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Sukhothai Historical Park, Wat Mahathat | by Arian Zwegers
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Sukhothai Historical Park, Wat Mahathat

Sukhothai Historical Park, Wat Mahathat


The Sukhothai Historical Park covers the ruins of Sukhothai, literally "Dawn of Happiness", capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries, in what is now Northern Thailand. It is located near the modern city of Sukhothai, capital of the province with the same name.


The city walls form a rectangle about 2 km east-west by 1.6 km north-south. There are 193 ruins on 70 square kilometers of land. There is a gate in the centre of each wall. Inside are the remains of the royal palace and twenty-six temples, the largest being Wat Mahathat. The park is maintained by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand with help from UNESCO, which has declared it a World Heritage Site. Each year, the park welcomes thousands of visitors who marvel at the ancient Buddha figures, palace buildings and ruined temples.


Two brothers, Pho Khun Bangklanghao and Pho Khun Phameung took Sukhothai from Mon hands in 1239. Bangklanghao ruled Sukhothai as Sri Indraditya – and began the Phra Ruang Dynasty - he expanded his primordial kingdom to the bordering cities. At the end of his reign in 1257, the Sukhothai kingdom covered the entire upper valley of the Chao Phraya River (then known simply as Menam, "Mother of Waters").


Traditional Thai historians considered the founding of the Sukhothai Kingdom as the beginning of the Thai nation because little was known about the kingdoms prior to Sukhothai. Modern historical studies demonstrate that Thai history began before Sukhothai. Yet the foundation of Sukhothai is still a celebrated event.


Pho Khun Ban Muang and his brother Ram Khamhaeng expanded the Sukhothai kingdom. Ram Khamhaeng adopted Theravada as state religion and had the monks from Sri Thamnakorn propagate the Theravada religion in Sukhothai. In 1283, Ramkamhaeng is said to have invented the Thai script, formulating into the controversial Ram Khamhaeng Stele discovered by Mongkut 600 years later.


The Sukhothai domination was, however, short-lived. After the death of Ram Khamhaeng in 1298, Sukhothai's tributaries broke away. Ram Khamhaeng was succeeded by his son Loe Thai. The vassal kingdoms, first Uttaradit in the north, then soon after the Laotian kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Wiangchan), liberated themselves. In 1319 the Mon state to the west broke away, and in 1321 the Lanna absorbed Tak, one of the oldest towns under the control of Sukhothai. To the south, the powerful city of Suphanburi also broke free early in the reign of Loe Thai. Thus the kingdom was quickly reduced to its former local importance only. Finally in 1378, the armies from expanding Ayutthaya kingdom invaded and forced Sukhothai's King Thammaracha II to submit to this new power. After the Battle of Sittaung River in 1583, King Naresuan of Phitsanulok (and crown prince of Ayutthaya) forcibly relocated people from Sukhothai and surrounding areas to the Southern Central plain, due to the war with the Burmese and an earthquake.


In July 1988 the park was officially opened. On December 12, 1991, it was declared a World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns together with the associated historical parks in Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai.


Wat Mahathat or Mahathat Temple is the most important and impressive temple in Sukhothai Historical Park. The temple’s name translates to “temple of the great relic”. The temple was founded by Sri Indraditya, between 1292 and 1347 as the main temple of the city as well as the Sukhothai Kingdom. The design based on Mandala, representing the universe with main principal stupa, built in 1345 to enshrine relics of the Buddha, surrounded by smaller stupas in eight directions. The main stupa has the graceful shape of a lotus bud, which characterizes the Sukhothai architectural arts. Its base is adorned with 168 stuccoed sculptings of Buddhist disciples walking with their hands clasped together in salutation. The eight smaller stupas, of which the four at the corners are in Mon Haripunchai - Lanna style and the four in between show Khmer influence. At both sides of the main stupa has two 9 metre tall standing Buddha images called Phra Attharot. The temple also comprises an assembly hall (vihara), mandapa, ordination hall and 200 subodinate stupas.



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Taken on December 31, 2016