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Published: November 24th 2008
The city of Sukhotai (meaning ‘Dawn of Happiness’) was, up until 1238, a part of the Angkorian (Khmer) Empire when two ambitious Thai princes, Phor Khun Pha Muang of Muang Rad and Phor Khun Bang Klang Thao of Muang Banyang, rallied together to oust them
. Sukhotai became the capital and official start of the Thai nation and Phor Khun Bang Klang Thao, the first king.
After changing hands a few times, the kingdom finally passed down to King Ramkhamhaeng, the Great. He, one of Thailand’s greatest warrior-kings, expanded Sukhotai far and wide even opening up direct political relations with China and visiting Emperor Kublai Khan, grandson of the (in)famous Genghis Khan. Ramkhamhaeng brought accomplished Chinese artisans back to Sukhotai to teach the locals the fine art of exquisite pottery making and he unified the various writing systems to produce a standard alphabet. Today’s elegant, complex strokes/characters of the Thai alphabet are the same ones from back in 1283. Theravada Buddhism became the official state religion and massive complexes of wats and numerous styles of Buddha were constructed.
Our explorations began in the Sukhotai National Park. Carefully preserved, the ruins of the royal palaces, Buddhist temples, canals, ponds, city walls
and gates present a pretty mind-boggling picture of the former grandeur of the city. Wat Mahathat, the largest temple, sported the obligatory giant Chedi and an 8-meter-high Buddha statue. In its hay-day, Wat Mahathat alone (and there were many, many wats) sprawled across an area of 10 acres. The towering columns told of the awesome magnitude, splendor and craftsmanship and advanced engineering skills of the early Thai people. Buddha, in different poses, could be found in various different nooks-and-crannies. A network of moats and canals delineated various sections of the immaculately kept park. We walked amidst history for hours absorbing the sights and sounds and re-living, thru over-active imaginations, the days of King Ramkhamhaeng.
Later, we rode, on rented bicycles, two km south of Wat Mahathat into another section of the park. There, we strode into see Phra Achana. Phra Achana sat (note ‘sat’), in the Subduing Mara posture, an impressive 15 meters (49.2 feet) high enclosed in the custom-built Wat Si Chum chapel. He measured a staggering 11.3 meters (37 feet) across from folded knee to folded knee and his fingers were taller than us. Occasionally, worshippers would enter the chapel to burn incense and touch their foreheads
to the ground in prayer and reverence. We finally managed to close our gaping mouths and continued to explore the neighbourhood dropping into a tiny enclave that housed a black Buddha that once had diamonds for eyes.
In total, we spent two days in Sukhotai deeply engrossed in history; marveling at the abilities of an early society to create such humungous, detailed, lasting and impressive works. 😊 ticktock, ticktock
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