The epic Ramayana had a profound and enduring impact on cultures in kingdoms thousands of miles away.
The historic city of Ayutthaya, in present day Thailand, flourished between the 14th and the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan centres of international commerce. Founded in circa 1350 by Ramathibodi I, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom, strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea.
Located 90 kilometres north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya is a site of immense temples and other structures that are important both historically and architecturally.
Tragically, the city was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who ransacked and burned the city to the ground and forced its inhabitants to abandon it. Ayutthaya was never rebuilt at the same location and remains known today as an extensive archaeological site, on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Fifteen years later, Thailand’s General Chao Phraya Chakkri became king and moved the capital to Bangkok.
The Chakkri dynasty adopted the name Rama. The current king of Thailand, the 10th ruler of that dynasty, occupies the throne as King Vajiralongkorn, with the title, King Rama X. Though Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand, the influence of the epic Ramayana is as evident here as it is in India.
All that remains of the once bustling cities is headless and limbless statues and broken columns, the ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya.
Of late, the place seems to have caught the attention of some groups in India. In 2018, Ram Janmabhumi Nirman Nyas announced its plan for the construction of a Ram temple near Ayutthaya.
Interestingly, according to Ramakien, the version of Ramayana popular in Thailand, the demon king Thotsakan (Ravana) has greater prominence than Phra Ram (Rama).
According to Prof AK Ramanujan’s well known essay ‘300 Ramayanas’, the Thai epic admires “Ravana’s resourcefulness and learning, while his abduction of Sita is seen as an act of love and is viewed with sympathy. The Thais are moved by Ravana’s sacrifice of family, kingdom and life itself for the sake of a woman. Unlike Valmiki’s characters, the Thai ones are a fallible, human mixture of good and evil. The fall of Ravana here makes one sad. It is not an occasion for unambiguous rejoicing, as it is in Valmiki.”
It is believed that Ramayana reached these regions sometime in the seventh century, through the trade routes from South India. Although Buddhism was the main religion of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, the influence of Hindu scriptures on Thailand’s culture and society is evident in the ruins of Ayutthaya.