in return for permission to sell Thai goods and buy
animistic beliefs remained potent in Sukhothai, King
Ramkhamhaeng and his successors were all devout Buddhist rulers
who made merit on a large scale. The major cities of the
Sukhothai kingdom were therefore full of monasteries, many of
which were splendid examples of Thai Buddhist architecture.
Sukhothai adopted the Ceylonese school of Theravada Buddhism,
beginning with King Ramkhamhaeng's invitation to Ceylonese monks
to come over and purify Buddhism in his kingdom. This Ceylonese
influence manifested itself not only in matters of doctrine but
also in religious architecture. The bell-shaped stupa, so
familiar in Thai religious architecture, was derived from
Ceylonese models. Sukhothai style Buddha images are distinctive
for their elegance and stylized beauty, and Sukhothai's artists
introduced the graceful form of the "walking Buddha"
into Buddhist sculpture.
cultural importance in Thai history also derives from the fact
that the Thai script evolved into a definite form during King
Ramkhamhaeng's time, taking as its models the ancient Mon and
Khmer scripts. Indeed, this remarkable king is credited with
having invented the Thai script.
Si Inthrathit and King Ramkhamhaeng were both warrior kings and
extended their territories far and wide. Their successors,
however, could not maintain such a far-flung empire. Some of
these later kings were more remarkable for their religious piety
and extensive building activities than for their warlike
exploits. An example of this type of Buddhist ruler was King
Mahathammaracha Lithai, believed to have been the compiler of
the Tribhumikatha, an early Thai book on the Buddhist universe
or cosmos. The political decline of Sukhothai was, however, not
wholly owing to deficiencies in leadership. Rather it resulted
from the emergence of strong Thai states further south, whose
political and economic power began to challenge Sukhothai during
the latter half of the 14th century. These southern states,
were able to deny Sukhothai access to the area.
Sukhothai kingdom did not die a quick death. Its decline lasted
from the mid-14th until the 15th century. In 1378, the Ayutthaya
King Borommaracha I subdued Sukhothai's frontier city of
Chakangrao [Kamphaengphet], and henceforth Sukhothai became a
tributary state of Ayutthaya. Sukhothai later attempted to break
loose from Ayutthaya but with no real success, until in the 15th
century it was incorporated into the Ayutthaya kingdom as a
province. The focus of Thai history and politics now moved to
the central plains of present-day Thailand, where Ayutthaya was
establishing itself as a centralized state, its power
outstripping not only Sukhothai but also other neighbouring
states such as Suphannaphum and Lawo [Lopburi]