Early Thai Religion

Ven. Tantra troyoga at YAHOO.COM
Fri May 19 05:31:54 UTC 2000

Might any list members be able to offer data on Early
Thai Religion? I am particularly interested in the
southern Isthums of Kra region from the 8th to 12th

Up to now, all I could find is:
1) Chirapravati, Pattaratorn. �The Cult of Votive
Tablets in Thailand (6th to 13th centuries)� (Ph.D.
diss., Cornell University, 1994); and
2) Tiyavanich, Kamala. _Forest Recollections:
Wandering Ascetics in 20th Century Thailand_
(University of Hawai�i Press, 1997), 303-4, n. 22.

Chirapravati�s work is especially revealing. She is an
art historian who studied the iconography and
stylistic development of votive tablets and stupas
discovered in Thailand by archaeologists. In her
academic work, she excerpts a broad range of religious
traditions that flourished between the 6th and 13th
centuries around the Isthmus of Kra and the northern
portion of the (Malayan) Peninsula, i.e., the region
that makes up present day southern Thailand. The
votive tablets are small icons, usually made of baked
or unbaked clay using a press-mold technique. They
originated from India but were known in Thai as phra
phi tham or �tablets made by spirits/angels.�

According to her thesis, every tablet contains an idea
of the particular sect it represents.
The study indicates that the fifth-century Hindu
kingdom of Sathing Phra (present day Songkhla) was one
of the earliest and most interesting kingdoms on
record. It was an important port and extremely ancient
city. It was a purely Hindu kingdom from the 5th to
the 8th century CE. A Hinayana Buddhist school
prospered there in the 7th and 8th centuries. During
the late 9th to the early 11th centuries, Mahayana
Buddhism from Nalanda and Java took root and flowered.
Indeed, a cursory survey of the Buddhist schools alone
is enough to show that, by comparison, the Buddhism
practiced by the early Thai was far more diverse than
that of Tibet. The existence of multiple Hinayanic
sects is adequately documented. Archaeological data
indicate that the Muulasarvastivaada was the dominant
Hinayanic school. It prospered in Sathing Phra and in
Phatthalung in 7th and 8th centuries right alongside
varied Brahmanic-Hindu cults. Mahayana Buddhism had
already been introduced into the region at this time.
By the 9th century, Vajarayana Buddhism reached the
Zriivijaya kingdom, possibly through Java. Its
particular sentiment was brilliantly expressed through
highly evolved modes of religious statuary. Chinese
records, local inscriptions and archaeological remains
show that from the end of the 7th through the 11th
century the Mahayanic Maadhyamika and Caityaka (or
Mahaasa�ghika)  schools were especially active along
the southern Isthmus coasts. So were the Pure Land
cults of Avalokitezvara and Amitaabha, which spread
from China southward. The Pure Land cult was dominant
there from the 8th to 11th century. Khmer-influenced
sculptures of Avalokitezvara and Maitreya dating from
the 7th to 9th century were found further north in
Lopburi (an old Mon capital) and in villages around
Nakhon Ratchasima and Buriram in the region known
today as northeastern Thailand.

Best regards,

Ven. Tantra

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