Indo-Thai Historical and Cultural Linkages – The heritage parks of Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet

Remains of Brahmanical Sites and Artefacts

Brahmanic Shrines at Kamphanphaet
Brahmanic Shrines at Kamphanphaet

Of the three Historical Parks situated not far from each other, Sukhothai, Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai have been declared Heritage Park have Brahmanical sites and the Brahmanical artefacts discovered from areas around them which are now housed in the Museums there and the National Museum, Bangkok. As many as fourteen images of Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Hari-Hara and goddess Uma have been found in the Brahmanical shrines of the Sukhothai Historical Park except two are now housed in the National Museum, Bangkok. The two of Vishnu and Hari-Hara are in the Ramkamhaeng National Museum, Sukhothai.

Shrines of Sukhothai

Thewalai Kaset Phiman/Ho Thewalai

It is mentioned in the Stone Inscription of King Li Thai of 1361 C.E. This records the placing of the images of Shiva and Vishnu in the shrine in 1339 C.E. for Brahmanas to worship. The Inscription reads :

In 1271 Saka, year of the Ox, on Friday, the 11th of the waxing moon of Asadha in the ‚raksha of Purvasadha at sunrise the king (Phra Pada Kamrateng AN Sri Suryavamsa Rama Maharajadhiraja) erected an image of Maheshvara and an image of Vishnu in the Devalaya Mahakshetra of this Mango Grove … … for all the ascetics and the Brahmanas to worship forever….

Khmer language, Face 1, Lines 51-53

An important thing in this Thewalai, Devalaya, is the base of a hall where these images originally stood. The hall is in the Mandapa shape with eight columns and is metres wide. This ancient monument was excavated and restored in 1970 C.E. A peculiarity of the monument, the Shiva shrine, is that it lies straight in the direction of the Shiva Cave which is at the top of a faraway mountain noticeable from there.

Brahmanic Shrines at San Devalai Maha Kshetram
Brahmanic Shrines at San Devalai Maha Kshetram

Wat Si Sawai

It is situated 300 metres Southwest of Wat Mahathat and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Interesting work of art in it is the main Prang which consists of three towers in Lopburi style. In its front, there are two bases of Viharas located next to each other and surrounded by bricks/slate boundary wall. The outer wall is of laterite. From its excavation and renovation fragments and antiques were found such as a lintel showing Vishnu stepping over the ocean, fragments of a bronze idol, a Linga and a Buddhist image in Lopburi style. King Rama VI of the Chakri dynasty visited this temple when Crown Prince. He had found the image of Svayambha (Shiva) in the Vihara.

Hence it is assumed that Wat Si Sawai was once the ancient site of the Brahmana religion. Some Hindu sculptures were discovered in Wat Si Sawai. They are preserved now in the Ramakamhaeng Museum at Sukhothai. These are:

  1. An image of Hari-Hara in bronze of Sukhothai art, 14th-15th Century C.E.
  2. An image of Shiva in bronze, Sukhothai art, 14th-15th Century C.E.
  3. Torso of Shiva in stone
  4. The Right arm of a deity

Ta Pha Daeng Shrine

Brahmanic shrines at San Ta Pha Daeng
Brahmanic shrines at San Ta Pha Daeng

It is situated North of Wat Mahathat. Also called Phra Sua Muang Shrine its architectural style is a copy of the Khmer art which exercised influence over Sukhothai during the reign of King Saryavarman II of the 12th Century C.E. An excavation here revealed significant sculptures such as a figure of Shiva and a goddess. According to their accessories and dress, it looks typically like a Khmer sculpture of the Angkor Wat art of around the 11th Century C.E..

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Located to the East of the Northern gate and the outer rampart of Sukhothai, it is considered a group of ancient edifices of great significance because its buildings constructed in different phases have left impressive evidence of the evolution of Sukhothai art. The oldest ancient monuments in this ancient temple are three buildings constructed in Prasad (imitating Hindu Shikhara Vimanas). At present two of them are still in existence with their bases only in sight. The remaining one in the North is adorned with stucco relief depicting the stories of the Buddha like at a Prasad at Wat Mahathat in Lopburi Province and a Pallial Prasad at Angkor.

In addition, there are stucco reliefs depicting deities of Hinduism, such as an image of Shiva and an image of Brahma. These help confirm the supposition that around the 13th Century C.E. communities in Sukhothai had cultural contact with Khmers in the reign of King Jayavarman VII and were also associated with a town under the Khmer influence called Lavo (the present Lopburi Province). To the East of the Prasad are located a Vihara and a Chedi in a pyramid shape with every sloping side decorated with superimposed receding porches which are similar to those of Kutkut Chedi in Lampu Province for enshrining the stuccoes image of the Buddha.

Brahmanic shrines at Wat Phra Phai Luang
Brahmanic shrines at Wat Phra Phai Luang, North of Sukhothai in Ancient City 2

The Brahmanical Artefacts in the Ramkamhaeng Museum

Among its many exhibits, this museum at Sukhothai had some Brahmanical artefacts which, apart from those mentioned in connection with the description of the Thewalai Si Sawai are

  1. A Shivilinga in sandstone, Lopbiri art, 11th-12th Century C.E.
  2. The Pedestal of Linga or Yoni, Lopburi art, 11th-12th Century C.E.
  3. An image of Hari-Hara, Sukhothai art, 14th Century C.E.
  4. An image of Vishnu, Sukhothai art, 14th Century C.E.
  5. A panel depicting Vishnu resting on the celebrated serpent shesha with its seven hoods with seated Lakshmi holding the feet of the Lord in her arms. From the navel of the Lord springs forth a lotus stalk with full-blossomed lotus on which Brahma is comfortably seated in a posture of worship. A little towards the side of the feet there is the figure of a recluse with matted hair and a rosary who could be shiva.

If this surmise were to be correct, then the panel would be representing the entire Hindu Trinity which would distinguish it from a similar panel at Prasad Panom Rung.’

Brahmanic shrines in Sukhothai
Brahmanic shrines in Sukhothai, Wat Sri Sawai 1

Shrines of Kamphaeng Phet

About 65 km from Sukhothai the Historical Park of Kampheng Phet has a Hindu shrine, now in ruins, amidst a large number of Buddhist ones, called the Shiva shrine which is the place to find the bronze statue of Shiva that is considered one of the masterpieces of Thai art. The inscription at the base of it, written in the Thai language in Sukhothai script states that

This was set up by Sri Dharma Ashoka Raja, a Governor of Kamphaeng Phet in 1510 C.E. for protection of people and animals in the Kamphaeng Phet city and the accrual of merit to the two former kings of Ayutthaya.

The head and the hands of the statue were cut and stolen by a German missionary in 1886 C.E. (during the reign of King Chulalongkorn or Rama V) which the police discovered at Bangkok harbor and restored to it (the statue) in such a way that nothing of the vandalism in it is noticeable now.

Brahmanic Shrines at Kamphanphaet
Brahmanic Shrines at Kamphanphaet

Apart from the Shiva statue discovered from the Shiva shrine which now occupies a pride of place on the first floor of the Kamphaeng Phet National Museum, a couple of other Hindu images have also been discovered from Kamphaeng Phet’s other sites like Wat Mahathat. They are the images of Vishnu or Narai and a goddess (she may be Uma or Lakshmi). There are also two or three broken pieces that can be ascribed to the Rama story.

From what has been stated above, it would be clear that the heritage sites of Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet have remains of several Brahmanical shrines and artefacts, among a large number of Buddhist ones, a good testimony to the peaceful co-existence of the Buddhist and Brahmanical religion in the kingdom of Thailand since days of yore. These also are proof positive of the close and intimate Indo-Thai linkages down the ages. Indian temple architecture can be seen.

Author – Late Shri Padma Bhushan Prof. Satya Vrat Shastri, Jnana-Pitha Laureate

Article from Sthapatyam (Journal of the Indian Science of Architecture & Allied Sciences)  Issue .

To get copy contact

Recommended Reads
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *