By Kenyon Kaegi-Rittiman & Preston Kill
The Sukhothai Kingdom represents a critical portion of Thailand’s history and modern existence. The word “Sukhothai” means dawn of happiness. In Thailand, the Sukhothai Kingdom is considered the start of Thailand as a country. The kingdom was established in 1248 CE by King Inthrathit. The capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom was a city of the same name. The ruins of this city were declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1991. Before the existence of Sukhothai as an independent kingdom, the area was controlled by the Khmer empire. The Khmer empire at its peak size included parts of modern-day Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. While the full story of Sukhothai’s independence is not fully known, it is thought that independence was achieved from the Khmer by King Inthrathit and that one of King Inthrathit’s younger sons was responsible for expanding the empire beyond the borders of the city of Sukhothai.
This younger son was also responsible for bringing Theravada Buddhism to Thailand. Under the Khmer, the official religion was Hinduism. The artisans of the Sukhothai Kingdom made the kingdom very wealthy. These artisans became famous throughout Southeast Asia. They produced a unique type of ceramic that used a green glaze. Their pottery was found in areas as distant as Indonesia and the Philippines. The king sent ambassadors to China to further enrich this trade and expand Sukhothai’s power even more. Beyond pottery, the Sukhothai Kingdom also gave birth to new forms of art and a distinct architectural style. The art of Sukhothai focused on portraying the Buddha in new, more artistic poses and styles.
The architecture of Sukhothai was focused on brickwork and ornately decorated stucco with carvings. The city of Sukhothai was surrounded by 2-kilometer-long perimeter walls and contained multiple temples complexes each with ornate architecture.
The residents of Sukhothai also built impressive waterworks. They built complex systems of canals reservoirs and dams to provide the Kingdom with water. The great Thai epic, the Traibhumikatha, which along with being an important work in Thai literature is one of the most important texts in Theravada Buddhism, was written in the Kingdom of Sukhothai highlighting the great cultural wealth of the kingdom. This wealth and power would not last, however. Another kingdom was gaining strength to the south of Sukhothai. The Ayutthaya Kingdom arose near the gulf of Thailand and also gained great power through trade and craftsmanship. Under the rule of King Boromaracha the first, parts of the Sukhothai kingdom would be conquered and more would continue to be conquered by later Ayutthaya kings until the entire Sukhothai kingdom was annexed by the middle of the 15th century. After this annexation, The Ayutthaya Kingdom would form the second Thai empire. The ruins of Sukhothai would eventually be forgotten. They were not rediscovered until 1793 when King Rama the First found the ruins. In 1801, King Rama brought statues from the old capital of Sukhothai to the new capital of Bangkok.