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Classical Era

From about the 10th century to the 14th century Thailand was known through archeological findings and a number of local legends. The period saw the Khmer domination over a large portion of Chao Phraya basin and the Isan. The expansion of Tai people and culture southwards also happened during the classical era.

From about the 10th century to the 14th century Thailand was known through archeological findings and a number of local legends. The period saw the Khmer domination over a large portion of Chao Phraya basin and the Isan. The expansion of Tai people and culture southwards also happened during the classical era.

Lavo

Wat Phra Prang Sam Yod in Lopburi

Around the 10th century, the city-states of Dvaravati coalesced into two mandalas ? the Lavo (modern Lopburi) and the Supannabhum (modern Suphanburi). According to a legend in the Northern Chronicles, in 903, a king of Tambralinga invaded and took Lavo and installed a Malay prince to the Lavo throne. The Malay prince was married to a Khmer princess who had fled an Angkorian dynastic bloodbath. The son of the couple contested for the Khmer throne and became Suryavarman I, thus bringing Lavo under Khmer domination through personal union. Suryavarman I also expanded into Isan, constructing many temples.

Suryavarman, however, had no male heirs and again Lavo was independent. King Anawratha of Bagan invaded Lavo in 1057 and took a Lavo princess as his wife. The power of the Lavo kingdom reached the zenith in the reign of Narai (1072?1076). Lavo faced Burmese invasions under Kyanzittha, whose mother was the Lavo princess, in 1080 but was able to repel. After the death of Narai, however, Lavo was plunged into bloody civil war and the Khmer under Suryavarman II took advantage by invading Lavo and installing his son as the King of Lavo.

The repeated but discontinued Khmer domination eventually "Khmerized" Lavo. Lavo was transformed from a Theravadic Monic Dvaravati city into a Hindu Khmer one. Lavo became the entrep?t of Khmer culture and power of the Chao Phraya basin. The bass relief at Angkor Wat showed a Lavo army as one of the subordinates to Angkor. However, one interesting note is that a Tai army was shown as a part of Lavo army, a century before the establishment of the Sukhothai kingdom. 

 Hariphunchai

A Buddha from Wat Kukkut, Lamphun

According to the Jamadevivamsa, the city of Hariphunchai (modern Lamphun) was founded by the hermits; Jamadevi, a Lavo princess, was invited to rule the city in around 700 AD. However, the date is considered too early for the foundation of Hariphunchai as Jamadevi brought no Thammachakras to the north. Hariphunchai may be a later (about the 10th century) offshoot of the Lavo kingdom or instead related to the Thaton kingdom.

Hariphunchai was the center of Theravada in the north. The kingdom flourished during the reign of King Attayawong who built the Dhatu of Hariphunchai in 1108. The kingdom had strong relations to another Mon kingdom of Thaton. During the 11th century, Hariphunchai waged lengthy wars with the Tai Ngoenyang kingdom of Chiang Saen. Weakened by Tai invasions, Hariphunchai eventually fell in 1293 to Mangrai the Great, king of Lanna, the successor state of the Ngoenyang kingdom.

Arrival of the Tais

The most recent and accurate theory about the origin of the Tai people stipulated that Guangxi province in China is really the Tai motherland instead of Yunnan province. A large number of Tai people, known as the Zhuang, still live in Guangxi today. Around 700 AD, Tai people who did not come under Chinese influence settled in what is now Dien Bien Phu in modern Vietnam according to the Khun Borom legend. From there, the Tais began to radiate into northern highlands and founded the cities of Luang Prabang and Chiang Saen.

The Simhanavati legend tells us that a Tai chief named Simhanavati drove out the native Wa people and founded the city of Chiang Saen around 800 AD. For the first time, the Tai people made contact with the Indianized civilizations of Southeast Asia. Through Hariphunchai, the Tais of Chiang Saen adopted Theravada Buddhism and Sanskrit royal names. The Dhatu of Doi Tung, constructed around 850 AD, signified the piety of Tai people on the Theravada religion. Around 900 AD, major wars were fought between Chiang Saen and Hariphunchai. The Mon forces captured Chiang Saen and its king fled. In 937, Prince Prom the Great took Chiang Saen back from the Mon and inflicted severe defeats on Hariphunchai.

Around 1000 AD, Chiang Saen was destroyed by an earthquake with all the inhabitants killed. A council was established to govern the kingdom for a while, and then a local Wa man known as Lavachakkaraj was elected the King of the new city of Chiang Saen or Ngoenyang. The Lavachakkaraj dynasty would rule over the region for about 500 years.

The overpopulation might have encouraged the Tais to seek their fortune further southwards. By 1100 AD, the Tai had established themselves as Po Khuns (ruling fathers) at Nan, Phrae, Songkwae, Sawankhalok, Chakangrao, etc. on the upper Chao Phraya valley. These southern Tai princes faced Khmer influence from Lavo. Some of them became subordinates to the Lavo-Khmer polity.

Chao Phraya Basin under the Tai

There are several legends about the Tai coming to rule mandalas of Central Thailand including Lavo and Suphannabhum. The Suphannabhum mandala had been independent from Khmer influence and composed originally the Western Provinces of modern Thailand including Suphanburi, Ratchaburi, and Phetchaburi.

In the 12th century, the Tai Po Khuns of the upper Chao Phraya coalesced around the Po Khun of Sukhothai - an important Khmer outpost. With the weakened Khmer authority, Po Khun Si Nau Namthom of Sukhothai gained the autonomy of upper Chao Phraya valley. However, during the reign of Jayavarman VII, the Khmer power was strengthened and the Tai Po Khuns were subdued and brought under Khmer suzerainty. Suphannabhum was also weakened by Khmer invasions and only the city of Suphanburi itself was left.

 

 
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