Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ayuthaya: From Ruins to Glory.


Not far away from hustle bustle of modern day capital of Thailand lies a beautiful tranquil historical capital of Siam – Ayuthaya. A city that was once at the helm of power during 1350 to 1767, now stands amidst ruins. Nevertheless, these very ruins draw tourists from all over the world.

Ayuthaya is app 80 km north of Bangkok based at the confluence of Chao Phaya, Pa Sak and Lopburi Rivers. An artificial canal joins them and surrounds the town. In 1351, a Chinese man U Thong founded this city. In 1378, Ayuthaya defeated Sukothai (140 year old empire) in battle and became the capital of Thailand. In 1431, Ayuthaya defeated the Khmer kingdom of Angkor Wat. With that Ayuthaya became undisputed imperial power of Southeast Asia.

This change of power center also brought the change in Royal Image. The king of Sukothai was called a Dhammaraja - ''Lawful King''; but the king of Ayuthaya was called a Devaraja - “God King”. The tradition of Ayuthaya continues even today, with King of Thailand remains a God in the eyes of their “Praja”. Ayuthaya also continued with Khmer tradition wherein King is considered as an incarnation of a deity and therefore becomes the royal patron of Buddhist faith, as well as benefactor of all forms of creative arts. During four centuries, various kings reigned Ayuthaya. Together they made this place reknowned for Buddhist monasteries and center of arts, trade and commerce.

Ayuthaya has many temples but I would list three most important ones. Most prominent is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest among all temples. Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok is modeled on this. This temple has 16-meter Buddha statue and believed to have been coated with 250 kg of gold only to get peeled of during Burmese aggression. Inside the compound is a courtyard with steps leading up to the main towers of the pagoda. On either side are two sitting Buddhas at over 30 meters tall. 500 smaller sitting Buddhas encircle the temple, each one representing a deceased ancestor of the royal families of Ayuthaya. Another temple, 1300 year old Wat Phra Meru temple has carved ceiling with two Buddha images. Third temple of Wat Yai Chai Mongkon houses a reclining Buddha.

Besides temples, Chao Phraya National Museum, Chan Kasem Palace Museum and the Ayuthaya Historical Study Center depict lost glory of Ayuthaya. The Bang Pa-In Summer Palace is impressive with influence of Chinese architecture.

Ayuthaya glory days were over when Burmese army invaded in 1767. With continuous armed conflict this vibrant city became shattered and devastated. An abandoned city went into oblivion leaving only remnants of this great empire. But halo and mystic of this capital never faded with posterior generations. They always referred this place as ''the glorious old city’”. Today historical awareness and conscious efforts have revitalized Ayuthaya. Ruins at Ayuthaya no longer evoke expression of desolation, dejection but brings stream of devotees lighting incense and candles to make this place joyous and pious. Now Ayuthaya is again perceived as a blessed city with a belief that that if you are buried here in the presence of Buddha, your family will be blessed by Buddha forever.

Ayuthaya may or may not have been influenced by Ayodhya. But isn’t it ironical that during the very glory days of Ayuthaya, mogul king Babar was perhaps setting his eyes on Ayodhya in India.

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