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Thailand - Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767)

The state in the Ayutthaya period became a "galactic polity" through which the Ayutthayana monarchs dominated tributary states. It was the center of a system of tributary states made up of weaker states and uplanders. The Ayutthaya Kingdom arose from the combination of two dynasties, namely Lawo-Ayothaya and Suphannaphum. King U Thong, who ruled Lawo-Ayothaya, married King Suphannaphum's daughter and the two kingdoms were thus successfully combined by the family relationship. In AD 1431, 81 years after the establishment of the city, Ayutthaya completely defeated the Khmer and merged with the Sukhothai Kingdom. It also adopted the Khmer system of government. The Khmer believed in the divinity of the monarchy, based on Indian beliefs, and therefore adhered to the concept of absolute monarchy. This concept was embraced throughout the 417 years of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

Thai rulers were absolute monarchs whose office was partly religious in nature. They derived their authority from the ideal qualities they were believed to possess. The king was the moral model, who personified the virtue of his people, and his country lived at peace and prospered because of his meritorious actions. At Sukhothai, where Ramkhamhaeng was said to hear the petition of any subject who rang the bell at the palace gate to summon him, the king was revered as a father by his people. But the paternal aspects of kingship disappeared at Ayutthaya, where, under Khmer influence, the monarchy withdrew behind a wall of taboos and rituals.

During the Ayutthayan period the idea of Kingship changed. Due to ancient khmer tradition in the region, Hindu concept of kingship was applied for the status of the leader. Brahmins took charge in the royal coronation. The king was believed to be the reincarnation of Hindu gods. Ayutthaya historical documents show the official titles of the kings in great variation; Indra, Shiva and Vishnu, or Rama. Seemingly, Rama was the most popular, as Ramathibodhi. However, Buddhist influence was also evident as many times the king's title and 'unofficial' name related to Bodhisattava, Dhamma Raja, or King of Dharma, and the 'sprout of Buddha'.

The two former concepts were re-established, with a new third concept taking a more serious hold. This new concept was the concept of “Dhevaraja” (or Divine-King), which was an ideal borrowed from Hinduism and especially the Brahmins. This concept centered on the idea that the King was an incarnation (Avatar) of the god Vishnu and tha the was a Bodhisattva (enlightened one), therefore basing his power on his religious power, moral power and purity of blood. As he was said to be the reincarnation of god, divine duties were expected and practiced. Protecting the people from unrest and annihilating the insurgents were his responsibility. Many times, the king personally led the armed forces to defend his capital when enemy invaded.

However, from times to times, Ayutthaya kings also showed his charisma according the ancient Indian concept of Cakravartin or Chakkrabhatirat, Raja of Rajas. He might lead forces to wage wars to subjugate neighboring kingdoms or city-states. The King as a semi-divine figure then became an object of worship and veneration for his people. From then on the monarchy was largely removed from the people, although they continued their absolute rule. Living in palaces designed after Mount Meru (Home of the gods in Hinduism), the Kings turned themselves into a “Chakravartin” or literally from Sanskrit "whose wheels are moving", where the Kings became an absolute and universal lord of his realm. The Kings demanded that the universe must revolve around them, expressing their powers through elaborate rituals and ceremonies. For four centuries these Kings ruled Ayutthaya, presiding oversome of the greatest period of cultural, economic and military growth in Thai History.

The Kings of Ayutthaya, especially King Trailokanat, created many institutions to support their rule, such as bureaucracy and a system of so-called Sakna or Sakdina, usually translated as feudalism, and the creation of “Rachasap” (a special language reserved exclusively when addressing the King or talking about the King). Wealth, status, and political influence were interrelated. The king allotted rice fields to governors, military commanders, and court officials in payment for their services to the crown, according to the sakdi na system. The size of each official's allotment was determined by the number of persons he could command to work it. The amount of manpower a particular nai could command determined his status relative to others in the hierarchy and his wealth. At the apex of the hierarchy, the king, who was the realm's largest landholder, also commanded the services of the largest number of phrai, called phrai luang (royal servants), who paid taxes, served in the royal army, and worked on the crown lands. King Trailok established definite allotments of land and phrai for the royal officials at each rung in the hierarchy, thus determining the country's social structure until the introduction of salaries for government officials in the nineteenth century.

The King’s power was absolute and sovereign: as the “Lord of the Land” (Phra Chao Phaendin). The King was also the chief administrator, chief legislator and chief judge. Therefore laws, orders, verdict and punishment theoretically originated from the king. One of the numerous institutional innovations of King Trailok (1448-88) was to create the position of uparaja, or heir apparent, usually held by the king's senior son or full brother, in an attempt to regularize the succession to the throne--a particularly difficult feat for a polygamous dynasty. In practice, there was inherent conflict between king and uparaja and frequent disputed successions.

The Thai kingdom was not a single, unified state but rather a patchwork of self-governing principalities and tributary provinces owing allegiance to the king of Ayutthaya. These states were ruled by members of the royal family of Ayutthaya who had their own armies and warred among themselves. The king had to be vigilant to prevent royal princes from combining against him or allying with Ayutthaya's enemies. Whenever the succession was in dispute, princely governors gathered their forces and moved on the capital to press their claims.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:09 ZULU